Seeing the Big Picture: A Construal Level Analysis of Self-Control

Kentaro Fujita, Yaacov Trope, Nira Liberman

Research output: Chapter in Book/Report/Conference proceedingChapter


People frequently make decisions and act in a manner contrary to their goals and values. These self-control failures are widely prevalent, troubling, and implicated in some of the most pressing social issues, ranging from obesity and addiction to environmentalism and poor financial planning. Given humans' remarkable intellectual and reasoning capacities, why do people fail to express their admirable aims in their everyday lives? This chapter briefly reviews several prominent theoretical accounts that have been proposed to explain self-control failures. It then describes and reviews supporting evidence for an emerging new perspective inspired by construal level theory (Liberman, Trope, & Stephan, 2007; Trope & Liberman, 2003). Drawing from decades of research indicating the central role of people's subjective construals in judgment and decision making (e.g., Griffin & Ross, 1991), we propose that self-control is a construal-dependent phenomenon. That is, whether one chooses to act in a manner consistent with one's global goals and values depends on how one has subjectively interpreted and constructed the event in his or her mind. Construal level theory suggests that people's subjective mental construals can differ in abstractness. Whereas low-level construals highlight the idiosyncratic, incidental, concrete, local features of an event, high-level construals extract the core, central, abstract, and global features. Self-control conflicts occur when the behavioral connotations of these two construals are mutually exclusive. The preferred action depends on which construal people adopt at the time of decision making. This chapter discusses how this proposed construal level perspective relates to extant theoretical perspectives, reviews supporting empirical evidence, and discusses the implications for our understanding of self-control.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Title of host publicationSelf Control in Society, Mind, and Brain
PublisherOxford University Press
ISBN (Electronic)9780199776894
ISBN (Print)9780195391381
StatePublished - May 1 2010


  • Construal level theory
  • Delay of gratification
  • Self-control
  • Self-regulation
  • Subjective construals
  • Temporal discounting

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • General Psychology


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