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Thank you that was too kind of an introduction indeed I do study grit
and when Nancy gave me just one degree of freedom and said I could talk about
what I wanted to I decided not to talk about grit because nobody ever
asks me to come talk about
self control but indeed by the grant numbers and by the number people our
lab works more
on self control than it does on grit so
the slides are yes the slides are there
okay great so I wanna say that I made this quote up
in deference to a former APS President Walter Mischel I believe I emailed him one
day and I said
Walter can I say that you said that the most important scientific discovery
about self control
in that it can be taught and he wrote back sure
I think this is a relatively accurate statement of what Walter does believe
I'm of course the popular public knows now his a
his marshmallow test which has been on the Colbert report no fewer than three times
if you add it all up and I think that
that in some ways the predictive power of the marshmallow test
belies in a sense the most important insight from Walters decades
of research which is that
in observing these young children wait for two marshmallows
instead of one they employed an array
of ingenious strategies in order to delay longer
and Walter's strong belief was that those strategies could be
directly taught and practiced
in my own work on self-control I I beg borrow steal
I collaborate with whomever I can and about four years ago I met
the incomparable James Gross and I'm guessing that about half of you are
currently writing a paper with him
even at this moment because
because eventually everybody works with James Gross but what really struck me about him
was that he was able to bring together so many disparate findings
in self regulation now many of you know that James primarily works on grownups
and he primarily works on a emotion regulation
but the model that he's developed in that realm I think has implications for
more broadly what we would consider self-regulation or self control
the process model says that impulses develop
so they began perhaps quite weak and then
gather strength and it is by intervening
in the process of impulse generation earlier
rather than later then we can be really smart about how to exercise self control
in our lives so I'll just take you through from situation selection
which is the earliest stage at which you can intervene all the way through to
response modulation
what I mean and let me illustrate with some data that James in our lab
collected recently from a local high school where we presented to
students from ninth through twelfth grade a variety of examples
of each of the 5 stages in the process model which I'll described to you
one by one but I'll just say that when high school students read examples of
modifying their situation verses
using attention in a strategic way verses
cognitively changing the way they think about things the striking finding is that
students tell us that to choose your situation
or change your situation in ways that are very intentional
that's actually probably going to be much more effective than any of the later
cognitive strategies so this indeed is the
prediction of the process model that intervening earlier should be better
than interviewing later
I will say that we would have loved for the same students to tell us that
each of the subsequent cognitive strategies would just be a little bit
less effective
but data never cooperate exactly so I think the gist of it is that the
students have an intuition that intervening early
is better than intervening later now the first
thing that one can do according to James and the process model
is to choose your situation to choose where to be
what what do I mean by that for example
all the undergraduates who work in my lab tak an oath
that says that they will sit at the front
of the classroom the first three rows specifically
and I always get the same question oh do you mean in your class
no I don't mean in my class I mean in all of your classes
do you mean in the psychology classes
no I mean every single lecture that you attend course they want an explanation for this
and the explanation is that when I was in college
taking a class on ancient Chinese bronzes
I could do nothing more than just to sit in the front of the class to prevent
myself from
falling asleep for the entire lecture sitting in the front of the class
is putting myself in a situation where social norms and pure shame
would be working to my advantage to keep my attention on what I needed to do as
opposed to something I'd rather be doing napping
you know reading you know anything else verses the
the sort of the you know the nosebleed section so you can do things like
choose your physical situation you can also choose to some extent your social situation
recently we did a focus group of tenth and fifth-graders
at a school in New York City a tough neighborhood schools were 100 percent
free and reduced-price lunch
and I listened to a tenth-grader sagely
advised the fifth-grader if I only knew when I was your
age what I know now I would have picked my friends differently
because I got into the wrong crowd and you never can tell
yourself how much your friends are really going to influence you
so there's selecting your physical situation to advantage
going to the library instead of studying in a noisy house
choosing to sit at the front of the class verses the back to class
and you can choose your social situation to some extent
we think that these are intuitive to students who for example in the same
dataset that I mentioned to you before would
when asked about you know what tell us about self-control in your own life
and tell us a story about you had you know something that you had to
resist as a temptation what you did
I'll just read two verbatim suggestions of students
who in this open-ended prompt gave us things that we classified as being situation
selection so I would go to the library
as being in a quiet and controlled environment would make me focus
I would lock myself in a room without my phone
so that it does not become a distraction now
many students do not have the liberty
or the logistical possibility of changing
where they are and so we think that it's also important that they learned to
modify their situation
and that is to say once choosing where you are
or having it foisted upon you you can certainly change physical aspects of the situation
now Brian Wansink at Cornell University has a large number studies
that have shown that physical cues like is the glass a tall glass or short class
