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Implementation Intentions: Strong Effects of Simple Plans



When people encounter problems in translating their goals into action (e.g., failing to get started, becoming distracted, or falling into bad habits), they may strategically call on automatic processes in an attempt to secure goal attainment. This can be achieved by plans in the form of implementation intentions that link anticipated critical situations to goal-directed responses ("Whenever situation x arises, I will initiate the goal-directed response y!"). Implementation intentions delegate the control of goal-directed responses to anticipated situational cues, which (when actually encountered) elicit these responses automatically. A program of research demonstrates that implementation intentions further the attainment of goals, and it reveals the underlying processes. (PsycINFO Database Record (c) 2012 APA, all rights reserved)
Implementation Intentions 1
Implementation Intentions
Peter M. Gollwitzer
New York University/Universität Konstanz
Paschal Sheeran
University of Sheffield
Implementation intentions (Gollwitzer, 1993, 1996; summaries by Gollwitzer, 1999;
Gollwitzer, Bayer, & McCulloch, 2005; Gollwitzer & Sheeran, 2006; Sheeran, Milne, Webb, &
Gollwitzer, 2006) are if-then plans that link situational cues (i.e., good opportunities to act,
critical moments) with responses that are effective in attaining goals or desired outcomes (“If
situation Y is encountered, then I will initiate behavior Z in order to reach goal X!”). Implementation
intentions are formed for the purpose of enhancing the translation of goal intentions into action.
The idea is that intention realization can be promoted by forming if-then plans that enable people to
deal effectively with self-regulatory problems that might otherwise undermine goal striving.
Accumulated evidence indicates that if-then plan formation promotes effective management of
various problems in goal striving and increases rates of goal attainment. These effects are observed
because component processes of implementation intentions mean that people are in a good position
both to see and to seize good opportunities to move toward their goals. Implementation intention
effects are stronger when self-regulatory problems beset goal striving, and when if-then planning is
supported by strong, activated goal intentions. Below, we develop these points under the headings
(1) goal intentions and goal attainment, (2) self-regulatory problems in goal striving, (3) the nature
and operation of implementation intention, (4) forming effective implementation intentions: relating
if-then plans to self-regulatory problems, and (5) moderators of implementation intention effects.
Implementation Intentions 2
Goal Intentions and Goal Attainment
Most theories designed to understand and predict health behaviors—including protection
motivation theory (PMT, Rogers, 1983), the prototype/willingness model (PWM; Gibbons, Gerrard,
& Lane, 2003), the theory of planned behavior (TPB; Ajzen, 1991), and social cognitive theory
(Bandura, 1997)—construe the formation of a goal intention as the key act of willing that promotes
goal attainment. Goal intentions can be defined as the instructions that people give themselves
to perform particular behaviors or to achieve certain desired outcomes (Triandis, 1980) and are
measured by items of the form, “I intend to achieve X!” Goal intentions can vary in strength as they
index a commitment to pursuing a goal or performing a behavior (Gollwitzer, 1990; Webb &
Sheeran, 2005). For example, smokers may have weak intentions to quit smoking next week but
strongly intend to quit ‘some day;’ a woman may intend to get a mammogram soon, and an
overweight man might definitely intend to lose a certain amount of weight during the coming year.
Correlational surveys that measure participants’ goal intentions at one time-point and
measure behavioral outcomes at a later time-point seem to support the predictive validity of goal
intentions. For instance, a meta-analysis of 10 previous meta-analyses found that goal intentions
accounted for 28% of the variance in behavior, on average, across 422 studies (Sheeran, 2002).
Although R2 = .28 is a large effect size (cf. Cohen, 1992), a substantial proportion of the variance in
behavior is not explained by goal intentions. The magnitude of the gap between intentions and action
is illuminated by studies that decomposed this relationship in terms of a 2 (goal intention: to act vs.
not to act) × 2 (goal attainment: acted vs. did not act) matrix (Orbell & Sheeran, 1998). A review of
health behavior matrices (e.g., condom use, exercise, cancer screening) found that people translated
their ‘good’ intentions into action only 53% of the time (Sheeran, 2002). More seriously, evidence
indicates that correlational studies overestimate the consistency between intentions and behavior. A
meta-analysis of experimental studies that succeeding in changing goal intentions among treatment
Implementation Intentions 3
versus control conditions (Webb & Sheeran, 2006) found that the magnitude of the difference in
subsequent behavior was only small-to-medium (R2 = .03). In sum, accumulated evidence indicates
that forming even strong goal intentions does not guarantee goal attainment.
Self-Regulatory Problems in Goal Striving
Why do people often fail to translate goal intentions into goal attainment? According to the
model of action phases (Heckhausen & Gollwitzer, 1987), forming an intention to pursue a particular
goal is only the first step on the path to goal attainment; to attain the goal the person must also
effectively regulate actual striving for the goal (i.e., implement their goal intention successfully).
Realizing one’s goal intentions can be difficult because people often confront problems en route to
goal attainment (Gollwitzer & Sheeran, 2006). In the context of health goals, two self-regulatory
problems appear to offer the greatest challenges to effective goal striving—failing to get started, and
getting derailed along the way.
Failing to Get Started with Goal Striving
Remembering to act. Three factors seem to be involved in failures to get started with goal
striving. The first problem is remembering to act, and is encapsulated by the title of a recent paper by
Einstein, McDaniel and colleagues, “forgetting of intentions in demanding situations is rapid”
(Einstein, McDaniel, Williford, Pagan, & Dismukes, 2003). That is, dealing with many things at
once or being engrossed in a particular task make it difficult to remember to act on one’s goal
intention. Indeed, people spontaneously explain their failures to enact their intentions in terms of
‘forgetting’ (e.g., 70% of participants who intended to but did not perform breast self-examination
offered this explanation; Orbell, Hodgkins, & Sheeran, 1997).
