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The goal concept: A helpful tool for theory development and testing in motivation science.



In the present article, I will try to elucidate how relying on the goal concept facilitates the development and testing of theories in the science of motivation. For this purpose, I will focus on those theories whose development I was closely involved with: the self-completion theory (Wicklund & Gollwitzer, 1982), the mindset theory of action phases (Heckhausen & Gollwitzer, 1987; Gollwitzer, 1990), and the theory of if-then planning (Gollwitzer, 1999, 2014). So the focus is not on discussing the many different goal theories that have been developed and tested in the psychology of motivation by addressing the consequences of setting, striving for, and attaining goals of a different kind, or the various self-regulation strategies that have been suggested to help people commit to, pursue, and attain these goals. Rather, I’ll try to demonstrate convincingly that the goal concept is a powerful tool when it comes to creating theories that facilitate the understanding of phenomena that are at the center stage in the science of motivation.
The Goal Concept: A Helpful Tool for Theory Development and
Testing in Motivation Science
Peter M. Gollwitzer
New York University and University of Konstanz
In the present article, I will try to elucidate how relying on the goal concept facilitates the
development and testing of theories in the science of motivation. For this purpose, I will
focus on those theories whose development I was closely involved with: the self-
completion theory (Wicklund & Gollwitzer, 1982), the mindset theory of action phases
(Heckhausen & Gollwitzer, 1987;Gollwitzer, 1990), and the theory of if-then planning
(Gollwitzer, 1999,2014). So the focus is not on discussing the many different goal theories
that have been developed and tested in the psychology of motivation by addressing the
consequences of setting, striving for, and attaining goals of a different kind, or the various
self-regulation strategies that have been suggested to help people commit to, pursue, and
attain these goals. Rather, I’ll try to demonstrate convincingly that the goal concept is a
powerful tool when it comes to creating theories that facilitate the understanding of
phenomena that are at the center stage in the science of motivation.
Keywords: goals, theories in motivation science, self-completion, action-related
mindsets, implementation intentions
In the present article, I will not discuss the
different goal theories that have been developed
and tested in the psychology of motivation fo-
cusing on the various consequences that setting,
striving for, and attaining goals of a different
kind are characterized by. For instance, whether
or not the pursuit of learning versus perfor-
mance goals allows for more effective process-
ing of negative feedback (Dweck & Leggett,
1988), the setting of specific challenging versus
vague do your best goals leads to better goal
attainment (Locke & Latham, 2013), pursuing
approach versus avoidance goals is associated
with more positive rather than negative affect
(Elliot, Gable, & Mapes, 2006), or whether pro-
motion versus prevention goals are associated
with eagerness rather than vigilance in goal
pursuit (Higgins, 1997). I will also refrain from
discussing whether self-regulation strategies
can enhance the commitment to one’s goals,
pursuing these goals, and attaining them (e.g.,
mental contrasting vs. positively fantasizing
about a desired future outcome, Oettingen,
2012; planning out one’s goal striving in ad-
vance, Gollwitzer, 1993), and whether certain
situational contexts (e.g., being in a position of
power, in a positive/negative mood) will facil-
itate or hamper the setting, striving for, and
attainment of goals. All of this is discussed
extensively in recent handbook chapters by
Gollwitzer and Oettingen (2012,in press)as
well as Oettingen and Gollwitzer (2018).
What I want to achieve in the present article
is different: I want to elucidate how relying on
the goal concept helped the development of
Peter M. Gollwitzer, Department of Psychology, New
York University, and Department of Psychology, University
of Konstanz.
This article is based on a presidential address delivered
by Peter Gollwitzer at the 2017 meeting of the Society for
the Science of Motivation.
Correspondence concerning this article should be ad-
dressed to Peter M. Gollwitzer, Department of Psychology,
New York University, 6 Washington Place, New York, NY
10003. E-mail:
This document is copyrighted by the American Psychological Association or one of its allied publishers.
This article is intended solely for the personal use of the individual user and is not to be disseminated broadly.
Motivation Science
© 2018 American Psychological Association 2018, Vol. 4, No. 3, 185–205
various theories in the science of motivation.
For this purpose, I will focus on theories whose
development I was closely involved with: the
self-completion theory (SCT; Wicklund &
Gollwitzer, 1982), the mindset theory of action
phases (MAP; Heckhausen & Gollwitzer, 1987;
Gollwitzer, 1990), and the theory of if-then
planning (Gollwitzer, 1999). Proceeding this
way will make it easier for me to elucidate how
valuable the goal concept has been for theory
development in different domains relevant to
motivation psychology: self & identity (SCT)
and action control (MAP; the theory of if-then
Sticking to the listed theories also allows me
to point out that the goal concept may enrich
research on motivation-related phenomena in
two different ways: First, by bringing some-
thing of value to the table that would not have
occurred without it. This is true in particular for
SCT where the goal concept allowed for the
insight that people may not only present them-
selves in line with their self-concepts and eval-
uate themselves in line with their self-esteem;
people may also strive for identity goals (e.g., of
being a great businessman) and thus present
themselves in a way that is not consistent with
their self-concepts or does not affirm their self-
esteem but compensates for identity-goal re-
lated shortcomings. Second, the goal concept
may point research on motivational phenomena
into new directions in which a particular theory
is formed and tested. As will become evident
later in the article, this is true in particular for
the two theories pertaining to action control:
MAP and the theory of if-then planning. Fi-
nally, in closing I’ll suggest that research on
other phenomena studied in the science of mo-
tivation might also benefit from turning to the
goal concept, enriching their theoretical analy-
sis as well as the respective empirical tests.
