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Charles S. Carver on Self-Regulation (Psychology) - Dictionary of Arguments

Corr I 427
Self-regulation/Carver/Scheier: the term self-regulation (Carver and Scheier 1981(1), 1998(2)) has different connotations in different contexts. When we use it, we intend to convey the sense of purposive processes, involving self-corrective adjustments as needed, and that the adjustments originate within the person.
This view is not an approach to personality but a way of talking about how personality becomes expressed in behaviour. . >Feedback/Carver/Scheier, >Control processes/Carver/Scheier, >Affect/Carver/Scheier, >Goals/Carver/Scheier.
Corr I 431
The argument that affect reflects the error signal from a comparison in a feedback loop (>Affect/Carver/Scheier) has a very counter-intuitive implication concerning positive affect (Carver2003)(4). As noted, if affect reflects the error signal in a feedback loop, affect is a signal to adjust rate of progress.
What about positive feelings? Here prediction is less intuitive. (…) The feelings still reflect a discrepancy (>Criteria/Carver/Scheier), and discrepancy reducing loops minimize discrepancies. Thus, such a system ‘wants’ to see neither negative nor positive affect. (…) People who exceed the criterion rate of progress (and thus have positive feelings) will automatically tend to reduce subsequent effort in this domain. They will ‘coast’ a little (cf. Frijda 1994(3), p. 113); not necessarily stop, but ease back, such that subsequent rate of progress returns to the criterion. The impact on subjective affect would be that the positive feeling itself is not sustained for very long. It begins to fade.
Generally (…) the system acts to prevent great amounts of pleasure as well as great amounts of pain (Carver 2003(4); Carver and Scheier 1998(2)).
Corr I 432
Why would a process be built in that limits positive feelings–indeed, dampens them? After all, people seek pleasure and avoid pain. We believe the adaptive value of a tendency to coast derives from the fact that people have multiple simultaneous goals (Carver 2003(4); Carver and Scheier 1998(2); Frijda 1994(3)). Given multiple goals, people generally do not optimize on any one goal, but rather ‘satisfice’ (Simon 1953)(5). >Goals/Carver/Scheier.


1. Carver, C. S. and Scheier, M. F. 1981. Attention and self-regulation: a control-theory approach to human behaviour. New York: Springer Verlag
2. Carver, C. S. and Scheier, M. F. 1998. On the self-regulation of behaviour. New York: Cambridge University Press
3. Frijda, N. H. 1994. Emotions are functional, most of the time, in P. Ekman and R. J. Davidson (eds.), The nature of emotion: fundamental questions, pp. 112–26. New York: Oxford University Press
4. Carver, C. S. 2003. Three human strengths, in L.G. Aspinwall and U.M. Staudinger (eds.),A psychology of human strengths: fundamental questions and future directions for a positive psychology, pp.87–102. Washington, DC: American Psychological Association 2008.
5. Simon, H. A. 1953. Models of man. New York: Wiley1967. Motivational and emotional controls of cognition, Psychological Review 74: 29–39


Charles S. Carver and Michael F. Scheier, “Self-regulation and controlling personality functioning” in: Corr, Ph. J. & Matthews, G. (eds.) 2009. The Cambridge Handbook of Personality Psychology. New York: Cambridge University Press


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Explanation of symbols: Roman numerals indicate the source, arabic numerals indicate the page number. The corresponding books are indicated on the right hand side. ((s)…): Comment by the sender of the contribution. Translations: Dictionary of Arguments
The note [Author1]Vs[Author2] or [Author]Vs[term] is an addition from the Dictionary of Arguments. If a German edition is specified, the page numbers refer to this edition.
Carver, Terrell
Corr I
Philip J. Corr
Gerald Matthews
The Cambridge Handbook of Personality Psychology New York 2009

Corr II
Philip J. Corr (Ed.)
Personality and Individual Differences - Revisiting the classical studies Singapore, Washington DC, Melbourne 2018


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Ed. Martin Schulz, access date 2021-04-12
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