Seizing an opportune moment to act. Even if one remembers to act, there is a second
problem that needs to be solved, namely, seizing an opportune moment to act. This problem is
especially acute when people are faced with tight deadlines or small windows of opportunity. In
Implementation Intentions 4
these circumstances, people may fail to initiate goal striving because they do not notice that a good
time to get started has arrived or because they are unsure about how they should act when the
opportunity presents itself. For instance, Sheeran and Orbell (2000) found that 31% of a sample of
women who were invited to attend for cervical cancer screening failed to seize this opportunity (by
making the necessary appointment) despite strong intentions to be screened (M = 4.60 on a 1-5
Second thoughts at the critical moment. Finally, people may not get started with goal-
directed behaviors even in situations when they both remember to act and they realize that a good
time to act is upon them—because they start to have ‘second thoughts’ at the critical moment. This
is the problem of overcoming initial reluctance (Gollwitzer & Sheeran, 2006) and arises when people
intend to perform behaviors that are perceived as having benefits in the long term but costs in the
short-term (e.g., take the low-fat lunch option, use a condom). Often it is hard for people to initiate
their intended healthy action when faced with a delicious curry on the lunch menu (Roefs et al.,
2006) or in the heat of a sexual encounter (Abraham et al., 1999).
Getting Derailed during Goal Striving
Even assuming that the person is successful in initiating goal striving, it is still not yet certain
that the goal will be attained. This is because accomplishing important health and social goals
generally requires not one single action but rather demands repeated and persistent goal striving.
Several problems can arise during the course of goal striving and prevent the realization of one’s
goal intention. Three particular problems that can send people off track are addressed here:
spontaneously attending to distracting stimuli, falling prey to bad habits, and becoming overwhelmed
by negative, intrusive self-states such as distress (see Gollwitzer & Sheeran, 2006; Gollwitzer, Parks,
Jaudas, & Sheeran, 2007, for further elaboration).
Implementation Intentions 5
Enticing stimuli. Michel’s (Mischel & Ebbeson, 1970; Mischel & Patterson, 1978; Patterson
& Mischel, 1976) classic studies on resistance to temptation demonstrated how spontaneous
attention to enticing stimuli can undermine goal achievement. For instance, one experiment
found that when children could see a less preferred reward, they succumbed to temptation; when
both rewards were absent, they were more likely to wait in order to obtain the preferred reward
(Mischel & Ebbeson, 1970; see also Gollwitzer & Schaal, 1998). More recently, Ehrman et al.
(2002) found that smokers demonstrate attention biases to smoking-related images compared to both
non-smokers and former smokers. Often, however, it is not sufficient merely to suppress attention to
opportunities related to competing goal pursuits—suppression of behavioral responses also is
Suppressing behavioral responses. Suppressing such behavioral responses is not easy when
the relevant actions have been performed frequently and consistently in the same context, and have
thus acquired features of automaticity (i.e., the response has become habitual). A meta-analysis by
Ouellette and Wood (1998) showed that when behaviors have been performed repeatedly in stable
situational contexts in the past (i.e., circumstances conducive to habit formation) then goal intentions
only weakly predict future performance of the behavior. Consistent with this analysis, Garbe and
Buettner (2000) found that sunscreen use was compromised by outdoor work habits.
Negative States
Goal striving also can get derailed when people succumb to the unwanted influence of
negative self-states (e.g., negative mood or distress). For instance, Cinciripini et al. (2003) showed
that distress undermined smokers’ efforts to quit even controlling for other factors (demographics,
self-efficacy, etc.). Tice, Bratslavsky, and Baumeister (2001) showed that when people are in a bad
mood they prioritize mood repair over other goals and thus are liable to engage in behaviors assumed
to offer solace in the short-term (e.g., consuming high-calorie foodstuff). Sheeran, Aubrey, and
Implementation Intentions 6
Kellett (2007) found that expectations of negative affect (i.e., anticipated feelings of shame or
embarrassment) was the key factor that militated against clients attending their scheduled, initial
appointments for psychotherapy—even though participants had strong intentions to attend. In sum,
unwanted attention responses, unwanted behaviors, and unwanted thoughts and feelings can each
drive goal striving off track and prevent people from reaching their goals.
The Nature and Operation of Implementation Intentions
Whereas goal intentions specify what one wants to do or achieve (i.e., “I intend to achieve
X!”), implementation intentions specify the behavior that one will perform in the service of
goal attainment and the situational context in which one will enact it, in the format of an if-then
plan (i.e., “If situation Y occurs, then I will initiate goal-directed response Z!”). Implementation
intentions are subordinate to goal intentions because, whereas a goal intention specifies what one
will do, an implementation intention only spells out the when, where, and how of what one will do.
Forming Implementation Intentions
Identifying response and critical cues. To form an implementation intention, the person
must first identify a response that is instrumental for goal attainment and, second, anticipate a critical
cue to initiate that response. For example, the person might specify the behavior “perform breast
self-examination” and specify a situational cue “just before I leave the shower tomorrow morning” in
order to enact the goal intention of detecting possible breast cancer. Implementation intention
formation is the mental act of linking an anticipated critical situation with an effective goal-directed
response. An association is formed between mental representations of specified cues (opportune or
critical situations) and means of attaining goals (cognitive or behavioral responses) in an act of will.
Heightening accessibility of cues. The mental links created by implementation intentions
facilitate goal attainment on the basis of psychological processes that relate to both the anticipated
situation (the if-part of the plan) and the intended behavior (the then-part of the plan). Because
Implementation Intentions 7
forming an implementation intention implies the selection of a critical future situation, the mental
representation of this situation becomes highly activated, and hence more accessible (Gollwitzer,
1999). This heightened accessibility of the if-part of the plan was demonstrated in several studies
(e.g., Aarts, Dijksterhuis, & Midden, 1999; Parks-Stamm, Gollwitzer, & Oettingen, 2007; Webb &
Sheeran, in press, 2007) and means that people are in a good position to identify and take notice of
the critical cue when they subsequently encounter it (e.g., Webb & Sheeran, 2004). For instance,
participants who formed implementation intentions to collect a coupon were faster to recognize
words related to location of the coupon (e.g., corridor, red door) compared to participants who only
formed the goal intentions to collect the coupon; and implementation intention participants also were
more likely to collect the coupon subsequently.