Self-Completion Theory: Explicating Goal
Compensation at the Identity Level
Traditionally, the psychology of the self or
identity (Suls & Greenwald, 1983;Suls, 1993)
primarily focuses on the following question:
How does a person conceive of his or her self?
Within this approach, the term of self or identity
refers to a cognitive structure that incorporates
all of the ways in which a person might answer
the question, “Who am I?” As William James
had anticipated (James, 1890/1950), people’s
answers were found to relate to physical attri-
butes (“I am tall”), social roles (“I am a father”),
traits (“I am a conscientious person”), to skills
and aptitudes (“I am an IT freak”), or to values
and interests (“I love to read”). Research in this
tradition refers to the self in terms of the self-
concept, and it has observed that people com-
monly are keen to verify their self-concepts
(e.g., by choosing interaction partners that agree
with their self-related beliefs; Swann, 1983).
But why then do we often see people presenting
themselves more positively than it is justified?
Knowing that imposters are not the most liked
people around (as the term implies, imposters
do thrust themselves offensively upon others),
one wonders: Why do self-aggrandizing self-
presentations exist?
In the late 1970s, Robert Wicklund and I
asked ourselves this very question. Given that
audiences commonly are annoyed by braggers,
what drives presenting oneself positively when
things are actually not looking good? When we
stumbled into Kurt Lewin’s (1926) work and
that of his students (Lissner, 1933;Mahler,
1933;Ovsiankina, 1928;Zeigarnik, 1927)on
compensatory efforts in individuals who fail to
perform an assigned goal (e.g., children who
were given the task of building a house of
wooden blocks), we adopted a goal perspective
on the imposter phenomenon. We asked our-
selves: Couldn’t it be that the individuals who
loudly claim to possess a certain identity (such
as being a great father) do not think of this
identity in terms of a self-concept but rather in
terms of the aspired-to identity goal (of wanting
to be a great father). According to this perspec-
tive, public claims to be a great father might be
nothing more than a compensatory response to
the experience of falling short with respect to an
aspired-to identity (e.g., finding out that a friend
spends way more time with his children than
oneself does).
Accordingly, we developed self-completion
theory to better understand how people strive
for self-defining goals or identity goals. Such
goals specify the possession of a wanted iden-
tity as a desired end state. Self-completion the-
ory (Wicklund & Gollwitzer, 1982;Gollwitzer
& Kirchhof, 1998) proposes that people who
strive for certain identity goals can undertake a
variety of activities to claim identity-goal prog-
ress, because many different actions indicate the
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possession of the respective identities. For a
scientist, for example, such self-symbolizing
activities might include engaging in profes-
sional duties (e.g., giving lectures, conducting
research, publishing the obtained findings),
making positive self-descriptions (e.g., “I dis-
covered the essence of a certain psychological
principle!”), exerting identity-relevant social in-
fluence (e.g., advising students), or acquiring
respective skills, tools, and material symbols
(e.g., programming skills, having fast comput-
ers, a large office). Failing to perform an iden-
tity-relevant activity or noticing that one lacks a
certain identity symbol is assumed to produce a
state of incompleteness; to restore complete-
ness, people can engage in self-symbolizing ef-
forts (i.e., compensatory efforts). Such self-
symbolizing can emphasize the possession of
alternative symbols or setting out to acquire new
identity symbols (e.g., describing oneself as hav-
ing the required personality attributes, Gollwitzer
& Wicklund, 1985; displaying relevant status
symbols, Harmon-Jones, Schmeichel, & Harmon-
Jones, 2009; engaging in identity-relevant activi-
ties, Brunstein & Gollwitzer, 1996).
More recently, individuals with the identity
goal of successful businessmen or lawyer have
been found to engage in self-symbolizing ef-
forts even when the offered routes to self-
symbolizing required engaging in antisocial,
corrupt actions that conflicted with their general
values (Marquardt, Gantman, Gollwitzer, &
Oettingen, 2016). More specifically, Marquardt
et al. observed that in the face of bogus negative
feedback on their aptitude for the aspired-to
identity, participants with the identity goal of
becoming a successful businessman or lawyer
compensated by endorsing immoral but effec-
tive solutions to business problems or admitting
to previous immoral but successful actions
shown by lawyers, respectively. Also, when
high school seniors who pursued a STEM pro-
fession received negative feedback on possess-
ing relevant cognitive abilities and thus felt
incomplete, they self-ascribed personality traits
associated with professional success in the
STEM fields even when these traits were clearly
linked to a heightened readiness to engage in
immoral behavior.
