Kanfer’s self-regulation model: what is it and what is it for

Do you know what self-regulation is? What about self-control? Did you know that good self-regulation helps promote behavior change? Kanfer’s model of self-regulation talks about it all.

Through his model, Frederick Kanfer establishes that people go through 3 stages when it comes to self-regulation and to changing the probability of their behavior occurring: self-observation, self-evaluation and self-reinforcement.

    What is self-regulation?

    Self-regulation could be defined as the ability to regulate behaviorally and emotionally. It is a psychological variable that is part of personal development skills.

    Brown (1998), for his part, defines self-regulation as “the capacity of the person to plan, supervise and direct his behavior under changing circumstances”.

    In 1991, Brown developed with Miller a model which assumes that self-regulation is achieved through seven successive processes, namely introduction of information, self-assessment, propensity for change, research, change planning, implementation and evaluation. A deficit in one (or some) of these self-regulatory processes would imply certain inadequacies in the self-control of the behavior of the individual.

    For his part, Frederik. H. Kanfer, with Goldstein, define the concept of self-regulation as the ability of people to direct their own behavior.

    Kanfer’s model of self-regulation

    According to Kanfer, self-regulation (also known as self-control) implies that there is some underlying reason for inhibiting a sequence of responses which, under other circumstances, could have a high probability of occurring.

    That is, in the processes of self-regulation there is always a situation in which it is very likely that it performs some type of behavior, but nevertheless the likelihood of these behaviors occurring is reduced by the control (or direction) of the person.

    Based on these ideas, Kanfer’s model of self-regulation is mainly used to create the right situations in therapy for the patient to learn to change his problematic behaviors.


    The steps or phases proposed by Kanfer’s self-regulation model are as follows:

    1. Self-control

    Thanks to this state, the person observes their own behavior, so that they can identify what needs to be changed. In some cases, this also includes self-registration of the behavior.

    2. Self-assessment

    In this phase of Kanfer’s self-regulation model, the person determines standards, criteria or norms that mark or guide the goals that they wish to achieve. Thanks to these criteria, you can compare whether the behavior change is what you are looking for or not, According to their goals.

    3. Self-reinforcement (self-reinforcement)

    In self-reinforcement, the person manages the consequences themselves (Tangible or symbolic), either positive (in the event that it has met or exceeded the criteria) or negative (in the case of self-punishment, in the event that it has failed to meet the previously defined criteria In the latter case, it could also be that she is simply not being rewarded.

    Characteristics of the psychological model

    Kanfer’s model of self-regulation it is based on the feedback the person has of their actions, As well as the consequences it generates on itself or on the environment. The model highlights the criteria as something fundamental to develop a process of self-correction and self-control, to finally self-regulate.

    In itself, self-regulation, according to the author, consists of a self-correction procedure which would only appear if there was a discrepancy, imminent danger rate, or conflicting motivation stages. All of this would activate the first stage or self-observation system.

    But how would behavior be regulated by Kanfer’s model of self-regulation? First of all, the person would need to feel the need to increase the efficiency of his own behavior towards certain tasks, in order to be able to self-regulate his behavior. The person may also be faced with a situation that requires a change in the probability of certain behaviors occurring.

    Self-control, in turn, would involve an aversive state (Unlike the self-regulation stage); Faced with this aversive state, the person must strive to modify the probability of occurrence of one or more responses.


    Why are self-monitoring programs appearing? In Kanfer’s model of self-regulation, he considers a number of reasons or motives that motivate the creation and use of such programs.

    On the one hand, this is due to the fact that there are many behaviors that are only accessible to the subject himself. In addition, problematic behaviors they relate to cognitive activity and the person’s own reactions, And is not directly observable, therefore a process of self-regulation is necessary.

    Kanfer also sees the need to offer an intervention that proposes the change as something positive and doable for the person, with the aim of increasing their motivation for such a change.

    Finally, according to Kanfer’s self-regulation model, the intervention must aim to teach the patient to manage possible relapses or new problems, In addition to trying to resolve current conflicts or issues.


    Self-regulation and self-control processes they are very important in therapy. Regarding the effectiveness of psychological interventions, if these two processes are developed effectively by the patient, it is likely that the clinical therapy sessions will be reduced, as well as the activity of the therapist.

    In addition, all of this would also benefit and strengthen the patient’s sense of responsibility and involvement, who would feel responsible for their changes and progress, thus promoting their self-image and self-esteem.

    Bibliographical references:

    • De la Fuente, J., Peralta, FJ and Sánchez, MD (2009). Personal self-regulation and perception of inappropriate school behavior. Psicothema, 21 (4); 548-55.
    • Goldfried, MR and Merbaum, M. (1973). A perspective on self-control. In MR Goldfried and M. Merbaum (Eds.), Behavior change through self-control (pages 3-34). New York: Holt, Rinehart and Winston.
    • Kanfer, F. (1986). Implications of a self-regulatory therapy model for the treatment of addictive behaviors. In WR Miller and N. Heather (Eds.): Treatment of addictive behaviors: process of change. New York: Plenum Press.
    • Kanfer, FH and Hagerman, S. (1981). The role of self-regulation. In LP Rehm (Ed.), Behavior Therapy for Depression: Present and Future Directions (143-179). New York: Academic Press.

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