is the soup bowl a big bowl or small bowl
can dramatically influence eating behavior
and this is an example we think of situation modification if it's not
Brian Wansink determining the size of your soup bowl
but you know determining the size of your soup bowl so we feel like this
insight that physical cues matter can be harnessed by the individual to say
I'm going to keep the cookies in my house in a cookie jar
I can't see through unlike the cookie jar in my house
which like most cookie jars is clear and tempts me every time I walk by
in terms of students and academic success which is really where my heart is
there is the simple modification
of closing the laptop while you're sitting in lecture
on the left you have the typical scene of students with their laptops
open you know on ebay
checking their email accounts
you know I told my husband that this was generally true of professors who are
lecturing in large classes but not
not in my class where everybody was really just taking notes
and paying rapt attention to me so he
went to my class and sat in the back row and took a picture
of my class and then pointed out to me that one
intrepid student was actually watching a full-length feature
film during the hour and twenty-minute lecture which I thought was
particularly humiliating
I don't know for the student or for me but anyway it wasn't good so
you know minor this is of course only if you as a student have a conflict
you both wanna go onto Instagram and listen to doctor Duckworth tell you
what's on the final exam
and if you feel that listening to what's going to be on the final exam is
in the long run probably a better use of your time and yet you're pulled
by Instagram that's classic self-control conflict and this minor situational
adjustment can actually just make it that much easier
here are some verbatim suggestions of high school students quote I would shut
off my phone and put it under my pillow so I wouldn't be tempted
by to touch it quote I would ask my mom to take away my phone and other
distractions to make sure I can get it done
on time now I won't play this clip I'll just
you know fast forward but I'll just say that and we've been very inspired by
the behavior change work of folks like Carol Dweck and her
kind of extended family her progeny folks like Greg Walton and David Yeager
who have shown that in very carefully crafted brief
online interventions you can have you know reasonably large effects
on on behavior change so so we picked up a bunch of tips from them and we
we took the Brian Wansink Research and we created an intervention we
taught kids
how to modify their situations and I'll try to skip through the actual video we
tried to make it cool
and fun and in a one-week longitudinal field study with high school students
at baseline students were randomly assigned to one of three conditions
they learned about situation modification they learned about a later
response modulation just kinda good old-fashioned willpower don't do it
and then finally a no treatment control condition
now at baseline in addition to getting
these you know treatment assignments students
set an academic goal which they then one week later were asked to report on
and in this data you can see that self-reported goal accomplishment was
higher in the situation modification group
than either of the two comparison groups we replicated this with a large sample
of college students again those who were
given information about how they can use situation modification to meet their
academic goals
did better in doing so than two comparisons
and importantly we found what we hypothesized which is partial mediation
well we would have loved full mediation but but mediation to some extent by
self-reported temptation during that
week in other words students who learned to
turn off their cellphones put away their laptops when they're trying to read a
book et cetera
felt fewer feelings
of temptation towards those other objects and that at least partially
the effect of the intervention on goal accomplishment now I should say a word
about these latter three strategies but I'll be more brief because
James and I don't believe that they're as effective as these you know earlier
upstream situational strategies
so first there is selectively attending looking at things in
in ways that you think will make it easier to do the right thing
and harder to do the wrong one so for example
at the KIPP charter schools and there are many of them in New York but they're now
all over the country
they have recognized from fairly early in their
in their establishment of these schools probably ten or fifteen years ago
they recognized that you know for sure it's hard to pay attention to your
teacher it's hard to just look at your teacher when you'd rather look elsewhere
but they also recognize that by looking at your teacher
and I'll give you an example this is a KIPP classroom
they're all looking at the teacher at KIPP they call tracking
it's tracking the teacher
that by accomplishing that you then make it easier to do what's even harder
which is to truly
you know listen and encode and engage with the academic material
in other words you can look out the window if you want to and then it's
going to be darn near impossible
to pay attention at all or to process the the history lesson
or you can track the speaker which they do it KIPP schools
and that facilitates you know downstream regulation of the things that you need to do
so selectively attending what does it look like when high school students
explain they can
you know not look at their phone ignore my phone rang or they can
direct their internal attention to things that are more useful in terms of regulation
remind myself that even the most boring classes
count towards my GPA I will note that
even though in Walter Mischel 's early studies of the marshmallow
students I guess I should say four-year-olds they're not students yet
who selectively look you know
at or you know objects are not the marshmallow are able to wait longer
so selective attention strategic attention emerged as one the most
important strategies in those early preschool studies
notably this was the least commonly nominated strategy among
among high school students that we surveyed which we haven't quite figured
out why but we know
the disparity now what do you do once you've
chosen where you're going to be modified the situation or not
attended to what you've decided to attend to you can of course
change your mind you can re-frame
or change the cognitive representation of the situation