Importantly, our goal perspective on self-
symbolizing also allowed us to recognize that
self-symbolizing should not be equated with
efforts to affirm one’s general self-integrity or
bolstering one’s self-esteem. These latter two
strategies are not sufficient to offset incomplete-
ness regarding an identity goal, as this requires
one to acquire specific identity symbols and not
just a positive evaluation of the self in general
(e.g., Ledgerwood, Liviatan, & Carnevale,
2007;Gollwitzer, Marquardt, Scherer, & Fujita,
2013). Also, in line with the research on goal
striving conducted by Lewin and his students,
we hypothesized and found that our research
participants experienced a higher level of com-
pleteness when a social audience noticed their
efforts to compensate for an experienced incom-
pleteness. In other words, self-symbolizing that
is noticed by others and thus has become a
social fact is more powerful in restoring expe-
rienced incompleteness (Gollwitzer, 1986). In
addition, we found that incomplete individuals
are more concerned with finding an audience for
their identity striving than are completed indi-
viduals (Brunstein & Gollwitzer, 1996). How-
ever, incomplete individuals see others only in
terms of the potential to notice their compen-
satory efforts; thus, they lack social sensitivity
in the sense of empathetically interacting with
their audience (Gollwitzer & Wicklund, 1985).
Most interestingly, when people make public
their intention to acquire a certain self-
definitional indicator (e.g., when a person who
wants to become a great student publicly utters
the behavioral intention of enrolling in an in-
spiring but challenging course) this already pro-
duces an enhanced sense of completion (Goll-
witzer, Sheeran, Michalski, & Seifert, 2009).
However, this enhanced sense of completeness
was found to have negative consequence for
actually acting on one’s intentions. Apparently,
when others take notice of a stated identity-
relevant behavioral intention, the superordinate
goal of claiming the identity feels like being
reached already, and thus actually performing
the intended behavior becomes less necessary.
This finding is in line with results of prior
self-completion studies; public, positive self-
descriptions claiming the possession of an iden-
tity symbol produced the same sense of self-
definitional completeness as actually obtaining
this indicator of identity goal completeness
(Brunstein & Gollwitzer, 1996;Gollwitzer,
Wicklund, & Hilton, 1982).
Finally, self-completion research so far has
primarily focused on the state of incomplete-
ness and its downstream consequences (i.e.,
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compensation by self-symbolizing). More re-
cently, the focus has changed toward the state of
completion and its downstream consequences
of resorting to inaction, which is a problem
when one’s identity goal demands sustained
action (e.g., when one’s identity goal is being a
“green person”). For instance, Longoni, Goll-
witzer, and Oettingen (2014) analyzed whether
validating the purchase of green products ham-
pers subsequent green behaviors in people with
the identity goal of being green. They found that
positive feedback on purchasing green products
led to less subsequent recycling compared to
negative feedback, with participants who did
not receive any feedback lying in between.
Moreover, participants who did receive positive
feedback evinced a decreased cognitive acces-
sibility of goal-related constructs in a lexical-
decision task compared to participants who had
received negative feedback, suggesting that
feedback validating one’s green purchasing
choices is associated with heightened goal com-
pleteness. Similarly, participants who had re-
ceived positive feedback recalled a green patch
as less green compared to negative feedback
participants, suggesting that the urge to attain
the identity goal of being green was weakened
by positive as compared to negative feedback.
To conclude, self-completion theory offers an
additional perspective—a goal perspective—to
the psychology of self and identity, which has
so far favored a self-concept perspective (Who
am I?) and a self-evaluation perspective (Do I
have high self-esteem?). The additional per-
spective suggested by self-completion theory
helped to explore how people can strive for their
identity goals by finding out (a) what kind of
indicators can best symbolize goal complete-
ness, (b) that creating social realities for one’s
self-symbolizing efforts improves its impact on
goal completeness, and (c) that engaging in
self-symbolizing is an impulsive activity that
limits reflective thought which is commonly
required when people opt to take the perspec-
tives of others.
Most importantly, SCT by taking a goal per-
spective has brought back the notion of com-
pensation for failing and falling short. As self-
symbolizing is a compensatory act, it is
comforting to know that people who experience
an incompleteness with respect to an aspired-to
identity goal can always point to alternative
indicators of goal completeness that are still in
their possession, and thus easily reinstall a sense
of completeness. This allows them to “stay in
the field” (as Lewin referred to persistent goal
pursuit) which is highly import when it comes
to identity goals, as these goals cannot be at-
tained by one single act and can never be at-
tained fully. Think for instance of the identity
goal of being a great father, scientist, or piano
player. There is no exhaustive attainment of
such goals; rather, pursuing such goals is a
life-long endeavor. This requires that people
can easily stay in the field in the face of incom-
pleteness experiences, and self-completion the-
ory points to an effective way of doing this:
Incomplete individuals only have to engage in
self-symbolizing that points to those indicators
that are still available, thus reestablishing com-
pleteness on the spot. Theorizing on self and
identity that does not use the concept of “iden-
tity goal” does not provide such an optimistic
outlook. When people fall short, it is assumed
that they have to adjust the respective self-
concept accordingly thus showing consistency
(Swann, 1983); and if the failure is so bad that
it even affects their self-esteem they need to
engage in efforts that affirm their self-esteem in
general (Steele, 1988). Without applying the
goal concept to the theorizing on self and iden-
tity as is done in SCT, the option of compen-
sating on the spot would have never been ex-
plicated and tested as a viable way to cope with
identity-related shortcomings.
