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The Efficacy of Self-Regulation Interventions: A Series of Meta-Analyses

Research Team

Principal Investigator: Amy Dent

Funding Information

Funding Agency: Office of Research and Economic Development (ORED)

Award Date: Jun 1, 2015

End Date: May 31, 2016


Whether cast as willpower by philosophers or self-regulation by psychologists, the ability to control our own thoughts and behavior has fascinated scholars for centuries. In recent years, researchers across the social sciences have agreed that this elusive construct is at the heart of many applied problems in their disciplines (e.g., achievement, addiction, obesity, gambling). 

As a result, self-regulation has garnered a great deal of attention from practitioners and policymakers. This renewed interest has been met with a flurry of research on the skills that underlie self-regulation, often with the goal of improving them. A vibrant and diverse literature on self-regulation interventions has thus emerged, but inconsistent findings have hindered both theoretical and practical progress. Therefore, integrating this literature and reconciling its findings through meta-analysis is an important empirical step with profound implications for both policy and practice. 

This study supports the first in a series of meta-analyses on self-regulation interventions, with the goal of securing external funding for the remaining ones. This first meta-analysis will draw from the methodological rigor of experimental research to address the multifaceted question, “Under what conditions are self-regulation interventions most effective, for what domains and for whom?”

Integrating nearly three decades of research, meta-analysis can uniquely answer the different dimensions of this question through moderator analyses, which include:

  • Do self-regulation interventions improve academic performance more than diet adherence or gambling problems? 
  • Are interventions focused on planning a course of action or modifying behavior to maintain it more effective? 
  • How long must the intervention last? 
  • Does an intervention's effect differ depending on participants’ age or gender? 
  • Through moderator analyses exploring topical questions like these, the proposed meta-analysis promises to corroborate or challenge theoretical claims, empirically support the tailored training of self-regulation, and inform social policy associated with deficiencies in its essential skills.

Research, Measurement and Evaluation Methods