We propose a three-year research program to examine strategies that facilitate self-control when working, waiting, or regulating emotion. Specifically, we aim to deepen scientific understanding of psychological distancing strategies, their utility in diverse situations requiring self-control, their relation to executive function and general intelligence, their normative development from early childhood through young adulthood, and their amenability to direct instruction. Specific activities include a set of controlled, random-assignment experiments with preschool and school-age children, adolescents, and young adults. Capitalizing on the control groups and a rich set of baseline measures in these studies, we will use cross-sectional data to examine age-related changes as well as individual differences in the spontaneous use of psychological distancing as a self-control strategy. We are a team of three psychologists with complementary training and research interests. Collectively, we aim to publish at least five empirical articles in top peer-reviewed journals. In parallel, we will make at least six presentations at national scientific meetings. Toward the end of our project period, we will write an in-depth theoretical review article for a top psychology journal (e.g., Psychological Review) and a shorter review article for a scientific journal with broader, interdisciplinary reach. To reach opinion leaders in policy and education, we will proactively seek coverage from high-visibility popular press outlets. The ultimate intent of this project is to identify and understand learnable, teachable strategies that facilitate self-control. If successful, our research will demonstrate that self-control in particular, and character in general, can be intentionally cultivated. Most importantly, we will improve our theoretical understanding of self-control, which should augment and focus ongoing efforts in character education to build self-control in youth.
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