Action Phases and Mindsets
In the 1980s, when Heinz Heckhausen and I
set out to analyze how people control their
actions (see Heckhausen, Gollwitzer, & Wein-
ert, 1987), we quickly realized that research on
action control is facilitated when it is broken
down into different phases. But what kinds of
phases does one want to differentiate, and how
can one assure that these phases are actually
distinct? For both questions the goal concept
turned out to be a great tool to find convincing
The Rubicon Model of Action Phases
For Kurt Lewin (e.g., Lewin, Dembo, Fest-
inger, & Sears, 1944), there was never any
doubt that motivational phenomena can only be
properly understood and analyzed from an ac-
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tion perspective. In support of this claim, Lewin
argued that processes of goal setting and goal
striving are governed by distinct psychological
principles. This insight however went unheeded
for several decades, probably for the simple
reason that goal setting research based on the
expectancy-value paradigm proved very suc-
cessful (Festinger, 1942;Atkinson, 1957), and
thus captured the full attention of motivation
psychologists. It was not until the reemergence
of the psychology of goals (starting with
Klinger’s current concerns, 1977) that the pro-
cesses and potential strategies of goal striving
began to receive more attention (review by Oet-
tingen & Gollwitzer, 2001). This new action
perspective on human behavior also meant ex-
tending the scope of analysis beyond the ques-
tion of how reliable responding to certain stim-
uli can best be established, the central question
of the behaviorists.
The Rubicon model of action phases under-
stands the course of action to be a temporal,
horizontal path starting with a person’s wishes
and ending with the evaluation of the action
outcomes achieved (Gollwitzer, 1990;Heck-
hausen & Gollwitzer, 1987). It was designed to
raise and help answer the following four ques-
tions: How do people select their goals? How do
they plan the execution of the respective goal
striving? How do they enact these plans? And
how do they evaluate their accomplishments?
According to the Rubicon model, a course of
action involves at the outset a phase of deliber-
ating the desirability and feasibility of one’s
wishes in order to arrive at a binding decision
regarding which of them one wants to pursue
(predecision phase), a phase of planning con-
crete strategies for achieving the goal selected at
the end of the predecision phase (the preaction
phase), a phase of enacting these strategies (ac-
tion phase), and finally a phase of evaluating the
achieved action outcomes (postaction phase).
The four phases are separated by distinct
boundaries. The first boundary (also referred to
as crossing the Rubicon) is located between the
predecision phase and the preaction phase and
stands for turning a wish into a binding goal.
The second boundary sits between the preaction
phase and the action phase, and it stands for
moving from planning on how to act on one’s
goal to actually starting to act. Finally, the third
boundary is placed between the action phase
and the postaction phase and it stands for one’s
acting coming to an end and starting with the
evaluation of the achieved outcomes. The first
and the last of the four phases are also referred
to as motivation phases as they are linked to
phenomena that have been addressed in tradi-
tional motivation psychology: making choices
on the basis of perceived feasibility and desir-
ability has been analyzed by expectancy-value
theories (Atkinson, 1957) and evaluating
achieved outcomes has been the focus of atten-
tion in attribution theories (Weiner, 1986). The
second and the third phase are sometimes re-
ferred to as volition phases as they are linked to
phenomena that have been analyzed in the early
days of will psychology (Lewin, 1926;Ach,
The Rubicon model of action phases has ben-
efitted much from research using the goal con-
cept as it helped to delineate different phases of
the control of action. It is important to note
however that it goes beyond the distinction be-
tween goal setting and goal striving. Although
the model keeps these two problems of goal
pursuit separate, it encompasses both within a
single theoretical model, thus encouraging re-
searchers to analyze their features and the re-
spective underlying processes in relation to each
The Rubicon model has led to a number of
misconceptions that I want to clarify in the
following: First, the model does not imply that
every single initiation of action is directly pre-
ceded by deliberation of the desirability and
feasibility of the underlying goal and the form-
ing of a goal commitment. Many initiations of
action are simply resumptions of activities that
were started some time before; forming the un-
derlying goal anew is therefore unnecessary.
