Self-Regulation Theories of Human Behavior
Self-regulation refers to the psychological processes that mediate goaldirected behavior in the absence of immediate consequences (Carver & Scheier, 1986; Kanfer, 1970). Self-regulatory processes are naturally initiated when routinized activity is impeded or when goal-directedness
is otherwise made salient (Karoly, 1993). However, self-regulatory processes are also initiated by prompting, as when individuals in treatment programs are prompted to engage in some behavior by the change agent. Psychologically based theories of self-regulation originate from cybernetics, the science of self-regulation (Wiener, 1948). As Watson and Th arp (2002) point out, most psychological theories of self-regulation contain several basic cybernetic principles (Bandura, 1986, 1991; Carver & Scheier, 1982, 1999; Kanfer, 1975; Kanfer & Stevenson, 1985; Miller, Galanter, & Pribram, 1960; Mithaug, 1993). Th e thermostat of a home heating system has oft en been used as an example to illustrate the major principles and mechanisms of cybernetic theory (e.g., Endler & Kocovski, 2000; Watson & Th arp, 2002). A thermostat has
four key mechanisms—a standard, sensor, comparator, and an activator.
Th e standard (i.e., goal) identifi es the temperature that is to be maintained. Th e sensor detects the actual temperature, while the comparator examines the current temperature against the standard. When the temperature deviates from the standard, the thermostat signals the activator, which either turns the heater on or turns it off . In this system a reasonably good balance is maintained between the actual and desired temperature. Human behavior can be viewed as being regulated in a similar fashion. Individuals identify standards or goals, initiate a set of behaviors to attain those goals, monitor their level of accomplishment, compare their level of accomplishment to the goals, and determine whether their behaviors should be adjusted in order to meet the goals. If a discrepancy is discovered between an individual’s standards and actual behaviors, attempts are made to modify the behaviors to better meet the standard (Endler &
Kocovski, 2000; Watson & Th arp, 2002). Th is modifi cation might take the form of increasing or decreasing the behaviors intended to help reach the goal or by identifying new strategies to help attain the objective.
Self-regulation theories vary in the extent to which they use cybernetic formulations. Carver and Scheier (e.g., 1982, 1999) base their control theory strictly on cybernetic processes, while Bandura (e.g., 1986, 1991) adds planning, judgment, and self-effi cacy to these principles. Kanfer and colleagues (e.g., Kanfer, 1975; Kanfer & Schefft , 1988; Kanfer & Stevenson, 1985) have added other psychological processes, including reward, punishment, learning, and thinking to their formulation of how to maximize the change process. Th is chapter focuses on Carver and Scheier’s, Bandura’s, and Kanfer’s self-regulation theories, with particular emphasis on
Bandura’s and Kanfer’s contributions. Carver and Scheier’s control theory of self-regulation (e.g., 1982) emphasizes goal setting, feedback on eff orts to reach the goal, and the individual’s attempts to reduce discrepancies between the goal and performance. Goals energize and direct activities and are viewed as referencing values in feedback loops. Feedback loops include four elements: (a) an input function based on perceptions of performance, (b) a goal, (c) a comparison
of performance to the goal, and (d) a continuation of or modifi cation of the previous behavior, known as output function.
Effectiveness of Self-Regulatory Processes
A principal aim of any system of psychotherapy is to assist individuals in regulating their behavior (Endler & Kocovski, 2000). Carl Rogers (1954), for example, believed that changes within the self would occur as a result of someone becoming more aware of their emotions. Other more directive approaches to psychotherapy specify techniques that can be used to initiate and maintain changes in behavior. Th is is particularly the case when utilizing behavioral and cognitive–behavioral treatments. Th ese approaches oft en explicitly incorporate self-regulatory strategies as part of treatment. For example, in behavior therapy, self-monitoring of target behavior, determination of realistic short- and long-term goals, and subsequent tracking of the target behavior via use of graphs (i.e., visual feedback) are key components of treatment.
Treatments based on self-regulation principles have been found generally eff ective with both children and adults. In children, such treatments have been found to decrease encopretic (i.e., involuntary elimination) behaviors (Grimes, 1983) and hyperactive behaviors and to increase academic performance in hyperactive boys (Varni & Henker, 1979). Self-regulatory strategies have been examined as primary interventions with adult problem behaviors. For example, adult problem behaviors successfully targeted have included smoking (e.g., Foxx & Axelroth, 1983; McFall, 1970), obsessive rumination (e.g., Mahoney, 1971), and depressive symptomatology (e.g., Harmon, Nelson, & Hayes, 1980). While self-regulation provides a framework for understanding how self-change comes about, it remains to be determined whether and to what extent specifi c processes aff ect behavior. Armed with evidence regarding which processes are eff ective, one can feel secure in developing change programs that combine those strategies with the highest payoff s. We will now turn our attention to an examination of these relationships.
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