Strategic automaticity of response. Studies also indicate that implementation intention
formation forges a strong association between the specified opportunity and the specified response
(Webb & Sheeran, in press, 2007). The upshot of these strong links is that the initiation of the goal-
directed response specified in the if-then plan becomes automated, that is, exhibits features of
automaticity including immediacy, efficiency, and redundancy of conscious intent (Bargh, 1994).
The idea is that people do not have to deliberate anymore about when and how they should act when
they have formed an implementation intention—unlike people who have formed mere goal
intentions. Evidence that if-then planners act quickly (Gollwitzer & Brandstätter, 1997, Experiment
3), deal effectively with cognitive demands (Brandstätter, Lengfelder, & Gollwitzer, 2001), and do
not need to consciously intend to act at the critical moment (Sheeran, Webb, & Gollwitzer, 2005,
Study 2) is consistent with this idea.
These component processes of implementation intentions (enhanced cue accessibility,
automatization of responding) mean that if-then planners are in a good position both to see and to
seize good opportunities to move towards their goals. Fashioning an if-then plan strategically
Implementation Intentions 8
automates goal striving (Gollwitzer & Schaal, 1998) because people delegate control of goal-
directed behaviors to pre-selected situational cues with the express purpose of reaching their goals—
automatic action initiation originates in an act of will (if-then planning). But does the strategic
automaticity in implementation intentions enable people to deal effectively with self-regulatory
problems in goal striving (failing to get started, getting derailed) and increase rates of goal
attainment? Findings from a recent meta-analysis (Gollwitzer & Sheeran, 2006) suggest that this is
the case.
Self-regulatory Problems Related to Getting Started
Gollwitzer and Sheeran (2006) found that implementation intention formation had a medium-
to-large effect on alleviating failures to get started with goal striving (d = .61). That is, if-then
planning substantially increased the likelihood of initiating action compared to merely forming
respective goal intentions, and this was the case for each of the three specific self-regulatory
problems of getting started: remembering to act (e.g., taking vitamin pills; Sheeran & Orbell,
1999), missing opportunities (obtaining a mammography; Rutter, Steadman, & Quine, 2006), and
overcoming initial reluctance (e.g., undertaking a testicular self-examination; Sheeran, Milne,
Webb, & Gollwitzer, 2005). Implementation intention formation had an effect of similar magnitude
on preventing derailment of goal striving (d = .77). Overall, forming implementation intentions had a
medium-to-large effect on rates of goal attainment across the 94 studies included in the review (d =
.65). Thus, if-then plans make an important difference to whether or not people translate their goal
intentions into action.
Forming Effective Implementation Intentions:
Relating the If-Then Plan to the Self-Regulatory Problem at Hand
Discovering the Form of the Self-regulatory Problem
Implementation Intentions 9
Because implementation intentions are formed to aid the translation of goal intentions into
action, a useful starting point for if-then planning is to identify what self-regulatory problem besets a
person’s goal striving—what prevents the person from reaching goal X? Gollwitzer and Sheeran’s
(2006) review suggested that problems in getting started with goal striving and getting derailed are
likely to pose significant self-regulatory challenges across a range of different behaviors and various
goal domains. It seems wise, however, to discover whether these problems arise and what particular
form the self-regulatory problem takes (e.g., remembering to act versus initial reluctance) among
one’s target population. Several strategies can be used in this regard. For instance, previous
qualitative or quantitative research concerning the focal behavior can provide clues about the
nature of the self-regulatory challenges. Also, pilot research could be undertaken to ascertain the
specific self-regulatory problem (e.g., by asking a sub-sample to list problems they encountered
during previous attempts to reach the goal). Both of these approaches proved informative in Sheeran
et al.’s (in press) study of non-attendance for psychotherapy; these researchers obtained qualitative
studies that investigated people’s reasons for not keeping their psychotherapy appointment and they
also undertook interviews with small samples of clients who attended versus did not attend an
appointment that they had been given. Two other possibilities are to invite participants to nominate
what they perceive as the most pressing problem for them personally, or to generate a list of self-
regulatory problems and ask participants to select the problems that they most want to manage
(Achtziger, Gollwitzer, & Sheeran, in press).
Selecting An Effective Response and Suitable Occasion
Once the self-regulatory problem has been identified, the next step is to select (a) a response
that is effective in dealing with this problem, and (b) a suitable occasion to initiate that response.
That is, an implementation intention should specify a cognitive or behavioral response that is
instrumental for obtaining the goal in the then-part of the plan, and specify an opportune moment to
Implementation Intentions 10
execute that response in the if-part of the plan. For instance to reach the goal of obtaining screening
for cervical cancer, the plan might be, “If it is [time and place specified by participant], then I will
[participant specifies how they will make an appointment, e.g., by phone]!” (Sheeran & Orbell,
2000). Selecting a suitable occasion to enact a goal-directed response involves anticipating a
situation where it would be fitting to execute the goal-directed response. The occasion or critical
situation specified in the if-part of the plan could be either an internal cue (e.g., a strong feeling) or
an external cue (e.g., a particular place, object, person, or point in time). The critical situation can be
suitable or fitting either because it represents a feasible opportunity to act (i.e., it is easy to execute
the goal-directed response at this moment) or because the situation represents an anticipated obstacle
to goal striving that needs to be overcome in order to reach the goal (Oettingen, Park,& Schnetter,
Selecting a goal-directed response involves anticipating how to make progress towards
one’s goal by dealing effectively with key self-regulatory problems en route to goal attainment.
