Dream Big: Future Identities, Perceived Value, Self-Control


Students pursue educational and career future identities (e.g., graduating college, becoming an engineer, etc.) that are tied to their deepest wants, desires, and needs, yet many find it difficult to exert self-control and resist temptations while pursuing these identities (e.g., studying versus watching TV, paying attention in class versus scrolling social media, etc.). My dissertation seeks to understand why students’ struggle at self-control by first proposing a unique antecedent (i.e., future identities) and mechanism (i.e., perceived value) of self-control that represents a distinct shift from past models (e.g., ego depletion, dual-systems, etc.). In the end, I demonstrate important implications for social psychological interventions, classroom practices, and broader policies and programs targeting achievement. In Chapter 1, I propose the Activation, Motivation, and Pursuit (AMP) Process for Self-Control. This process is the first to posit four specific hypotheses regarding the relationship between future identities, perceived value, and self-control. Specifically, it is expected that future identities that are activated (i.e., activation: future identity is on-the-mind), followed for want-to (i.e., motivation: interest and identification with future identity), and pursued with a high amount of resources, time, and effort (pursuit) will increase the level of perceived value placed on the goal-directed behavior in a self-control dilemma and lead to a higher likelihood that self-control occurs. Overall, this process calls for more comprehensive social psychological interventions as well as the consideration of future identities in policies and programs more broadly. In Chapter 2, I assessed the associations between students’ motivation and pursuit for their career future identities and career success (career goal progress, career satisfaction, employment, and income) from graduation to one year later. Results showed that both motivation and pursuit predicted students’ career goal progress and career satisfaction one year later but only students’ pursuit predicted their likelihood of employment one year later. This finding has implications for how colleges and universities can prepare their students for the workforce. In addition, the associations between motivation (and pursuit) and career success ignited the development of the AMP process proposed in Chapter 1 because I wanted to understand the proximal processes (i.e., self-control) through which motivation and pursuit predicted career success. In Chapter 3, I evaluated the motivation pathway in AMP using an experimental paradigm and a novel measurement of self-control. In this study, a sample of college pre-medical students were randomly assigned to write about their want-to reasons for becoming a doctor, their have-to reasons, or neither. Afterwards, their self-control was measured during a Medical College Admissions Test (MCAT) study session (i.e., choice between solving practice MCAT questions or interacting with popular online content) and their performance on the study session and a subsequent MCAT quiz was recorded. Perceived value was measured before the study session and quiz. Results found no differences by condition on perceived value, self-control, or achievement; however, issues with the experimental manipulation and measurement of dependent variable limit the inferences that can be drawn from these results. Overall, this has important implications for future self-control research as well as how one conceptualizes AMP moving forward.

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