The same is true for action initiations postponed
because of a lack of opportunities to act. Sec-
ond, the model does not imply that forming a
goal commitment is necessarily followed by
intense planning. It is rather assumed that such
concerns originate only when smooth imple-
mentation of the goal is threatened; for instance,
when special circumstances or means are re-
quired that still need to be developed or created,
when the critical opportunity may be missed
because it is difficult to recognize, happens in-
frequently, or presents itself only for a short
moment, and when competing goals continue to
block implementing the critical goal. Third, the
model of action phases does not exclude the
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possibility of overlap between these phases. In
the predecision phase, deliberation of wishes
concerning a goal can easily be interrupted so
that actions in the service of other already cho-
sen goals may be planned, initiated, completed,
or evaluated. Also, in the postdecision (preac-
tion) phase, the individual may deliberate vari-
ous wishes and evaluate some completed goal
pursuits while waiting for the opportunity to act
on a newly chosen goal. Similarly, during the
execution of goal-related actions, individuals
may deliberate wishes, ready themselves for
implementing other goals, or evaluate some ter-
minated goal pursuit as long as executing the
critical actions is largely automatized. Fourth,
the model uses the metaphor of crossing the
Rubicon to describe the turning of wishes (po-
tential goals) into binding goals. Here the allu-
sion is not so much to having gone beyond a
point of no return as it is to putting incessant
deliberation to a rest. The model simply as-
sumes that making a goal decision stops the
“babble of competing inner voices” (Jones &
Gerard, 1967).
Deliberative Versus Implemental Mindsets
The goal concept did not only help to delin-
eate the four phases of action in the Rubicon
model. It also allowed us to find a way to test
whether these distinctions are valid as research
on goals had in the past been linked to study-
ing people’s mindsets (Külpe, 1904). A mindset
was considered to be the sum total of the acti-
vated cognitive procedures associated with try-
ing to solve a given task. So we thought dem-
onstrating that the phases of the Rubicon model
are characterized by different mindsets sug-
gested that these phases are indeed distinct,
each requiring to solve a unique task.
The Würzburg School of psychology was
particularly interested in studying the cognitive
consequences of assigned task goals (i.e., when
people try to solve an Aufgabe, given to them by
the experimenter). Oskar Külpe (1904),the
founder of the Würzburg School (see Boring,
1950, pp. 401– 406; Humphrey, 1951, pp. 30
131), had participants view pictures of four non-
sense syllables, each written in a different color.
The letters composing the syllables, the posi-
tioning of the colors, and syllables themselves
were varied over trials. Most importantly,
Külpe also varied the Aufgabe (the assigned
task goal) prior to each picture presentation.
Subjects had to attend to a particular aspect of
the stimulus display (e.g., the frequency of a
certain letter, the positioning of the colors, the
figure represented by the positioning of the syl-
lables, or the kind of letters composing the
syllables). Immediately after each stimulus pre-
sentation, lasting 0.125 second, he requested the
subjects to report the solutions to the tasks; in
addition, he asked them to recall the other as-
pects of the stimulus display, of which they had
not been instructed to take notice. The results
showed drastic effects of task instruction:
Whenever the experimenter’s questions were
related to the instructions prior to viewing the
display (e.g., subjects were asked to attend to
the positioning of the colors and then asked to
recall it), subjects were highly accurate in their
answers; however, whenever there was a mis-
match (e.g., subjects were asked to attend to the
positioning of the colors but had to report on the
different letters composing the four different
syllables), subjects were extremely inaccurate.
In a very similar experiment, Chapman (1932)
observed comparatively more accurate reports
when the instructions given prior to stimulus
presentation matched the inquiry posed after
stimulus presentation.
The representatives of the Würzburg School
of Psychology used particular words to talk
about such effects, speaking of the instructions
prior to stimulus presentation as constituting the
Aufgabe (assigned task goal), which creates in
the individual who accepts it a corresponding
Bewusstseinslage (mindset). This mindset in
turn was assumed to “prepare” the individual by
activating the needed cognitive procedures to an-
alyze the presented stimulus material effectively,
resulting in proper task completion. Note that this
original mindset notion (Bewußtseinslage) is dif-
ferent to that used in the growth mindset research
(see Dweck, 2006). When people adhere to the
belief (or naïve theory) that personal attributes are
malleable rather than fixed, they are said to hold a
growth mindset. It is studied what kind of goals
are set by people who belief in malleability (i.e.,
learning goals rather than performance goals), and
whether and how believing in malleability affects
constructive coping with failure.
Based on the research of the Würzburg
School, we felt that the strongest evidence that
the phases delineated in the Rubicon model are
indeed distinct was experimental findings that
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placing people into these phases is associated
with different mindsets (Gollwitzer, 1990,
2012). These mindsets should be characterized
by the activation of exactly those cognitive pro-
cedures that make it easier to solve the respec-
tive task that the Rubicon model sees linked to
each of the four phases. So in a first step, we
explicated the nature of the task goals people
are confronted with when entering these phases.
For the predecisional phase, we assumed that
the task the person faces is to make the best
possible choice between potential action goals
(i.e., one’s current wishes). In the postdecision
(preaction) phase the task seems to be one of
promoting the initiation of actions that are in-
strumental for moving toward the chosen goal.
In the action phase, the person obviously faces
the task of efficiently executing such actions,
whereas the task in the postaction phase may
best be described as having to determine
whether the intended outcome and its desired
consequences actually accrued and whether or
not further action is needed.
In a second step, we turned to the question of
which activated cognitive procedures could best
help meeting these various task demands. So
far, mindset research regarding the action
phases of the Rubicon model primarily focused
on delineating the cognitive features of the
mindsets of the first two action phases, that is,
the predecision and preaction phases with the
respective deliberative versus implemental
mindset. We figured that before making a deci-
sion, pondering over the desirability and feasi-
bility of potential goals (wishes) requires open-
mindedness (i.e., even peripheral, incidental
information is processed), impartial processing
of desirability-related information (i.e., pros and
cons are given equal weight), and objective
judgments of feasibility (i.e., realistic judg-
ments of difficulty and probability of success).
