Self-control in school children: Stringency and leniency in self-determined and externally imposed performance standards

Kelly D. Brownell, Gep Colletti, Robin Ersner-Hershfield, Seth M. Hershfield, G. Terence Wilson

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

45 Scopus citations


This experiment was designed to investigate the capacity of stringent and lenient performance standards to elicit and maintain academic performance when self-determined or externally imposed. The ability of stringency instructions and social reinforcement to prompt the enduring self-selection of stringent standards was also examined Children in two contingent reinforcement conditions were allowed to self-determine performance standards with one group given stringency instructions and social reinforcement, while the same requirements were externally imposed upon yoked children in two other contingent reinforcement conditions. Control subjects performed in the absence of reinforcement. Subjects allowed to self-determine performance standards performed significantly better during reinforcement on one dependent measure than did subjects whose standards were externally imposed, while on the other dependent measure the groups performed equally well. Stringency instructions and social reinforcement were effective in eliciting and maintaining the self-selection of stringent standards. On both dependent measures, stringent standards (whether self-determined or externally imposed) were more effective than lenient standards in eliciting performance during reinforcement.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)442-455
Number of pages14
JournalBehavior Therapy
Issue number3
StatePublished - Jun 1977

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Clinical Psychology


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