Because for any given goal various routes to goal attainment are possible (Kruglanski et al., 2002), it
follows that the specification of the then-part of the implementation intention can take many
different forms. For instance, the then-part of a plan could specify enacting one of the many
behaviors that lead to goal attainment, or specify ignoring those stimuli that engender unwanted
responses and thereby threaten goal attainment. In addition, the specification of the goal-directed
response could focus on either the initiation of goal striving or the maintenance of an ongoing goal
pursuit. Thus, the if- and then-parts of implementation intentions can be used to resolve self-
regulatory problems in goal striving in three ways (a) by promoting the initiation of goal striving
and thus circumventing problems in failing to get started and getting derailed prematurely, (b) by
stabilizing goal striving in order to ensure that unwanted influences do not derail goal striving, and
(c) by shielding goal striving from anticipated obstacles that could send goal striving off track.
Implementation Intentions 11
Table 1 provides examples of possible implementation intentions that exemplify the various
dimensions of the if-parts and then-parts of plans outlined above, and illustrate how different self-
regulatory problems might be handled effectively. For instance, Example 1 (And if it is 5pm on
Monday, then I will jog home from work!) specifies an external cue (a time and place) in the if-part
of the plan and the initiation of a goal-directed behavior in order to aid remembering to act and make
progress towards the goal of increasing physical activity. Example 5 (And if I have walked up one
flight of stairs and see the elevator, I tell myself ‘I can do it! I can take the stairs all of the way up to
my office!’) also specifies an external cue, but here the cue threatens to send goal striving off track
(one might be tempted to take the elevator in this situation). The then-part of the implementation
intention is therefore geared at stabilising goal striving (by specifying self-talk that enhances self-
efficacy at the critical juncture; see Bayer & Gollwitzer, 2007) in order to emancipate the goal of
increasing physical activity from the influence of unwanted (sedentary) habits. Finally, in Example
4, the if-part of the plan specifies an internal cue (And if I start thinking about my favorite snack…)
and the then-part of the plan specifies an ignore response (…then I immediately ignore that thought!)
in order to meet the goal of reducing one’s intake of high-fat snacks. This critical situation and goal-
directed response are specified because evidence indicates that preventing people from elaborating
desire thoughts is effective in shielding dieting goals from unwanted attention responses (see
Achtziger et al., in press). Three further issues need to be addressed concerning the formation of
effective implementation intentions.
Precision, Multiple Implementation Intentions, and Format
First is the issue of precision in selecting the if-parts and then-parts of implementation
intentions. If-then planning may not be very effective if relevant opportunities and responses are not
specified precisely. For example, a plan that specifies “exercise more” in the then-part of the plan
and “tomorrow” in the if-part has not spelled out an unambiguous opportunity to act or a specific
Implementation Intentions 12
goal-directed response to initiate—the person still has to identify a particular behavior to perform in
a particular situation to facilitate goal achievement (e.g., “If it is 5pm on Monday, then I will job
home from work!”). Having to thus deliberate about when, where, and what to do in situ means that
the person is unlikely to garner the benefits of enhanced accessibility of critical cues and automation
of responding that is conferred by forming precise if-then plans; the person seems no better off than
having merely formed the goal intention to “exercise more tomorrow.” Second, and related, is the
issue of forming multiple implementation intentions. To achieve complex goals, the person may
need to perform manifold behaviors and so face numerous self-regulatory problems. In such
instances, it may be useful to form more than one if-then plan. Provided the components of the plan
are precise (i.e., deliberation about appropriate opportunities and responses is not required in situ),
viable (i.e., the specified situations will be encountered, the specified responses can be executed),
instrumental (i.e., the specified situation permits action, the specified response facilitates goal
achievement), and non-overlapping (i.e., different responses are not specified in relation to the same
cue, specified responses do not conflict), then the formation of multiple implementation intentions
should prove helpful in promoting goal attainment (see Achtziger et al., 2007; Murgraff, White, &
Phillips, 1997, for empirical examples).
Third and last is the issue of the format of implementation intentions. If-then plans, by
definition, have a contingent format. The importance of using an if-then format in wording the plan
was demonstrated by Oettingen, Hönig, and Gollwitzer (2000, Study 3). All participants were
provided with diskettes containing four concentration tasks and were asked to perform these tasks on
their computers each Wednesday morning for the next four weeks. Participants in the control
condition were asked to indicate what time they would perform the task by responding to the
statement “I will perform as many arithmetic tasks as possible each Wednesday at _____ (self-
chosen time before noon).” Participants in the implementation intention condition, on the other hand,
Implementation Intentions 13
indicated their chosen time by responding to the statement “If it is Wednesday at _____ (self-chosen
time before noon), then I will perform as many arithmetic tasks as possible!” The programme on the
diskette recorded the time that participants started to work on the task from the clock on participants’
computers. Despite the apparent similarity between the control and implementation intention
instructions, the conditional structure of the implementation intention had a dramatic impact on how
closely participants performed the task to their intended time indicating that using the defining if-
then format in implementation intention inductions is important to ensure strong implementation
intention effects.
Finally, one might wonder what happens if for any reason people fail to enact their
implementation intentions: Is the person then less able to continue goal striving compared to having
formed a mere goal intention. Recent evidence suggests that because implementation intentions
conserve regulatory capacity (Gollwitzer & Sheeran, 2006), people are in a better – not worse –
position to continue goal striving. For instance, implementation intention participants whose goal of
visiting a website was blocked (the website had been taken off the net) actually showed more
frequent subsequent attempts to get through compared to mere goal intention participants. In fact,
evidence indicates that people who form implementation intentions not only make more frequent
attempts to reach the goal when their path is blocked, they also make higher quality and more
strenuous attempts to overcome the blockage (Gollwitzer, Parks-Stamm, Jaudas, & Sheeran, 2007;
Martijn et al., 2008). Thus, fears that blockage of the execution of an if-then plan handicaps
continued goal striving would seem unfounded.
