Traditionally, self-control conflicts have been defined as conflicts between some immediate, short-term gratification versus some delayed, long-term gain. Although this is certainly a self-control issue, we argue that a focus on this definition of self-control has obscured the broader self-control issue: self-control is about resolving and managing conflict. In this chapter, we take a broad view of defining self-control within the self-regulatory system by considering how conflicts and control are represented within a self-regulatory hierarchy. Specifically, we suggest that self-control involves managing conflicts at multiple levels: managing conflicts between and within the levels of behaviors, tactics, strategies, and goals. In particular, we suggest that self-control conflicts can exist both between and within multiple levels in a hierarchy. Vertical conflicts occur between levels in a self-regulatory hierarchy (e.g., between higher-order and lower-order concerns, between goal orientations and strategies, between strategies and tactics). Horizontal conflicts occur within levels in a self-regulatory hierarchy (e.g., between goals, between strategies, between tactics, between behaviors). We review evidence that individuals exert self-control both horizontally and vertically at the goal and strategic levels of the self-regulatory hierarchy. We end by discussing the possibility that conflict representations are malleable. Representing the same conflict in different ways (e.g., vertically vs. horizontally) may have significant implications for interventions.
Self Control in Society, Mind, and Brain, edited by
Oxford University Press, 2010.