When deliberation is coming to an end and a
decision is made, entering the preaction phase
requires that people start planning the imple-
mentation of their set goal, namely, the when,
where, and how to act to attain the desired
outcome are to be stipulated. Such planning
requires optimistic judgments regarding feasi-
bility (i.e., increased perceived control over out-
comes), partial processing of desirability-
related information (i.e., pros receive more
weight than cons), and relative closed-minded-
ness (i.e., peripheral information is ignored).
Extensive experimental research demonstrated
that placing people into a predecision or a post-
decision (preaction) phase induces mindsets
that are characterized by the cognitive orienta-
tions that help people meet the task demands of
the respective action phase (e.g., Bayer & Goll-
witzer, 2005;Puca, 2001;Gollwitzer, Heck-
hausen, & Steller, 1990;Gollwitzer & Kinney,
1989). There is also evidence that these distinct
cognitive orientations have different down-
stream consequences. Looking at successful
goal striving, for example, individuals in an
implemental mindset evinced heightened per-
sistence exhibited in the face of difficulties
(Brandstätter & Frank, 2002). Furthermore, in-
dividuals in an implemental mindset were more
eager to work on their goals, expressed in both
shorter-time predictions with respect to goal
attainment and actual shorter time needed for
task completion (Brandstätter, Giesinger, Job,
& Frank, 2015).
In all of the mindset experiments reported
above, the deliberative mindset is evoked by
asking participants to (a) first name an unre-
solved, important personal problem that is caus-
ing rumination but for which they have not
made a decision yet, and then (b) reflect on
whether to take action or not. To enhance the
depth of reflection, participants are also re-
quested to list a number of positive and nega-
tive, short- and long-term consequences of both
deciding to act and deciding to maintain the
status quo (i.e., deciding not to act); indica-
ting the probability of the occurrence of each
of these consequences is also required. In con-
trast, the implemental mindset is evoked by
asking participants to think of a personal project
for which they have already made the decision
to act but did not initiate any action yet. Sub-
sequently, participants are asked to list the steps
necessary for successful goal attainment and to
plan out in detail when, where, and how they
intend to act on each of these steps.
Importantly, research suggests that pondering
more complex and important unresolved per-
sonal problems or planning out more demand-
ing chosen personal projects leads to stronger
deliberative and implemental mindsets (Taylor
& Gollwitzer, 1995), and this is why partici-
pants are commonly asked to refrain from nam-
ing easily solvable or mundane personal prob-
lems or projects. Moreover, in all of these
studies the theme of the unresolved personal
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problem or the chosen personal project that
people had to deliberate or to plan out in order
to induce a deliberative and an implemental
mindset, respectively, were not related to the
theme of the tasks that were used to assess the
predicted activation of certain cognitive proce-
dures; for instance, when the prediction was
open- versus closed mindedness on the depen-
dent variable side the breadth of participants
noun span was assessed by using words that had
nothing to do with the participants’ unresolved
personal problems or chosen personal projects.
There are a number of recent developments in
the research on deliberative and implemental
mindsets further indicating that deliberative and
implemental mindsets are characterized by cog-
nitive consequences geared toward facilitating
the task goals people in the respective action
phases are facing: to turn a desirable but also
feasible wish into a binding goal versus to get
started with the implementation of the chosen
goal. For instance, investigating the conse-
quences of inducing deliberative versus imple-
mental mindsets on visual attention, Büttner and
colleagues (2014) observed that participants in
an implemental mindset do not only exhibit
relative closed-mindedness with respect to pro-
cessing new information (Fujita, Gollwitzer, &
Oettingen, 2007) but also show a narrower
breadth of visual attention compared to partici-
pants in a deliberative mindset. The breadth of
visual attention was determined by tracking eye
movements while participants processed visual
scenes (i.e., nature slides); participants in an
implemental mindset exhibited a narrower
breadth of visual attention by focusing on fore-
ground objects while participants in a delibera-
tive mindset were more likely to process the
whole nature scene more evenly. These results
suggest that implemental as compared to delib-
erative mindsets not only lead to closed-
mindedness when it comes to the processing of
new information but already operate at the level
of visual attention.