Moderators of Implementation Intention Effects
Self-regulatory Problems
As well as features of respective if-then plans (e.g., the precision, viability, and
instrumentality of the plan components), two other factors are important in determining the strength
Implementation Intentions 14
of implementation intention effects. The first concerns the presence of a self-regulatory problem.
When there are few barriers to goal achievement, then favorable goal intentions and self-efficacy can
suffice in promoting performance, and implementation intention formation might be superfluous
(e.g., Gollwitzer & Brandstätter, 1997, Studies 1 & 2; Sheeran & Orbell, 1999, Study 1). However,
when goal striving is difficult, or when people have chronic difficulties in striving to obtain their
goals (e.g., schizophrenic patients, opiate addicts, patients with a frontal lobe injury; see Brandstätter
et al., 2001; Lengfelder & Gollwitzer, 2001) then it is especially worthwhile to engage in if-then
planning (Gollwitzer & Sheeran, 2006).
Strength of Goal Intentions
A second determinant of the strength of implementation intention effects is the state of the
respective goal intention. When people have no intention of pursuing a health goal then they are
unlikely to form an implementation intention that spells out adequately when, where, and how the
goal will be pursued, even when asked to do (Sheeran, Milne, Webb, & Gollwitzer, 2005). Sheeran,
Webb, and Gollwitzer (2005) showed that strong effects of implementation intentions were obtained
predominantly when the underlying goal intention was strong and activated (see also Seehausen
Bayer, & Gollwitzer, 1994, cited in Gollwitzer, 1996). Similarly, Koestner, Lekes, Powers, and
Chicoine (2002) showed that if-then plans benefited the completion of personal projects more when
those projects were consistent with personal interests and values than when projects were motivated
by external reasons such as social pressure. Because implementation intentions are formed for the
purpose of enhancing the translation of goal intentions into action, it is important to ensure that
strong positive goal intentions exist among one’s target sample. If goal intentions are unfavorable,
then studies may need to start out with a motivational intervention to promote the requisite goal
intentions before having participants form implementation intentions that are designed to strengthen
intention-behavior consistency (Oettingen, Barry, Guttenberg, & Gollwitzer, 2007).
Implementation Intentions 15
Implementation Intentions 16
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Implementation Intentions 19
Does social reality widen the intention-behavior gap. Manuscript under review.
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Implementation Intentions 23
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Action Control by Implementation Intentions 24
Table 1
Examples of Possible Implementation Intentions Geared at Resolving Self-Regulatory Problems in Failing to Get Started with Goal Striving and
Getting Derailed.
Self-Regulatory Problem Example of Implementation Intention Relevant Studies
Failing to Get Started
Remembering to act [1. Goal is to increase physical activity] Chasteen, Park, and Schwarz (2001); Gollwitzer and
And if it is 5pm on Monday, then I Brandstätter (1997, Study 2); Koestner et al. (2002);
will jog home from work! Sheeran and Orbell (1999).
Missing opportunities [2. Goal is to obtain health and safety Brändstatter, Lengfelder, and Gollwitzer (2001, Study 1);
training] As soon as I receive the list of Dholakia & Bagozzi (2003); Gollwitzer and Brandstätter
courses, then I will immediately make the (1997, Study 3); Oettingen, Hönig, and Gollwitzer (2000,
phone call to book my place on the Study 3); Sheeran and Orbell (2000); Sheeran and
first course! Silverman (2003).
Initial reluctance [3. Goal is to eat healthily] Bayer and Gollwitzer (2007); Orbell and Sheeran (2000);
And if it is Saturday at 10am, then Prestwich, Lawton, and Conner (2003); Sheeran, Webb,
I will select 5 low-fat dishes from my and Gollwitzer (2005, Study 1).
cook book to make during the week!
Action Control by Implementation Intentions 25
Getting Derailed
Unwanted attention responses [4. Goal is to reduce intake of high-fat Achtziger, Gollwitzer, and Sheeran (in press); Gawrilow
snacks] And if I start to think about my Gollwitzer (in press); Gollwitzer and Schaal (1998); Paul,
favorite snack, then I will immediately Gawrilow, Zech, Gollwitzer, Rockstroh, Odenthal, Kratzer,
ignore that thought! and Wienbruch (2007).
Falling prey to bad habits [5. Goal is to increase physical activity] Cohen, Bayer, Jaudas, and Gollwitzer (2008);
And if I have walked up one flight of Holland, Aarts, and Langendam (2006);
stairs and see the elevator, then I will tell Verplanken and Faes (1999)
myself ‘I can do it! I can take the stairs
all the way up to my office!’
Detrimental self-states [6. Goal is to remain calm in an anxiety- Gollwitzer and Bayer (2000); Gollwitzer, Sheeran,
provoking situation] And if my heart Michalski, and Seifert (2008); Schweiger Gallo and
starts to race, then I will start my Gollwitzer (2007); Sheeran, Aubrey, and Kellett (2007).
breathing exercise!
Action Control by Implementation Intentions 26
... Reasoned processes are relied on to complete the action-plans, whereby individuals pre-determine the parameters for initiating their goal-directed behaviour by identifying the situational cue (i.e., "If situation X is encountered, then goal-directed behaviour Y will be initiated"). Identifying the contingency between the goaldirected behaviour and situational cue creates a mental link, which prompts the behaviour to occur via automatic processes when the situational cue is encountered (Aarts, et al., 1999;Gollwitzer, 1999;Webb & Sheeran, 2004). Implementation intentions have effectively facilitated change for a range of behaviours such as eating more fruit with a medium metaanalytic effect size (Adriaanse et al., 2011), increased physical exercise with a medium effect size (Robinson et al., 2019), reduced bingedrinking with a small effect size (Norman et al., 2019), and smoking cessation (Armitage, 2016;McWilliams, et al., 2019). ...
