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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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Working Memory Capacity: Self-control Is (in) the Goal

Working Memory Capacity: Self-control Is (in) the Goal

(p.163) CHAPTER 9 Working Memory Capacity: Self-control Is (in) the Goal
Self Control in Society, Mind, and Brain

James M. Broadway

Thomas S. Redick

Randall W. Engle

Oxford University Press

Self-control is defined in relation to current goals of an organism. Working memory capacity (WMC) is defined as a cognitive system for maintaining access to goal representations as needed. Self-control depends on cognitive control, which depends in large part on WMC. We discuss the proposal that WMC reflects the abilities to control attention and to control retrieval from long-term memory. From within this dual-component framework (Unsworth & Engle, 2007) we discuss research that has examined relations between WMC and some types of mental self-control failure like over-general autobiographical memories, intrusive thoughts, and mind-wandering. We also discuss research examining the relation between WMC and delay discounting, a popular experimental paradigm for assessing self-control (Rachlin, 2000). Evidence suggests that for some of these phenomena, WMC is a more primary factor than the associated clinical disorders. In other cases, WMC appears to be secondary to other factors such as intelligence. Across these mixed findings at least two generalities can be derived. The positive findings demonstrate that individual differences in WMC can be a confounding “third variable” for a proposed relation between, for example, depression and over-general autobiographical memories (Dalgleish et al., 2007). On the other hand, the negative findings illustrate that individual differences in WMC can obscure more primary influences in a situation like delay discounting (Shamosh et al., 2008). In either case it would be advisable for researchers to measure WMC as a participant factor, if only to control a major source of interindividual variability in their data. Overall, we hold to our position that WMC is critically important for maintaining good self-control in support of a wide variety of goals.

Keywords:   individual differences, working memory capacity, goal-directed behavior, over-general autobiographical memories, intrusive thoughts, mind-wandering, delay discounting, self-control

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