In line with mindset effects on illusory feel-
ings of control observed by Gollwitzer and Kin-
ney (1989);Hügelschäfer and Achtziger (2014)
observed that participants in an implemental
mindset were more confident in having cor-
rectly answered questions in a general knowl-
edge test than did participants in a deliberative
mindset. And Dennehy, Ben-Zeev, and Tani-
gawa (2014) found that an implemental mindset
helps to shield oneself from the detrimental
effects of stereotype threat. The authors com-
pared participants with low versus high socio-
economic status (SES) in a speeded mental
arithmetic task known to elicit performance
anxiety; as expected, participants from a high
SES background outperformed participants
from a low SES background. However, the in-
duction of an implemental mindset helped par-
ticipants from a low SES background to over-
come this difference. So the authors conclude
that asking individuals to plan out when, where,
and how to act on a personal but unrelated
project may in fact help them to shield their
math performance from the effects of stereotype
Recent research also tested whether deliber-
ative versus implemental mindsets manage to
influence risk-taking behavior (Keller & Goll-
witzer, 2017). The authors assessed risk taking
by using the Balloon Analogue Risk Task
(BART; Lejuez et al., 2002). In the BART, one
has to decide after each pump whether to go on
pumping a balloon one more time or to save its
current value and opt out. By going on, partic-
ipants increase the balloon’s current value by a
fixed amount but also increasingly risk the
balloon’s popping and thereby the loss of
the balloon’s current value. Using pumping up a
balloon as the risk-taking task, the BART mir-
rors risk taking in the real world quite well (i.e.,
has a high ecological validity) as indicated by
the fact that it can differentiate smokers from
nonsmokers (Lejuez et al., 2002,2003). Indeed,
Keller and Gollwitzer (2017) found that partic-
ipants in a deliberative mindset on average
stopped pumping earlier on each balloon than
participants in an implemental mindset, thus
saving more balloons. The deliberation of tak-
ing action on an unresolved personal problem or
not versus the planning out of when, where, and
how to act on a chosen project apparently im-
pacts the degree to which we take risks in a
risk-taking measure that is ecologically valid.
In the research discussed so far, deliberative
mindsets were induced by asking participants to
consider the question of whether they wanted to
act or not on an unresolved personal problem.
But by adopting a goal perspective, one won-
ders what will happen when people are asked to
deliberate whether an already chosen goal
should be acted on or not? Nenkov and Goll-
witzer (2012) gave participants explicit instruc-
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tions to deliberate a set goal (i.e., asking the
participants to deliberate on the positive and
negative, immediate and long-term conse-
quences of making a change or preserving the
status quo). The authors found that participants
were subsequently even more committed to
their goal than before. It turned out that these
participants used deliberation to justify and bol-
ster the commitment to their initial decision,
thus exhibiting what the authors coined postde-
cisional defensiveness. In contrast, participants
who had not yet made a decision to pursue a
certain goal were less inclined to pursue it after
deliberating the pros and cons of pursuing it.
The increase in commitment observed as a con-
sequence of postdecisional defensiveness did
not only translate into a heightened planning
intensity but also into an increased effort to
search for information helping to attain the goal;
participants exhibiting postdecisional defen-
siveness were 3.5 times more likely to visit a
website offering instrumental information.
Renewed deliberation is also focused on by
Brandstätter and Schüler (2013) in their re-
search on so-called action crises. The authors
posit the emergence of an intrapsychic conflict
if progress toward reaching a set goal turns out
to be dissatisfying or the chosen means proves
ineffective. This conflict, referred to as an ac-
tion crisis, is thought to be characterized by the
renewed deliberation on whether to continue
goal striving or to abandon the goal altogether;
in the words of the Rubicon model, an action
crisis is a motivational phenomenon emerging
in a volitional phase (i.e., the action phase). In a
longitudinal study with dozens of measurement
points over the course of 18 months, Herrmann
and Brandstätter (2015) observed that the sever-
ity of respective action crises at the beginning of
the study predicted disengagement from an ac-
ademic goal as well as two idiosyncratic per-
sonal goals. More specifically, the more the
students experienced an action crisis with re-
spect to their academic goal at the beginning of
the study, the fewer courses they completed
during their first college year and the earlier
they disengaged completely.
While in Nenkov and Gollwitzer’s (2012)
work, participants were explicitly asked to re-
deliberate a chosen goal anew, Herrmann and
Brandstätter (2015;Brandstätter & Schüler,
2013) instead focus on the self-induced redelib-
eration of set goals that turn out to be more
difficult or more frustrating to attain than ex-
pected. Given that these set goals are still highly
valued, an action crisis is experienced. This
crisis sets the stage for a renewed deliberation
over pursuing it or not, which then can ulti-
mately lead to abandoning it.