... Applying dual process theory (Evans & Stanovich, 2013;Strack & Deutsch, 2004) to coping behaviour is supported by research which has found automatic processes to predict PFC behaviour more strongly than reasoned processes (Keech & Hamilton, 2022). Therefore, applying a behaviour change method known to target both automatic and reasoned processes, such as implementation intentions (Gollwitzer, 1999;Hamilton et al., 2021), may prove effective in this context. The research was conducted in two phases. ...
... While action planning for PFC remained significantly higher at the follow up, the strength of the effect had started to decline. Considering the theoretical foundations of implementation intentions plans (Gollwitzer, 1999), a possible explanation is that the intervention relied on retrospective recall of the plan, prior to the establishment of a strong mental link. In the context of implementation intentions, a mental link refers to the cognitive association between the intended goal behaviour and the situational cue (Gollwitzer, 1999). ...
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University students consistently report high levels of stress, which has been associated with a range of adverse outcomes. Promoting adaptive coping behaviours, such as problem‐focused coping for managing university stress, is therefore a timely area of investigation. Current coping intervention approaches target reasoned cognitive processes; however, recent research has suggested that automatic processes are more strongly associated with problem‐focused coping behaviour. The current study examined the effect of an implementation intentions intervention, a technique that can support behaviour to be performed automatically by facilitating continued repetition of a plan, on problem‐focused coping behaviour under stress and stress‐related outcomes. Following a pilot study ( N = 21), a preregistered randomized controlled trial was conducted with university students ( N = 154) using an online survey. Participants completed baseline measures of problem‐focused coping behaviour, behavioural automaticity, behavioural intentions, action planning, perceived stress, procrastination, and psychological wellbeing; before receiving the intervention or control condition stimuli, and then at a 2‐week follow‐up. Behavioural intention and action planning were also measured immediately post‐intervention. The intervention had a significant medium‐sized effect on action planning for problem‐focused coping, but no other significant effects were detected. Exploratory assessment of plan quality revealed medium‐sized correlations between plan quality and changes in problem‐focused coping behaviour. Findings indicate that implementation intentions may be a promising approach for increasing planning for the use of problem‐focused coping. Indicators of plan quality found to be associated with changes in problem‐focused coping provide valuable avenues for intervention optimisation in future research.
... In children with ADHD, Paul-Jordanov et al. [77] found that the effects of cognitive control through if-then plans (see [78]) modulate the event-related potential component P300 measured with a high-density electroencephalogram (EEG) and also facilitate response inhibition using a combined classification and Go/No-Go task paradigm. Moreover, this effect was comparable to the effects of methylphenidate treatment. ...
Full-text available
Treatment of the ADHD types (hyperactive-impulsive, inattentive, and combined) in children has rarely been studied separately, although their prognostic courses differ widely. In addition, data show that improvements in hyperactivity/impulsivity are hard to achieve. Thus, we focused on treatments tailored to hyperactivity/impulsivity. We examined meta-analyses and systematic reviews within the inter- and intra-individual treatments and found that psychoeducation and training for parents, school-based interventions, reinforcement strategies, and neurofeedback consistently showed small to moderate effect sizes in reducing hyperactivity/impulsivity in children. Conversely, emotional self-regulation, social skills, and cognitive trainings showed unsatisfactory results. In summary, we found that the quality of usual care can be surpassed when the designated interventions are purposefully combined into a multimodal treatment program.
... By contrasting a positive future with a present reality, mental contrasting strengthens goal commitment, and it is more effective than thinking about a positive future (so-called 'indulging'). Mental contrasting is often combined with a technique called 'implementation intentions'; a self-regulatory strategy related to goal striving that encourages people to make 'if-then' plans related to their goals [13][14][15][16]. For example, if the goal is to eat less refined sugar, an 'if-then' plan might be, "If I feel like a sweet snack in the afternoon, then I will have an apple." ...
Full-text available
Many workplaces offer health and wellbeing initiatives to their staff as recommended by international and national health organisations. Despite their potential, the influence of these initiatives on health behaviour appears limited and evaluations of their effectiveness are rare. In this research, we propose evaluating the effectiveness of an established behaviour change intervention in a new workplace context. The intervention, ‘mental contrasting plus implementation intentions’, supports staff in achieving their health and wellbeing goals by encouraging them to compare the future with the present and to develop a plan for overcoming anticipated obstacles. We conducted a systematic review that identified only three trials of this intervention in workplaces and all of them were conducted within healthcare organisations. Our research will be the first to evaluate the effectiveness of mental contrasting outside a solely healthcare context. We propose including staff from 60 organisations, 30 in the intervention and 30 in a waitlisted control group. The findings will contribute to a better understanding of how to empower and support staff to improve their health and wellbeing. Trial registration: ISRCTN17828539 .
Increases in dog guardianship and the demand for dog-friendly travel services present an opportunity for tourism providers, but this market can still be undervalued or taken for granted. A better understanding of the social behavior and experiences of traveling with dogs is required to discern what impacts guardians’ behavioral tendencies to travel with their dogs. Built on past literature and the reflective-impulsive model (RIM) of social behavior, a conceptual model was developed based on four social representations/perceptions (human–dog symbiotic relationship, dog well-being beliefs, information acquisition, and perceived risks) that influence guardians’ motivational orientation (intrinsic motivation) and behavioral tendencies (intention and behavioral schema) to travel with their dogs. A mixed methods design, with an online survey ( N = 611) to test the model using partial least squares structural equation modeling (PLS-SEM) and semi-structured interviews ( N = 34), was used to develop a better understanding of the social representations and experiences of guardians traveling with their dogs. Results from the quantitative analysis show that dog well-being beliefs had the strongest positive impact, while both dog well-being beliefs and information acquisition impacted motivation and behavioral tendencies. Perceived risks had a negative effect only on behavioral schema, while the human–dog symbiotic relationship required intrinsic motivation to drive behavioral patterns. Qualitative findings highlight the lived experiences of those traveling with their dogs, emphasizing that human and dog well-being and enjoyment are important to guardians, while issues persist with guardians finding adequate dog-friendly travel information and concerns regarding risks remain. Theoretical and managerial implications are provided.
