Does Self-Control Training Improve Self-Control? A Meta-Analysis

Perspect Psychol Sci. 2017 Nov;12(6):1077-1099. doi: 10.1177/1745691617697076. Epub 2017 Aug 28.


Self-control is positively associated with a host of beneficial outcomes. Therefore, psychological interventions that reliably improve self-control are of great societal value. A prominent idea suggests that training self-control by repeatedly overriding dominant responses should lead to broad improvements in self-control over time. Here, we conducted a random-effects meta-analysis based on robust variance estimation of the published and unpublished literature on self-control training effects. Results based on 33 studies and 158 effect sizes revealed a small-to-medium effect of g = 0.30, confidence interval (CI95) [0.17, 0.42]. Moderator analyses found that training effects tended to be larger for (a) self-control stamina rather than strength, (b) studies with inactive compared to active control groups, (c) males than females, and (d) when proponents of the strength model of self-control were (co)authors of a study. Bias-correction techniques suggested the presence of small-study effects and/or publication bias and arrived at smaller effect size estimates (range: gcorrected = .13 to .24). The mechanisms underlying the effect are poorly understood. There is not enough evidence to conclude that the repeated control of dominant responses is the critical element driving training effects.

Keywords: intervention; meta-analysis; publication bias; robust variance estimation; self-control training.

Publication types

  • Meta-Analysis
  • Review
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Humans
  • Learning*
  • Models, Psychological
  • Self-Control*