Self-Regulation as an Underpinning Mechanism of Virtue

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Dr. Root Luna, Psychology

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With the advent of positive psychology, virtues have received significant attention by psychological researchers. Previous studies have focused on individual virtue constructs (e.g., forgiveness, gratitude, patience; Dwiwardani et. al, 2014; Schnitker, & Emmons, 2007), to the exclusion of considering virtue holistically. Several of these studies have found connections between the individual virtue constructs and self-regulation (Doerr & Baumeister, 2010) or self-control (e.g.,Baumeister & Exline, 1999). However, self-regulation and self-control are often used interchangeably in the literature when a strong argument can be made to be more precise with their definitions. Self-control represents an effortful decision over one’s behaviors whereas self-regulation can include both effortful control and automatic processes (McCullough & Willoughby, 2009). This distinction is particularly important in light of classical virtue theory (e.g., Aristotle, 1999). Aristotle posited several character types, including the continent person (who chooses the virtuous action, despite conflicting desires) and the virtuous person (who chooses the virtuous action in concert with harmonious desires). Undergraduate students (anticipated N = 150) will complete several questionnaires in order to test our hypothesis that virtue and self-regulation, more than self-control, are correlated. Individual virtue constructs, both cardinal virtues (i.e., temperance, courage, justice, practical wisdom) and more modern virtues (e.g., forgivingness, gratitude, hope) will be measured, along with scales reflecting effortful self-control, automatic self-regulation, flourishing, and social desirability. We anticipate that participants high in self-reported virtues will also be high in self-control or self-regulation. In addition, we expect only virtuous participants will be high in both self-reported virtue and self-regulation, and these participants will endorse greater flourishing. In contrast, we hypothesize that continent participants (those high in self-control but not self-regulation) will endorse greater social desirability. We hope that these findings will spur on further experimental work examining the potential relationship between self-regulation and virtue.

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