Charles S. Carver

Self-Regulation Processes

Most of my work is associated in one fashion or other with the phrase "self-regulation."  I think of human beings as complex goal-directed systems that self-regulate their actions with respect to those goals.  Sometimes people have to juggle multiple goals that aren't entirely compatible with one another.  Sometimes people encounter difficulty in moving toward their goals, and they have to decide how to respond to those difficulties.  These kinds of problems raise issues about how to understand both effective and ineffective self-regulation.  One important assumption in this view is that people who are confident are more persistent in their struggles than people who are doubtful.  This assumption provides the basis for a somewhat separate (though obviously related) line of research on optimism.  Another assumption that has relatively recently acquired a more prominent place in our thinking is that people regulate both with respect to desired goals and with respect to undesired "anti-goals."  This assumption serves to link the broader ideas about self-regulation with work on behavioral approach and avoidance systems.

These ideas also have potentially important implications for thinking about the nature of affect, a topic I have started writing more about recently. I have  published a theoretical statement about possible self-regulatory functions of positive affect.  And, consistent with the Carver and Scheier account of the processing basis of affect, I have found that certain kinds of negative affect relate to approach processes rather than avoidance processes. This work has since been expanded to a literature review, in collaboration with Eddie Harmon-Jones, making the case that anger is an approach-related affect.

Michael Scheier and I have written a book on some themes of self-regulation we think are important in  human behavior.  It was published in fall of 1998 by Cambridge University Press, under the title On the self-regulation of behavior.

In the past several years, prompted in part by issues that emerged in several editions of our personality textbook, I have become interested in the question of what processes underlie behavioral constraint. It turns out that many different personality psychologists have addressed that issue, and the positions they have taken have varied considerably.  I initially reviewed some of those ideas, along with ideas from sources in cognitive psychology and developmental psychology, in an article published in PSPR.  Some of these ideas also have reverberations in the interface between personality and neuroscience.  I later did a somewhat selective review of literature bearing on serotonin function, which appears to implicate serotonin function in impulsivity.

This work on impulsivity and constraint, along with work on serotonergic function, have opened a new area of interest for me. Together with two of my clinical colleagues, I am conducting research on some of the genetic factors that may underlie depression and other disorders. We are interested as well in the broad questions of how such disorder relate to more normal aspects of personality, such as impulsiveness. This has led to an in-depth review of depression, a briefer discussion of impulse and constraint in personality as well as psychopathology, and research on serotonin and impulsiveness.

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