Measuring Self Control and Perceived Opportunity in a Controlled Experimental Setting

Patricia E. Campie, University of Arizona

This paper addresses the methodological shortcomings of measuring self-control through a traditional set of attitudinal and quasi-behavioral self-reports and survey questionnaires. Attitudinal measures suffer from the complaints that low self-control, itself, may bias response patterns and that behavioral measures are a more accurate indicator of how likely a respondent will, or did, actually do as they say. Additionally, verbal statements of attitude are more prone to variation in interpretation, especially among different ages, genders, and ethnicities; whereas physical acts provide less ambiguous meaning. Finally, the idea of self-control lying along a continuum begs the question of why we do not measure behavioral indicators in a continuous manner as well. To explore remedies for these problems, a controlled experimental design was created to measure levels of self-control and perceived opportunity in 10-year-old children. The setting was a decisionmaking computer lab in a university environment. Children were randomly assigned to control and experimental groups where they completed computer-based exercises, a continuous behavioral survey measuring self-control and a separate non-computer based experimental manipulation involving a delay of gratification activity. Results and implications are discussed

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Updated 05/20/2006