Causal Uncertainty and Self-Regulation Abilities
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Causal uncertainty refers to the lack of confidence in one’s ability to understand causal relations in the social world (Weary & Edwards, 1994). Relative to people with low causal uncertainty, individuals with high causal uncertainty exhibit enhanced self-regulation performance following a social interaction (Jacobson, Papile, Passey, & Boucher, 2006). The current studies investigated the potential mechanisms underlying this relationship, and the role of self-esteem. Study 1 investigated whether the social or nonsocial nature of the depleting task and expectations about the need for future self-control could account for the relationship between causal uncertainty and self-regulation (N = 181). For the social task, high causally uncertain participants’ self-regulation performance was consistent across expectations for future self-control regardless of participant self-esteem. In contrast, low causally uncertain participants’ performance improved with increasing instructions to conserve energy for future tasks but only for participants with lower self-esteem. For low causally uncertain participants with higher self-esteem, self-regulation performance decreased with increased expectations for future self-control. In the nonsocial condition, the findings did not differ by self-esteem. Learning that the future task involved self-control and that the initial task was depleting were both associated with increases in self-regulation for high causally uncertain participants. In contrast, self-regulation abilities did not differ for low causally uncertain participants upon learning that the future task involved self-control and marginally decreased when they learned that the initial task was depleting. Study 2 examined whether or not self-presentation could account for the relationship between causal uncertainty and self-regulation abilities (N = 88). Higher causal uncertainty was associated with better self-regulation performance, but self-presentation goals did not moderate this relationship. Self-esteem did not influence self-regulation performance in this study. Study 3 investigated whether or not an accuracy goal could account for the relationship between causal uncertainty and self-regulation abilities (N = 112). For participants with lower self-esteem, high causally uncertain participants’ self-regulation performance was consistent regardless of the goal manipulation; whereas low causally uncertain participants’ performance improved with instructions to create accurate impressions of their partner. In contrast, for participants with higher self-esteem, self-regulation did not differ by causal uncertainty or goal conditions.