Background and Aims Retroactive jealousy is an unhealthy interest in a partner's romantic/sexual history that has a detrimental effect on sufferers and relationships. Significant numbers of people seek therapeutic help for retroactive jealousy each year, but no research has used their lived experiences to identify potential therapeutic interventions. That was the aim of this research. Methods Seven adults (21–43 years) who had sought help for retroactive jealousy were interviewed about their experiences. Participants' accounts were analysed with reflexive thematic analysis, and findings were used to identify potential therapeutic interventions. Findings Three main themes represented participants' experiences. Fears threaten hope and security involved negative self‐comparisons with past rivals, a sense of one's partner and the relationship losing value and of feeling wronged. Feeling compelled to know about the past involved one's mind as a creative generator of distress and feeling compelled to seek reassurance but making things worse. Feeling split and out of control involved feeling like a devil was on one's shoulder and having retroactive jealousy as a constant background to relational life. Implications Therapeutic guidance for change and growth can be directed at participants' desires to forge a special romantic relationship, to achieve a more stable sense of self, and to act consistently with their underlying values and not in response to their visceral fears. We offer suggestions for psychoeducation regarding characteristics of healthy relationships, for working to move from insecure to secure responses, and for integrating cognitive defusion and implementation intentions to enhance agency.
Full-text available
Background The purpose of this study is to explore the effect of social networking sites (SNS) on college students’ participation in resistance training, with a specific focus on the mediating role of planning and emotion in bridging the intention-behaviour gap. Methods Three hundred fifty-six college students (215 males and 141 females, with an average age of 21.37 ± 2.40 years) from 17 universities in China who regularly participate in resistance training were surveyed via questionnaires. The data was analysed using the Maximum Likelihood Estimation (MLE) in AMOS 20.0, and the planned behaviour mixed model was tested using a structural equation model. Results Three main findings emerged from the study: 1) SNS had a positive effect on college students' participation in resistance training; 2) Intention and behaviour towards resistance training among college students were influenced by planning and positive emotion as mediators; 3) College students' participation in resistance training is positively affected by rational cognition. Conclusions The mixed model of planned behaviour examines how SNS influences college students' intentions and behaviour toward resistance training. By combining the advantages of rational thinking with basic emotional instincts, this model provides a more accurate prediction of college students' intentions and behaviours in resistance training.
Health literacy may constitute a modifiable determinant of smoking behavior and intention to quit. Little is known about the extent to which health literacy affects smoking or quitting smoking. We assessed the nationally representative cross-sectional datasets from the China Health Literacy Surveillance (CHLS) initiated in 2018. Using polytomous logistic regression models, the study investigated the association of health literacy with smoking behavior and the intention to quit smoking among men aged 15–69 in China. After confounding factors were controlled, compared with having below basic health literacy, having adequate health literacy appeared to be an independent protective factor from current smoking [current smoking vs never smoking: adjusted odds ratio [OR], 0.88; 95% confidence interval (CI), 0.81–0.96; p = 0.003; current smoking vs former smoking: adjusted OR, 0.77; 95% CI, 0.64–0.92; p = 0.003], while having intermediate health literacy was associated with current smoking vs never smoking (adjusted OR, 1.09; 95% CI, 1.02–1.17; p = 0.011) or former smoking vs never smoking (adjusted OR, 1.22; 95% CI, 1.06–1.40; p = 0.005). And having adequate health literacy was associated with intending to quit among current smokers (adjusted OR, 1.25; 95% CI, 1.10–1.42; p < 0.001). Findings provide evidence that health literacy may serve as a critical and independent protective factor for reducing poor smoking behavior or enhancing cessation intention among men. Efforts should focus on developing and evaluating intervention to control tobacco use among men with low health literacy level.
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Background. The emergence of new problematic alcohol consumption practices among young people requires new dynamics in prevention strategies. In this context, the ADUC project (Alcohol and Drugs at the University of Caen) aims to develop a better understanding of alcohol consumption, and in particular the practice of binge drinking (BD) in students, in order to develop relevant and adapted prevention tools. The ALCOMEDIIT study (IRESP funding; Agreement 20II31-00 - ADUC part 3) is a randomized controlled trial that focuses on the specific determinant of impulsivity. The main objective of this experiment is to validate a program for the prevention of BD practices based on motivational interviewing (MI) associated with implementation intention (II) and mindfulness meditation (MBM) in a student environment. Methods. This study will include 170 healthy subjects who will be students at the university, alcohol users, with a BD score > 1 in the month preceding the inclusion but not presenting any specific disorder. The trial will be proposed by e-mail and students who meet the inclusion criteria will join either a control group which will benefit from a MI, or an experimental group which will additionally benefit from an initiation to MBM with II (initial visit T0). In order to measure the effectiveness of the prevention program in terms of BD decrease, a follow-up at 1 month (T1) as well as a follow-up at 6 months (T6; exploratory) will be proposed to all participants. The total duration of this research protocol is 18 months. Discussion. The purpose of this study is to evaluate the interest of associating mindfulness meditation practices and implementation of self-regulation strategies to optimize their use, with a motivational interview in an innovative prevention program aiming at reducing alcohol use and BD practice in the student population. Trial registration Identifier: NCT05565989, September 30, 2022. Protocol version 2.0 (September 2022) N° ID-RCB : 2022-A00983-40
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Past behavior guides future responses through 2 processes. Well-practiced behaviors in constant contexts recur because the processing that initiates and controls their performance becomes automatic. Frequency of past behavior then reflects habit strength and has a direct effect on future performance. Alternately, when behaviors are not well learned or when they are performed in unstable or difficult contexts, conscious decision making is likely to be necessary to initiate and carry out the behavior. Under these conditions, past behavior (along with attitudes and subjective norms) may contribute to intentions, and behavior is guided by intentions. These relations between past behavior and future behavior are substantiated in a meta-analytic synthesis of prior research on behavior prediction and in a primary research investigation.
