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The Development of Self-Regulation and it's Impact on Academic Success

Jill Bean's picture

"A man who is master of himself can end a sorrow as easily as he can invent a pleasure.  I don't want to be at the mercy of my emtoins.  I want to use them, to enjoy them, and to dominate them." - Oscar Wilde

"Courage consists in the power of self-recovery."  - Ralph Waldo Emerson

"Rember not only to say the right thing in the right place, but far more diffictul still, to leave unsaid the wrong thing at the tempting moment."  - Benjamin Franklin

"I know quite certainly that I myself have no special talent; curiosity, obsession and dogged endurance, combined with self-criticism, have brought me to my ideas." - Albert Einstein



This project is part of the Brain and Behavior Summer Institute 2009 at Bryn Mawr College.  I began this project interested in a wide range of topics: delayed gratification, persistence, executive funciton, motivation, and resiliency.  In my experiences as  I teacher, I found myself encountering what seemed to be an increase in the number of children struggling with these areas of development.  Furthermore, deficits in these areas often seemed more to have more of a negative impact on not only academic success, but also personal success, than many of the learning differences I regularly encounter.  I had a numbers of wonderings on this topic:

  • Where other teachers having the same concerns and observations as me? 
  • What was the current educational research saying about these subject?
  • What was the current brain based research saying about these subjects?
  • Are these subjects interlinked?  Through what mechanisms? 
  • Does the research indicate a changing trend in the development of these areas?
  • What impacts the development of these trends (positively and negatively)?
  • How can teachers help support children's development in these areas? 

I set out to see what I could find out using the internet.  I soon discovered that most of the topics I were interested in were part of a larger movement in research on Self-Regulation.  What follows is some of what I have learned about the development of self-regulation, as well the impact of self-regulation on academic success.  

What is self-regulation?

Researcher divide self-regulation into two broad catagories: social-emotional self-regulation and cognitivie self-regulation.  Cognitive self-regulation research generally focuses on executive fucntion and working memory.  Executive funtion is a term used "to describe a loosely defined collection of brain processes which are responsible for planning, cognitive flexibility, abstract thinking, rule acquisition, initiating appropriate actions and inhibiting inappropriate actions, and selecting relevant sensory information." (Wikipedia)  Researchers agree that both catagories of self-regulation are controlled by implicit ("automatic, effortless, relatively fast, and involves parallel processing of large amounts of information"), and explicit ("conscious, controllable, effortful, relatively slow, and involves serial processing of relatively small amounts of information") processes.


Interesting findings:

Research shows that children’s self-regulation behaviors in the early years predict their school achievement in reading and mathematics better than their IQ scores (Blair 2002; Blair & Razza 2007).

Effortful Control (MacDonald): Examined working memory, effortful control (socioaffective control), and executive function. 

  • both executive function and effortful control activate working memory
  • using working memory for effortful control disrupts executive function performance
  • to put it plainly, people trying to control their emotional repsonse, lose their cognitive self-control
  • effortful control not only disrupts, but also depletes  "resource limited process"  (for example, people control their emotions and then later lack self control on tasks)
  • executive function tasks result in decreased control of emotional response
  • three are linked, all affect each other
  • all three tasks utilize brain glucose
  • effortful control increases with age, girls easier than boys



Cognitive and emotional aspects of self-regulation in preschoolers (Liebermann, Giesbrecht, Muller)

  • language and self-regulation development linked