Self RegulationConsider two types of situations, structured and unstructured. In structured situations, such as your morning routine or putting gas in the car, behavior is driven by clues in the environment and habits strengthened through countless repetitions. In unstructured situations, such as disciplining a child or planning and organizing a social affair, the environment or habit are less informative and may in fact lead you astray. In these situations, the response will depend upon awareness and implementation of your personal goals.
Many people who have sustained a brain injury have a syndrome of serious behavior problems in unstructured situations, while their behavior in structured situations is normal. This syndrome affects their social and occupational functioning and, in some cases, seriously compromises independent living. When their abilities are assessed by a health care professional, however, they do not appear to be impaired as the typical assessment is a highly structured affair that does not require self-aware decision-making (see Levine et al., 1998; Levine et al., 2000; Stuss & Levine, 2002).
We call this syndrome self-regulatory disorder (SRD). The purpose of our research is to improve the diagnosis and treatment of SRD and to better understand the mechanisms of self-regulation in humans. These mechanisms and their neural underpinnings are extraordinarily complex, involving multiple interacting neurocognitive systems. We are studying the relationship of relationship of self-regulation to self (autonoetic) awareness. This aspect of our research is influenced by Tulving’s notion of the autonoetic awareness and its role in re-experiencing the past (see Wheeler et al., 1995, Psychological Bulletin, 121, 331-354). We hypothesize that self-regulation depends upon a unified awareness of the self in the past and in the future. Information derived from this form of awareness is held on line to govern behavior. For evidence in support of the correspondence between past and future thought, see Levine et al., (1999); Spreng & Levine (2006).