Social regulation in the land of the free

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A great deal of research has examined individual self-regulation—the processes by which individuals regulate their own behavior in the service of long-term goals. Yet self-regulation unfolds within social contexts that often afford certain choices more easily than others. Can social contexts be constructed in ways that support healthy behavior, while reducing demands on individual self-control? And what would this mean for individual freedom? The studies presented below explore social regulation, focusing on (1) the ways in which social norms and institutional policies can support behaviors in the long-term interest of individuals and the groups to which they belong, and (2) the circumstances under which people welcome, or oppose, such external structures for behavior. In Part 1, I present evidence that social norms structure experiences of temptation by narrowing the options people consider (Studies 1-3). I then explore how institutions can shape social contexts to reduce temptation and support individual goal pursuit. In two field studies (Studies 4-5), I examine how college instructors can influence norms surrounding technology use in the classroom and examine the effects these norms might have on students' experiences of temptation to multitask during lecture. At two universities, students in classrooms with a strong no-technology norm experienced fewer temptations to multitask, and reported a greater ability to focus in class, compared to students in classrooms where laptop use was normative and students were provided with strategies for individually regulating their technology use. In Part 2, I examine how efforts to impose social regulation are perceived in the United States—a strongly individualistic cultural context where personal responsibility and freedom of choice are celebrated. I focus in particular on Americans' reactions to policies aimed at changing environments to encourage healthy choices, examining the conditions under which such policies receive public support or opposition, as well as the extent to which they are viewed as threatening to freedom (Studies 4-5 in Chapter 2, Studies 6-8 in Chapter 3). I conclude that while the prospect of introducing new policies that guide choices can evoke negative reactions—including skepticism over policies' benefits and concerns over threats to freedom—Americans often support social regulations, and find them beneficial, once they are in place. In Chapter 4, I more deeply elucidate how cultural narratives about 'free choice' and 'personal responsibility' shape approaches to health in the US. I argue that appeals to choice and personal responsibility hamper institutional and interpersonal forms of social regulation, while obscuring the ways in which many US contexts currently fail to support healthy behavior (and thus strain individual self-control). I conclude with an outline of specific directions for future research that expands narratives about health behavior, with the ultimate goal of discovering how to best harness social regulation to lighten burdens on individual self-control without making people feel like their autonomy is limited.


Type of resource text
Form electronic resource; remote; computer; online resource
Extent 1 online resource.
Place California
Place [Stanford, California]
Publisher [Stanford University]
Copyright date 2020; ©2020
Publication date 2020; 2020
Issuance monographic
Language English


Author Hook, Cayce Jessica LaGrasse
Degree supervisor Walton, Gregory M. (Gregory Mariotti)
Thesis advisor Walton, Gregory M. (Gregory Mariotti)
Thesis advisor Markus, Hazel Rose
Thesis advisor Willer, Robert Bartley
Degree committee member Markus, Hazel Rose
Degree committee member Willer, Robert Bartley
Associated with Stanford University, Department of Psychology.


Genre Theses
Genre Text

Bibliographic information

Statement of responsibility Cayce Hook.
Note Submitted to the Department of Psychology.
Thesis Thesis Ph.D. Stanford University 2020.
Location electronic resource

Access conditions

© 2020 by Cayce Jessica LaGrasse Hook

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