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(From left to right) Angela Duckworth and Katherine Milkman. (Photo by 24 Hour Fitness)

Psychology professor Angela Duckworth and Operations, Information and Decisions professor Katherine Milkman published a research review that outlines recent studies on the effectiveness of self-control methods.

The professors found that in order for people to achieve goals, they need to use self-control techniques that require more than just pure determination. In the report, which was published in the Psychological Science in the Public Interest journal on Feb. 13, Duckworth and Milkman examined psychology and economics research to identify four different types of self-control methods.

The first two self-control strategies do not require involvement from other people. Using the first method, people can create obstacles to make undesirable behaviors less convenient, such as limiting phone use with an app to reduce screen time. People can also use the second self-control method, which involves changing their mindset. For example, if someone is trying to stick to a diet, they can develop a plan in advance for avoiding free food at their office.

The other two strategies, often used by governments, involve self-control guidelines implemented externally. In the third strategy, social norms encourage people to change their behavior. For example, an electric company could reduce waste by showing customers data comparing their energy use to their neighbors' use. The fourth self control method involves interventions, such as taxes on cigarettes or default retirement plans, which make certain behaviors less desirable.

The report, which was also co-authored by Harvard Economics professor David Laibson, said the research will contribute to the understanding of human behavior and help governments craft policies that will better incentivize citizens.

“There is an urgent need for a cumulative and applied science of self-control—one that incorporates insights from theoretical traditions in both psychological science and economics," the researchers wrote in the report. "We hope this review is a step in that direction.”

In 2016, Duckworth and Milkman established the Behavior Change for Good Initiative, which unites Penn researchers in psychology, economics, computer science, medicine, and neuroscience to help people improve their health and education. The program received a $2 million donation from 1983 Wharton graduate Marc J. Leder in September 2018. 

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