'Willpower' over the life span: Decomposing self-regulation Review uri icon


MeSH Major

  • Internal-External Control
  • Social Behavior
  • Social Control, Informal


  • In the 1960s, Mischel and colleagues developed a simple 'marshmallow test' to measure preschoolers' ability to delay gratification. In numerous follow-up studies over 40 years, this 'test' proved to have surprisingly significant predictive validity for consequential social, cognitive and mental health outcomes over the life course. In this article, we review key findings from the longitudinal work and from earlier delay-of-gratification experiments examining the cognitive appraisal and attention control strategies that underlie this ability. Further, we outline a set of hypotheses that emerge from the intersection of these findings with research on 'cognitive control' mechanisms and their neural bases. We discuss implications of these hypotheses for decomposing the phenomena of 'willpower' and the lifelong individual differences in self-regulatory ability that were identified in the earlier research and that are currently being pursued.

publication date

  • April 2011



  • Review



  • eng

PubMed Central ID

  • PMC3073393

Digital Object Identifier (DOI)

  • 10.1093/scan/nsq081

PubMed ID

  • 20855294

Additional Document Info

start page

  • 252

end page

  • 6


  • 6


  • 2