Cybernetic Control Processes and the Self-Regulation of Behavior

Charles S Carver, Michael F. Scheier

Research output: Chapter in Book/Report/Conference proceedingChapter

26 Scopus citations


This chapter describes a set of ideas bearing on the self-regulation of action and emotion that has been given labels such as cybernetic and feedback control processes. The ideas have roots in many sources, including the concept of homeostasis and attempts to create mechanical devices to serve as governors for engines. With respect to motivation, these ideas yield a viewpoint in which goal-directed action is seen as reflecting a hierarchy of feedback control processes and the creation and reduction of affect are seen as reflecting another set of feedback processes. The portion of the model devoted to affect is of particular interest in that it generates two predictions that differ substantially from those deriving from other theories. The first is that both approach and avoidance can give rise to both positive and negative feelings; the second is that positive affect leads to coasting, reduction in effort regarding the goal under pursuit. The latter suggests a way in which positive affect is involved in priority management when many goals are in existence at the same time. Recent interest in dual-process models, which distinguish between top-down goal pursuit and reflexive responses to cues of the moment, has caused us to reexamine some of our previous assumptions and to consider the possibility that behavior is triggered in two distinct ways. The chapter closes with a brief consideration of how these ideas might be compatible with other viewpoints on motivation.

Original languageEnglish
Title of host publicationThe Oxford Handbook of Human Motivation
PublisherOxford University Press
ISBN (Print)9780199940936, 9780195399820
StatePublished - Sep 18 2012


  • Affect
  • Control theory
  • Cybernetic
  • Feedback loop

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Psychology(all)


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