News Release

An efficient single item instrument to measure self-control

Peer-Reviewed Publication

The Polish Association of Social Psychology

A straightforward and highly time-efficient method to evaluate the trait of self-control in individuals was developed and tested by German-Swiss research team, led by Dr Wanja Wolff (University of Konstanz, Germany and University of Bern, Switzerland) with the aim to aid future scholars, as well as practitioners, including medical workers and surveyors.

In their work, newly published in the peer-reviewed academic journal Social Psychological Bulletin, and involving 1,566 paid participants from the US, they developed, tested and confirmed a new single item measure that suffices to assess how a person perceives their own self-control. Currently, such evaluation takes more time and effort on both sides, thus constraining the understanding of self-control: one of the key traits in the study of human psychology and behaviour.

An important question the researchers had to answer, in order to test their newly proposed single item measure, was whether people meant one and the same thing when speaking of ‘self-control’, ‘will-power’ and ‘self-discipline’: something that until now, was a much-debated topic amongst psychologists. Having analysed the results of their survey, they concluded that people seem to indeed use those words interchangeably.

Further, in their research, the scientists confirmed that people who report to be more prone to boredom feel that they have lower self-control. This indicates that the tendency to be bored frequently and having low self-control combine into self-regulatory profiles that are less adaptive. Indeed, the same survey participants also seem to be of lower socioeconomic status, both subjectively (i.e. they positioned themselves lower in the hypothetical social ladder in regards of money, education and jobs) and objectively (i.e. they specified their income).

“Self-control is a highly adaptive human capacity and research on self-control is booming,” explain the authors of the study.

“To further facilitate self-control research, especially in conditions where time-constraints might render the use of multi-item measures of self-control problematic, a validated time-efficient single item measure would be an asset.”

The team reminds that self-control remains one of the most researched concepts in psychological science, as it is a trait with heavy influence in everyday life, and long-known as related to key outcomes, such as professional success and achievements, physical exercise and health-related behaviours. 

In conclusion, such “a single item measure of self-control is understood as an addition to the methodological toolbox and not as a replacement of established multi-item measures”.


Original source:

Wolff, W., Bieleke, M., Englert, C., Bertrams, A., Schüler, J., & Martarelli, C. S. (2022). A Single Item Measure of Self-Control – Validation and Location in a Nomological Network of Self-Control, Boredom, and If-Then Planning. Social Psychological Bulletin, 17, 1-22.

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