Tuesday, September 10, 2013

How Your Social Life Affects Your Self-Regulation

Part of being human is the desire to control or change what we do, what we feel, and what we think. We all struggle with tasks of self-regulation, like cooking more nutritious food, limiting our emotional outbursts, and paying attention in class. I’m sure you can find countless reasons on the internet and within the self-help literature to explain why you’re not so good at regulating your behaviors, emotions, and cognitions. Maybe you didn’t learn how to control your actions well in childhood or perhaps you don’t have as much willpower as other people. One influence you may not have considered, though, is your social environment. Do you have friends you can confide in? Do you feel accepted by your peers? Believe it or not, our social surroundings can have a strong impact on our ability to self-regulate. 

Imagine the teenager who eats a pint of ice cream when not invited to an important party or the student who can’t focus on school when rejected by a crush. These are stories to which we can all relate, and they are cases when social exclusion leads to self-regulatory problems. Though it may seem a little far-fetched that our social belongingness impacts our ability to accomplish tasks like flossing or saving for retirement, the evidence is widespread.

For example, in a set of studies exploring how exclusion impacts self-regulation, researchers made participants feel isolated in a variety of ways. In one study, participants were told their personality would lead to a lonely future; in another, they were told that no one in their group chose to work with them. After feeling excluded, participants were given a task to measure their self-regulation. Some of the tasks included drinking a healthy, but gross-tasting, beverage and working on a puzzle that could not be solved. Participants who got excluded displayed impaired self-regulation when compared to those who felt accepted: they drank less of the healthy, but bad-tasting, drink, and they gave up faster on the frustrating puzzle task. 

Similar results have also been demonstrated with people who are lonely. For example, when asked to participate in a task which requires shifting the focus of one’s attention, lonely individuals performed worse than those who were socially connected. In addition, other work has shown that loneliness in childhood predicts less physical activity in young adulthood, and adults who are lonely are less likely to exercise than those who feel connected.

Some psychologists have argued that the need to belong with others is a fundamental human motive. When we feel we don’t belong, we suffer powerful consequences. The ability to self-regulate is an important skill and, some have argued, more important than intelligence when it comes to future success. Many of the challenges people in our society currently face are ones of self-regulation: fighting obesity, obtaining financial security, and balancing work and family, to name a few. Though you may not think of being nice to others as a way to solve these problems, this research suggests it may be a step in the right direction. To the extent that we can make others feel included and respected, perhaps we can prevent some of the harm and distress that poor self-regulation can bring. 

Do you notice your social environment affecting your ability to control your thoughts, emotions, and behaviors? Have you tried to improve your social life as a way to get better at self-regulation? Let us know in the comments!


Baumeister RF, DeWall CN, Ciarocco NJ, & Twenge JM (2005). Social exclusion impairs self-regulation. Journal of personality and social psychology, 88 (4), 589-604 PMID: 15796662

Cacioppo JT, Ernst JM, Burleson MH, McClintock MK, Malarkey WB, Hawkley LC, Kowalewski RB, Paulsen A, Hobson JA, Hugdahl K, Spiegel D, & Berntson GG (2000). Lonely traits and concomitant physiological processes: the MacArthur social neuroscience studies. International journal of psychophysiology : official journal of the International Organization of Psychophysiology, 35 (2-3), 143-54 PMID: 10677643

Hawkley LC, Thisted RA, & Cacioppo JT (2009). Loneliness predicts reduced physical activity: cross-sectional & longitudinal analyses. Health psychology : official journal of the Division of Health Psychology, American Psychological Association, 28 (3), 354-63 PMID: 19450042


  1. I agree self-regulation is extremely important when talking about ones self. There are many different factors that can affect self-regulation as mentioned in the text. For example; the text stated that your social environment has a big affect on self-regulation. This is true in many aspects, and we can look at this through one of the eight psychological perspectives, that of which being the Cross-Cultural Perspective. the cross-cultural perspective focusses in on how cultural factors influence patterns of behavior. In this case evaluating your self-regulation and how the people around you can affect it. The text gives a great example on how culture and society can affect an individual, if your aren't invited to a big party and sit at home and eat a tub of ice cream, you're displaying a lack of self-regulation. You never would of thought to sit at home and eat a tub of ice cream, if your peers invited you to the party in the first place. We can also look at self-regulation through the behavioral perspective, humanistic perspective, the positive psychology perspective and probably more perspectives too. This article is just a good example of how we can look at certain situations; such as self-regulation, and apply the major perspectives of psychology to them.

