It's the thought that counts: Trait self-control is positively associated with well-being and coping via thought control ability

Karlijn Massar*, Pavla Belostikova, Xincheng Sui

*Corresponding author for this work

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1 Citation (Web of Science)


In the present study, we reason that the ability to keep unwanted thoughts and intrusions at bay – thought control ability – might explain part of the relationship between trait self-control and positive psychological outcomes. We predict that the ability to keep unwanted thoughts at bay causes people high in trait self-control to report higher subjective well-being (Study 1), and makes them to be more likely to cope with stressful life events in an adaptive rather than maladaptive manner (Study 2). Two cross-sectional studies among healthy individuals were conducted (Study 1 n = 284; 70% female; Mage = 22.15 years; Study 2 n = 210, 65.7% female, Mage = 28.07) in which trait self-control, thought control ability, subjective well-being (study 1), and coping styles (study 2) were measured. Additionally, we investigated the mediating role of thought control ability and the conditional effect of gender on this mediation. The results of Study 1 indicate that trait self-control is positively related to subjective well-being. Moreover, thought control ability fully mediated the relationship between trait self-control and subjective well-being, and this effect was particularly strong for women. In Study 2, trait self-control was positively associated with adaptive forms of coping, but negatively with maladaptive coping. Moreover, thought control ability partially mediated the relationship between trait self-control and both types of coping, with stronger results for women than for men. These results suggest that trait self-control affects positive life outcomes in part through an ability to keep unwanted thoughts at bay, thereby facilitating a focus on goal pursuit.
Original languageEnglish
Number of pages10
JournalCurrent Psychology
Publication statusPublished - 28 Apr 2020


  • Trait self-control
  • Subjective well-being
  • Coping strategies
  • Thought control ability
  • Mediation

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