there are many ways to do this but one very important way relevant to self
control self-regulation is reconstruing
the distance of the situation psychological distancing so in one
random assignment study in collaboration with you Ethan Cross
kids in fifth grade were either chosen to
replay an event of an angry memory
as it unfolds in their own eyes that's the first person immersed egocentric
control condition or alternatively in the intervention
to replay the event as it unfolds as they
observe their distance self the third person or most effectively
it's like you're in a YouTube video oh
okay now I know what you mean okay so
this is very facilitative of emotion regulation in particular
regulating the negative the lingering negative emotions of that angry memory
easier when you're seeing yourself in the third person
like you are the fly on the wall in the situation verses from the first person
egocentric perspective I recently had an argument with my spouse and tried
to do this I was like
oh okay Angela Duckworth had an argument with her spouse
it didn't really work actually I was you know flooded with emotion but I will
say this I think that
in general the very exciting work on psychological distancing and reconstrual
you know it opens up a whole doorway of things like just the very idea that the
mental representation that there's still some agency there that
that there's still on an opportunity there for us to regulate
that I think is very important here's some verbatim suggestions of high school students
quote I would plan something for myself that I'd only do
if I got straight A's
so I would sorta think about pairing the you know the
the homework with you know later reward I would set goals
break the project up into pieces I will say this and I know there's not
opportunity for questions and discussion
categorizing what students you know in this open-ended
way would just tell us they would do
was very difficult and also made me realize some the limitations of the process model
which have these five neat you know distinctions but actually in reality end up being
you know not distinctions that are very well respected by high school
students who tell us that they do you know more than one strategy at once
were you know things that are hard to categorize things that are kind of on the border
so let me just tell you about the last stage
which doesn't need much telling at all because this is really just good
old-fashioned don't do it
or do do it depending on what you're trying to as the Buddhists would say
and as the Buddhists would disrecommend this is simply crushing mind
with mind right and I think you know just in thinking about the work that
was presented earlier in some ways
you know this discussion of you know early self-regulation leading to sort of
higher order more sophisticated ways of regulation
and I think of this as kinda you know as executive function in its rawest form
there's almost no art or strategy to it at all what does that look like if you're
talking about high school students don't be a baby and just study
just deal with it and study just do it just focus and get my work done
and we actually use the word just in our coding manual as a sign that really kids
were you know talking about this last stage
I wanna end by saying that
you know whatever strategy it is that you use to sit in the front of the lecture hall
to you know turn your phone off to look at the teacher not look out the window
to frame a situation a particular way it of course helps to do
some advance planning and I think that the work of
Gabriele Oettingen and Peter Gollwitzer could not be more influential for
myself as a scientist as
as well as almost everybody I know who works on behavior change
so I'll just quickly say that their work where students are encouraged
in a very systematic way to set goals and to
in advance plan how they hope to act in a certain situation so goal-setting
and goal planning seems to for example in our joint work
in a random assignment placebo-controlled longitudinal
field study over the course of half of an academic year
this brief intervention is able to
improve GPA from school records
as well from school records school attendance
you know being on time and teachers who are blind to condition their ratings of classroom conduct
during that semester it is not a miracle so
you know subsequently you know behavior returns and there is you know the
difference between the control group
and the intervention group a road to non-significance but I do think it's
really a promising direction
in order for us to put everything together that's known about
these higher level metacognitive strategies so so all the things I talked
about in the process model kind of get wrapped
in a way in the kinda mental contrasting and implementation
intention work that Gabriele and Peter are doing and then finally I will just say
to expand the scope even
you know broader than what I've tried to do already
believe that there's a role for habit habit formation that has just begun
to get you know some traction on in our work we find that more self control
individuals more self control students in particular
have stronger study habits they study at that same time every day
they study in the same place every day my daughter is an exception to this she
feels like it's much better to wake up every day and decide on the spot
what you're gonna do and how you're gonna do it I'm in a more
reactive way and you know I'll show her this
figure when I get home which is that more self-controled kids tend to have
these habits and those habits mediate
to a large extent the positive effects of self-control
on things like studying when things are difficult and also grades
and so let me and end with this slide from
from William James and in his classic work in 1899 said virtues
virtues are habits as much as vices our nervous systems grow to the way
in which they have been exercised just as a sheet of paper
once creased or folded tends to fall for ever afterward into the same
identical folds so let the children learn the process model strategies and
let them learn
mental contrasting in implementation intentions let them learn the folds that
we think will set them up
for success later in life and thank you for your attention thank you Nancy for
having me I really appreciate the opportunity thanks
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Angela Duckworth, University of Pennsylvania - Self-Control Stategies for School-Age Children

1645 Folder Collection
Mandy Sue published on February 4, 2017
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