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Ernst E. Boesch went beyond the limited conceptualization of thinking about the future in terms of expectancy judgments prevalent in empirical psychology during the past 50 years. He explicitly focused on fantasies and analyzed their main source called 'fantasm'. Based on the theory of thinking about the future (Oettingen, 1996, 1997a), it is demonstrated how important it is when predicting motivation and action to differentiate between expectancy judgments and free fantasies. Thinking about the future in terms of positive expectancy judgments fosters motivation and action, whereas positiveness in spontaneous fantasies about the future are a clear drawback. However, this detrimental effect can be stopped if free positive fantasies are mentally contrasted with reflections on the contradictory negative reality. Given these circumstances, free fantasies are turned into binding goals which motivate goal striving. The presented findings have intriguing implications for Boesch's action-theoretical ideas as much as Boesch's suggestion to link action theory with cultural psychology has important consequences for the present theorizing. It is speculated that cultures may be characterized in terms of future-oriented thinking and it is analyzed how these differences have an impact on various cultural phenomena discussed by Boesch.
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The intention-to-behavior process is analyzed with respect to implementation intentions. These intentions link an intended goal-directed behavior to an anticipated situational context. The reported experimental evidence suggests that implementation intentions create a heightened accessibility of the mental representation of the specified situational cues and induce direct (automatic) control of the intended behavior through these cues. The formation of implementation intentions promotes goal achievement through both of these processes because they eliminate classic problems associated with the control of goal-directed action. Similarities and differences to other theoretical approaches on intentions, planning, and action control are discussed.
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A field experiment with 102 undergraduate students demonstrated that forming implementation intentions was effective in changing complex everyday behavior, in this case establishing a healthier diet. Ss were administered a questionnaire that assessed their current eating habits. The Ss in the experimental condition were then asked to form implementation intentions, i.e., they were asked to pick out a day from the 5 days following the completion of the questionnaire during which they would eat healthily. All Ss were then asked to keep a diary for the 5 days following the completion of the questionnaire detailing their eating patterns. Results show that the effect of implementation intentions was additive to the prediction of healthy eating by behavioral intentions to eat healthily. Implementation intentions were pitted against individual differences in counterintentional (unhealthy) habits. The effects of implementation intentions and counterintentional habits were independent, suggesting that implementation intentions did not break the negative influence of unhealthy habits, and yet managed to make those with unhealthy habits eat healthier in habit-unrelated respects. (PsycINFO Database Record (c) 2012 APA, all rights reserved)
The present experiment investigated cognitive and behavioral effects of planning (i.e. forming implementation intentions) on goal pursuit during the performance of mundane behaviors. Participants received the goal to collect a coupon halfway the hall from the lab to the cafeteria. Later, they were also given the task to go from the lab to the cafeteria. Thus participants had to attain a new goal by interrupting a mundane behavior. Some participants enriched their goal with implementation intentions, others did not. Results showed that participants who formed implementation intentions were more effective in goal pursuit than the control group. Importantly, the data suggest that the effects of planning on goal completion are mediated by a heightened mental accessibility of environmental cues related to the goal completion task. Copyright (C) 1999 John Wiley & Sons, Ltd.
automated social cognitive processes categorize, evaluate, and impute the meanings of behavior and other social information, and this input is then ready for use by conscious and controlled judgment and decision processes / review . . . the literature on automaticity in social cognition] / discuss the research in terms of its relevance for the] issues of awareness, intentionality, efficiency, and control (PsycINFO Database Record (c) 2012 APA, all rights reserved)(chapter)
In contrast to models that endeavor to link human motives to important adjustive outcomes in a largely idealized, lock-step fashion, the theory and research presented in this special issue afford the reader an opportunity to consider the advantages of various “deep structural” conceptions of health self-regulation. I discuss how the present elaborated volitional models can help potentially overcome the “problem of psycho-semanticism”, i.e., the faulty doctrine that mental contents or propositional attitudes cause behavior simply be virtue of what they represent. I also suggest several routes by which self-regulated health-promotion efforts can become derailed, including the inherent fuzziness of many health goals, conflict within the individual's system of goals, and conflicts between the goals of the would-be self-regulator and those of significant others.
Two experiments based upon Gollwitzer's (1993) concept of implementation intentions are described. In both experiments, attitudes, subjective norms, perceived behavioural control and intentions from Ajzen's (1991) theory of planned behaviour were used to measure participants' motivation prior to an intervention in which participants made implementation intentions specifying where and when they would take a vitamin C pill each day. Behaviours were assessed by self-report and pill count at both 10 days and 3 weeks in Experiment 1, and at 2 weeks and 5 weeks in Experiment 2. Results supported the view that participants who formed implementation intentions were less likely to miss taking a pill every day compared to controls. Evidence suggested that implementation intentions were effective because they allowed participants to pass control of behaviour to the environmental cues contained in the implementation intention. Implications of the study and some suggestions for future research are outlined. Copyright © 1999 John Wiley & Sons, Ltd.
This study concerns the implications of Peter Gollwitzer's concept of implementation intentions for Icek Ajzen's theory of planned behavior. Attitude, subjective norm, perceived behavioral control, and intentions were assessed before an intervention that required subjects to make implementation intentions concerning when and where they would perform breast self-examination during the next month. Behavior was assessed by self-report 1 month later. Results supported Gollwitzer's contention that goal intentions that have been supplemented by implementation intentions concerning where and when the behavior is to be performed are more likely to be enacted. Evidence suggested that implementation intentions were effective because they provided a mechanism that facilitated the retrieval of intentions in memory. Implementation intentions also reduced the capacity of past behavior to predict future behavior, suggesting that implementation intentions mimic the effect of habit in human action. Implications for applications of models of attitude-behavior relations are outlined.