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1. Desired Future. 1. Inconvenience. 1. Positive Experience. 2. Inconvenience. 2. Desired Future. 2. Negative Experience. Mental Contrasting Effects on Health Behavior. Henrik Singmann 1, Andreas Kappes 1 & Gabriele Oettingen 1,2

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Mental Contrasting Effects on Health Behavior

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Mental contrasting effects on health behavior

1. Desired Future

1. Inconvenience

1. Positive Experience

2. Inconvenience

2. Desired Future

2. Negative Experience

Mental ContrastingEffects on HealthBehavior

Henrik Singmann1, Andreas Kappes1 & Gabriele Oettingen1,2

1 University of Hamburg 2 New York University

Methods

Participants: 132 (+ 16 excluded) University of Hamburg students

Cover story: Participants were told that students after the transition from high school to university tend to change their habits in a unhealthy way. However, it would be easy to become fit again: They need only to include some extra activity in their daily routine, for example, taking the stairs instead of the elevator.

Furthermore participants were told that the impeding reality that keeps most students from becoming fit is Inconvenience.

Expectations of Success: “How likely do you think it is that you will become fit?” (7-point scale)

Desired future: Participants were asked which desired outcome they associated with becoming fit (e.g., improved physical well-being).

Induction of the Experimental Conditions

Participants elaborated:

Abstract

We examined whether the self-regulatory strategy of mentally contrasting a desired future with the impeding reality (i.e., mental contrasting; overview by Oettingen & Kappes, 2008) leads people to show expectancy-dependent behavior in the health domain. First, we told participants that using stairs is an effective means for becoming fit. Then, we recorded their expectations of successfully becoming fit and induced mental contrasting versus control conditions. Finally we asked participants to complete the last part of the experiment in a room three floors down. As dependent variable, we recorded whether participants took the stairs or the elevator. The results supported our hypotheses: Participants in the mental contrasting condition used the stairs according to their level of expectations for becoming fit, whereas participants in the control conditions did not.

Results

A GLM confirmed the expected interaction of condition with expectations of success on the probability of stair use (1 = stair use up and down; .50 = stair use one way only, either up or down), F(2,126) = 3.37, p = .04:

  • The correlation between expectations of success and stair use was higher (ps < .05) in the mental contrasting condition (β = .40, p < .05) than in the reversed contrasting condition (β = -.07, ns) and in the control condition (β = -.07, ns).

  • Participants in the mental contrasting condition with high expectations of success (expectations = 7) were more likely than participants in the two control conditions to use the stairs (ps < .05).

  • Participants in the mental contrasting condition with low expectations of success (expectations = 1) were less likely to use the stairs than participants in the control conditions (ps = .05).

  • Mental Contrasting Effects on Behavior

  • Research on self-regulation of goal-setting examines how people set themselves binding goals: by mentally contrasting a desired future with the impeding reality (i.e., mental contrasting): When expectations of success are high, mental contrasting leads to strong goal commitment; when expectations of success are low, mental contrasting leads to weak goal commitment (see Oettingen & Kappes, 2008, for an overview).

  • In the present research, we tested whether mental contrasting forges goal commitments strong enough to effect goal-relevant behavior, even when this behavior is hard to implement. We theorized that mental contrasting leads to the perception of the impeding reality as on obstacle standing in the way of the desired future. Hence, people should start to prepare themselves to overcome the obstacle, resulting in the successful activation of goal-relevant behavior when facing it.

  • In contrast, contrasting the impeding reality with the desired future (i.e., reverse contrasting) or elaborating something unrelated (i.e., control condition) should not lead to the perception of the impeding reality as an obstacles, hence people should not be prepared to implement the goal-relevant behavior

Control condition

n = 43

Reverse Contrastingn = 45

Mental Contrastingn = 44

Summary

Mental contrasting, rather than reverse contrasting or unrelated elaboration, led high-expectancy participants to use the proposed means (i.e. taking the stairs). Hence, we conclude that mental contrasting establishes goal-commitments strong enough to affect behavior.

Dependent Variable: Measure of Health Behavior

Participants were told that the next part of the experiment would be a measure of their BMI. This measure would take place three floors down. They were asked to go there by either the stairs or the elevator, and come back afterwards for the debriefing.

We observed the hall via a video camera and recorded whether participants took the stairs or the elevator.

Manipulation Check for DV

We excluded 16 participants from the analysis who reported suspicion after coming back from the BMI measure.

References

Oettingen, G. (2000). Expectancy effects on behavior depend on self-regulatory thought. Social Cognition, 18, 101-129

Oettingen, G., & Kappes, A. (2008). Mental contrasting of the future and reality to master negative feedback. In K. Markman, B. Klein & J. Suhr (Eds.) The Handbook of Imagination and Mental Simulation. Hove, GB: Psychology Press.

Oettingen, G., Pak, H., & Schnetter, K. (2001). Self-regulation of goal-setting: Turning free fantasies about the future into binding goals. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 80, 736-753.

Poster presented at the 2nd Annual Meeting of the Society for the Study of Motivation in San Francisco, CA, May 2009


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