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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1. Desired Future
1. Positive Experience
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
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
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.
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:
n = 43
Reverse Contrastingn = 45
Mental Contrastingn = 44
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.
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