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Self Control in Society, Mind, and Brain$
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Ran Hassin, Kevin Ochsner, and Yaacov Trope

Print publication date: 2010

Print ISBN-13: 9780195391381

Published to Oxford Scholarship Online: May 2010

DOI: 10.1093/acprof:oso/9780195391381.001.0001

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The Dynamic Control of Human Actions

The Dynamic Control of Human Actions

(p.174) CHAPTER 10 The Dynamic Control of Human Actions
Self Control in Society, Mind, and Brain

Florian Waszak

Anne Springer

Wolfgang Prinz

Oxford University Press

Human action serves two complementary purposes. On the one hand, actions are meant to achieve desired effects in the environment. On the other hand, people act as a consequence of external events, trying to accommodate to environmental demands. While the former type of action is usually referred to as “voluntary,” “goal-directed,” or “intention-based,” the latter is often conceptualized as “response,” “reaction,” or “stimulus-based.” At the same time, the concepts of intention- and stimulus-based action control are inseparably interwoven. Although intention-based actions by definition rely on intentions, the planning process also needs to consider stimulus information from the agent’s actual environment. Similarly, although stimulus-based actions are triggered by external stimuli from the environment, stimulus information is not a sufficient condition for the execution of the action: to respond to the external information in the appropriate way, it rather needs to be complemented by an intentional set. In this chapter, we address theoretical and experimental approaches to the cognitive underpinnings of action control. We outline current theories of human action control and review experimental paradigms addressing this issue by comparing intention-based and stimulus-based actions or by investigating the interference between both types of action control. Finally, we discuss the function of the self within the proposed cognitive framework. For this purpose, we link the action control theories under discussion to cross-cultural and social-psychological evidence suggesting that individuals differ in self-regulatory performance depending on their social orientation—that is, how they define the self in connection to other people. We will claim that research on self-control can profit from cognitive research on action control because both fields deal with situations in which automatic behavioral tendencies need to be controlled and adjusted to the individual’s goals and desires, for example, losing weight, abstaining from alcohol, cigarettes or drugs, or avoiding violent and aggressive reactions to others. In turn, to understand from a cognitive perspective why people fail to withstand predominant responses to the environment, and, on the other hand, how they can successfully regulate their behavior can be viewed as a substantial part of understanding self-control.

Keywords:   action control, voluntary action, intention, stimulus–response behavior, executive control, independent and interdependent self

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