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Successful goal-directed behavior requires self-regulation to override competing impulses. Emerging evidence suggests that attention may mediate such acts, but little is known about the specific operations through which attention might influence self-regulation. Here we test this often-implicit assumption by manipulating attention mechanisms in two ways: one controlling the inhibition of inappropriate responses; the other controlling the breadth of attention. Participants significantly improved their performance on a self-regulation task after practice on a response inhibition task (Experiment 1) and after the induction of a broad focus of attention in a visual discrimination task (Experiment 2). We propose that such manipulations enhance self-regulation by engaging mechanisms that enhance the salience of goal-related representations and reduce the activation of competing goal-irrelevant neural representations. By more efficiently resolving conflict among the signals vying to drive behavior, pre-engaging attention may also help to conserve resources needed for continued self-regulation. © 2011 Elsevier B.V.

Original publication




Journal article


Acta Psychologica

Publication Date





104 - 110