Does self-control modify the impact of interventions to change alcohol, tobacco, and food consumption? A systematic review.

08 May 2018

Low self-control is associated with increased consumption of alcohol, tobacco, and unhealthy food. This systematic review aimed to assess whether individual differences in self-control modify the effectiveness of interventions to reduce consumption of these products, and hence their potential to reduce consumption amongst those whose consumption is generally greater. Searches of six databases were supplemented with snowball searches and forward citation tracking. Narrative synthesis summarised findings by: consumption behaviour (alcohol, tobacco, food); psychological processes targeted by the intervention (reflective, non-reflective, or both); and study design (experiment, cohort, or cross-sectional). Of 54 eligible studies, 22 reported no evidence of modification, 18 reported interventions to be less effective in those with low self-control, and 14 reported interventions to be more effective in those with low self-control. This pattern did not differ from chance. Whilst self-control often influenced intervention outcomes, there was no consistent pattern of effects, even when stratifying studies by consumption behaviour, intervention type, or study design. There was a notable absence of evidence regarding interventions that restructure physical or economic environments. In summary, a heterogeneous, low-quality evidence base suggests an inconsistent moderating effect of low self-control on the effectiveness of interventions to change consumption behaviours.