Self-Control as Value-Based Choice

Curr Dir Psychol Sci. 2017;26(5):422-428. doi: 10.1177/0963721417704394. Epub 2017 Oct 9.


Self-control is often conceived as a battle between "hot" impulsive processes and "cold" deliberative ones. Heeding the angel on one shoulder leads to success; following the demon on the other leads to failure. Self-control feels like a duality. What if that sensation is misleading, and, despite how they feel, self-control decisions are just like any other choice? We argue that self-control is a form of value-based choice wherein options are assigned a subjective value and a decision is made through a dynamic integration process. We articulate how a value-based choice model of self-control can capture its phenomenology and account for relevant behavioral and neuroscientific data. This conceptualization of self-control links divergent scientific approaches, allows for more robust and precise hypothesis testing, and suggests novel pathways to improve self-control.