The heritability of self-control: A meta-analysis

TitleThe heritability of self-control: A meta-analysis
Publication TypeJournal Article
Year of Publication2019
AuthorsWillems, YE, Boesen, N, Li, J, Finkenauer, C, Bartels, M
JournalNeuroscience & Biobehavioral Reviews
Keywordsgenetics, heritability, meta-analysis, self-control, Twin

Self-control is the ability to control one's impulses when faced with challenges or temptations, and is robustly associated with physiological and psychological well-being. Twin studies show that self-control is heritable, but estimates range between 0% and 90%, making it difficult to draw firm conclusions. The aim of this study was to perform a meta-analysis to provide a quantitative overview of the heritability of self-control. A systematic search resulted in 31 included studies, 17 reporting on individual samples, based on a sample size of >30,000 twins, published between 1997 and 2018. Our results revealed an overall monozygotic twin correlation of 0.58, and an overall dizygotic twin correlation of 0.28, resulting in a heritability estimate of 60%. The heritability of self-control did not vary across gender or age. The heritability did differ across informants, with stronger heritability estimates based on parent report versus self-report or observations. This finding provides evidence that when aiming to understand individual differences in self-control, one should take genetic factors into account. Recommendations for future research are discussed.