  2. Millions of young adults and teenagers go through a time in their lives when they feel lonely. The knowledge that you "don't belong" to a certain group and that not everybody is going to like you is a lesson everyone has to learn. That being said, self-regulation do have a positive correlation. if you fight with your own group of friends, that could quite possibly cause you to lose interest in things you all did together. It's sad that alot of people measure their own worth by how many people they have in their lives, seeing as how a persons worth cant be measured. even an intelligent person might as was said above "lose all concentration" due to feeling like an outcast or getting rejected. I feel that these points in their lives will either get better or worse, and if they are intelligent, then that is just a waste to lose because of one or more individuals. I believe that the counselors at high schools and middle schools, have an obligation to these kids to help them see themselves in a better light, so their overall self regulation isn't tarnished completely.

  3. Feeling included in a group of friends is something almost all teenagers today care about. Everyone wants to feel like they belong but the differences in characteristics and features is what sets each and every one of us apart, according to personality psychology. Personality psychology states each person has a different yet unique personality, either bringing one another together if they are similar to separating one another if they are different. Feeling left out of a group can make someone feel lonely and secluded causing them to act out in negative ways. For example, isolating yourself for the weekend eating junk food or falling behind in class because you aren't feeling included in a class project. Trying to change something about you like your appearance or your interests is an example of social psychology. Social psychology being where you care about what others think about you and how they are effected by their environment. This article was a good way to show different types of psychology that are applied and demonstrate exactly what they mean with examples.

    1. Humans have basic needs of water, food and shelter; then we have the need for love and acceptance. The way minds grow is from sharing ideas and if you cut off communication for other people there will be no growth. We have came up with many ways to find people we can communicate with like social categorization. It's a mental process that put people into groups but how the look or act. For example a freshman in high school may know nobody but look around the room the can group people and pick out who they would get along with. In the situation that someone does feel "left out", this growth and willpower. With social infulence when a person does find a group of friends the start to change so they can fit it the group more and feel accepted. When you conform to a group, the group that you conform to will affect willpower and self regulation. If you are aound people with high willpower you feel the the need to do more but if you are with people with low willpower the you will not want to do anything. This article was good way show how environment can affect self.

  4. I think that a big part of why self disipline and regulation are effected by our social lives is because when we're accepted, it makes us feel happy. It's good to have friends and other people that you like talking to, as well as having friends and people that like talking to you. And when we feel like we're not included, it takes away from that happiness that we felt. So in order to try and fufill the happiness that we lost from not being accepted, we search for it in other places, like unhealthy food and drinks, or maybe in bad behavior like bullying. Or blowing off your homework because you're too disatisfied with yourself to even try and do it.

  5. Jessica McKenzie
    In this blog, I could not agree more with the statement about our social surroundings having a strong impact on our ability to self-regulate. When children start grade school and all throughout college there have been times when they would run into different clicks and feel like they don't fit in so they would automatically think there is something wrong with them and it could affect them in a negative ways. Some of the perspectives in psychology can be connected with the self-regulation topic including biological, behavioral, humanistic, and positive psychology. Behavioral studies the physical bases of human and animal behavior. The behavioral perspective focuses on the observable behaviors and the fundamental laws of learning. Humanistic is about the motivation of people to grow psychologically, the interpersonal relationships on a person's self-concept, and the importance of choice and self-direction in striving to reach one's potential. The positive psychology perspective is on the study of positive emotions and psychological states, positive individual traits, and the social institutions that would foster those qualities in individuals and communities. Children these days should be able to fit in with any group no matter what their sex, race, or religion. It's not okay to exclude people from groups because it will affect their self-esteem and they could even become a bully or get bullied. There have been so many times where the person being bullied have given up like they have nothing left/no one left to live for and taken their life.

  6. Suddenly all those commercials of smiling females eating salad make..even less sense, actually. Eat salad and be alone?
    Having a workplace where everybody feels accepted and part of the team makes a HUGE difference. I work in the emergency department, and having a solid team dynamic makes everything go more smoothly. Teammates are more willing to speak up (to share good or bad things) when we know each other and feel comfortable together than if it's a big group of strangers. We're also all more likely to do things like ensure everybody took at least one break, eat healthy, cross-check odd orders, and (really sorry this part is true, but...) perform proper hand hygiene, if the team is one that plays well together AND holds those things as normal or good. Is that the same phenomenon? Or something different because it's a group in a workplace setting?

  7. Here I find the tap root of many urban woes. Exclusion (by race/income/creed/ethnicity/etc leads to a loss of self-regulation, which manifests itself in many ways.