The below resources are intended for those looking for accessible information on self-control and self-control research. A good place to start is the American Psychological Association (APA) guide to the literature on self-control. Below I also link to resources on the now famous marshamallow test and subsequent developments in the study of willpower and the lifelong effects of childhood self-control, which is the focus of my own ESRC Future Leaders grant.
THE MARSHMALLOW TEST
There are interesting radio shows which introduce self-control including this one by the BBC featuring Walter Mischel who led research on the use of the 'marshmallow test' to study delay of gratification in children. Mischel published a popular book on this topic ‘The Marshmallow Test: Mastering Self-Control’ in late 2014. In the widely cited series of studies, children who were willing to delay gratification longer went on to have higher SAT scores and other positive outcomes such as lower BMI 30 years later. Children who waited longer in the marshmallow test were also less impulsive in late adolesence and middle-age. Mischel discusses this research in a recent article in the New Yorker. See the test in action here.
A collaborator on our work examining the lifespan effects of childhood self-control, Professor Roy Baumeister, has written extensively on the benefits of self-control. This includes a recent popular book 'Willpower: Rediscovering the Greatest Human Strength' and an overview of his research in Scientific American ('Self-Control: The Secret to Life's Successes') and a thought-provoking talk on the topic ('Willpower: Self-Control, Decision Fatigue, and Energy Depletion').
LIFELONG EFFECTS OF SELF-CONTROL
Professor Terrie Moffitt and her colleagues have studied the self-control of almost 1,000 children born in Dunedin, New Zealand in the early 1970's. This research showed that children who showed high levels of self-control from ages 3 to 11 went on to experience more prosperous and healthy lives. Childhood self-control showed a graded link to adult outcomes like income, financial planfulness, substance use, and physical health, such that each increase in self-control was linked to better outcomes. Professor Moffitt overviews the benefits of self-control found in the New Zealand study in her article in Scientific American and her recent fascinating & highly accessible keynote address to the APS conference in Amsterdam (video here). Recent and forthcoming work linking childhood self-control to biological ageing, capitalising on talents, and even receiving a good credit rating is outlined in her APS talk.
PERSEVERANCE & PASSION FOR LONG-TERM GOALS
Professor Angela Duckworth proposes that the perseverance needed for good self-discipline coupled with a passion for long-term goals is a vital combination for success. She describes this combination as 'grit' and outlines the benefits of this trait in her popular Ted talk. The Duckworth lab pages include resources for educators as well as useful scales and measures for researchers. For interested researchers, Professor Duckworth's papers on self-control are available on her site and include overviews of the significance of self-control and self-control and grit.
Much of the research described above has been combined and integrated with real-life stories in 'How Children Succeed: Grit, Curiosity, and the Hidden Power of Character' by Paul Tough, which is an excellent read.