In sum, the goal concept has stimulated the
Rubicon model’s conceptual distinction be-
tween different phases of action. It has also
brought back the mindset notion thus allowing
to critically test the claim of the Rubicon model
that these phases are distinct. Based on the
mindset notion that different task goals (Aufga-
ben) are associated with the activation of dif-
ferent cognitive procedures it was demonstrated
in many studies that the predicision phase and
the postdecision preactional phase are indeed
unique. Whereas early research focused on the
cognitive features of the deliberative and imple-
mental mindset, recent research has also started
to focus on identifying various downstream
consequences (e.g., the implemental mindset’s
blocking of the detrimental influence of stereo-
type threat). Importantly, the apparent lack of
research regarding the action and postaction
phases, respectively, asks for more research ad-
dressing these phases. Recent research on de-
liberation during goal striving (i.e., in the pre-
action and the action phase) offering a new
perspective on defensive processing of informa-
tion and disengagement from futile goals does
support this call. Finally, future research might
also want to focus more on the transition points
specified in the Rubicon model, asking ques-
tions as done early on by Gollwitzer, Heck-
hausen, and Ratajczak (1990): What kind of
deliberation creates a stronger readiness to
move on to making a change decision (i.e.,
crossing the Rubicon)? Or even more basic, are
there certain ways of thinking about the desired
future implied by one’s wishes that ultimately
lead to stronger goal commitments than others
(see the fantasy realization theory by Oettingen,
Goal Intentions Versus
Implementation Intentions
The goal concept stimulated a further line of
research distinguishing between different types
of intentions: goal intentions versus implemen-
tation intentions. It all started with the observa-
tion that even though crossing the Rubicon is
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associated with turning mere wishes into bind-
ing goals, people still are not very successful in
realizing their goal. More specifically, the
strength of a person’s intention to reach a cho-
sen goal only correlates around .30 with actual
goal attainment (Sheeran, 2002). So we won-
dered whether there are any easy ways to ame-
liorate this problem such as asking people to
prospectively plan out in advance when, where,
and how they wanted to implement a chosen
goal (e.g., to make a good grade in an upcoming
exam)? They could then link in their mind the
anticipated critical situation (a good opportunity
or a tricky obstacle) with an action that is in-
strumental to realizing the goal by seizing the
opportunity and overcoming the obstacle, re-
spectively. Note that I am not talking here about
encouraging people to make the desired out-
come more specific by reducing the vagueness
of it (such as moving from wanting to make a
good grade to wanting to make at least an A-;
Locke & Latham, 2013), or about changing the
outcome goal of achieving a certain grade into a
behavioral goal such as studying more (Fish-
bein & Ajzen, 2011). Both of these strategies
are still focused on setting better goals.
What we wanted to turn to instead was suggest-
ing to people to make plans (Gollwitzer, 1993),
actually if-then plans that spell out in their if-part
which situation (opportunity or obstacle) shall
trigger a goal-directed response specified in the
then-part: “If situation x is encountered (e.g., an
opportunity such as waking up to a quiet Saturday
morning or an obstacle such as an invitation from
your friends to go partying), then I will initiate the
goal-directed response y (e.g., immediately sit
down at my desk at home on Saturday morning
and get started with studying or telling my friends
that this weekend is no good but probably next
weekend, respectively)!” We hypothesized that
adding such plans to one’s goals should heighten
the rate of goal attainment, and thus we used in all
of the research on if-then planning a control con-
dition were participants operated on mere goals
Even though both goals and plans are self-
instructions to achieve certain changes in one’s
future, if-then plans do not have the structure of
goals (such as “I want to reach outcome x!” or
“I want to perform behavior y!”). Accordingly,
top-down controlled discrepancy reduction in
response to goal-frustration (in the sense of
“I’m disappointed that I missed my goal. I need
to do better!”) does not qualify as the mecha-
nism that promotes effective action control by
if-then plans (see Carver & Scheier, 1998).
Rather, as the structure of if-then plans (imple-
mentation intentions) is geared toward linking a
goal-directed response to a critical situation (op-
portunity or obstacle), it should now be bot-
tom-up action control by the specified critical
situation that does the job. So the insight of
research on the goal concept that goals unfold
their effects via top-down control geared toward
discrepancy reduction forced us to come up
with a novel process hypothesis by which im-
plementation intentions (vs. goal intentions)
might positively affect action control: We hy-
pothesized that adding implementation inten-
tions to one’s goal intentions induces a switch
from top-down control by mere goal intentions
to bottom-up control by the situational cues
specified in the if-part of the added implemen-
tation intentions; we referred to this switch
hypothesis as the “delegation of control to sit-
uational cues” notion (Gollwitzer, 1993,1999;
Gollwitzer & Sheeran, 2006).
As bottom-up control is known to run off quite
automatically, we then went on to predict that
action control by if-then plans should carry fea-
tures of automaticity. We referred to this type of
automaticity as “strategic automaticity” as it is
based on a simple mental act of linking a critical
situation to a goal-directed response, all in the
service of meeting the respective superordinate
goal. Various lines of research were instigated to
test the claim that implemental intentions (if-then
plans) facilitate goal attainment via automatic pro-
cesses. This body of research can by separated
into three different lines asking the following
questions (Gollwitzer, 2014): (a) Are if-then plans
mentally represented in a way so that bottom-up
control is facilitated?, (b) does action control by
implementation intentions carry features com-
monly associated with automatic action control?,
and (c) do implementation intentions manage to
block unwanted speedy responses based on im-
pulses or habits? In other words, can responses
preprogrammed by if-then planning “outrun” such
The Mental Representation of
If-Then Plans
Because forming an implementation inten-
tion implies the selection of a critical future
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situation (opportunity or obstacle), the mental
representation of this situation should become
highly activated and hence more accessible.
This heightened accessibility of the if-part of
the plan has been demonstrated in several stud-
ies using different experimental task paradigms
borrowed from cognitive psychology: for exam-
ple, lexical decision tasks (e.g., Webb &
Sheeran, 2004), dichotic-listening as well as
cued recall tasks (Achtziger, Bayer, & Gollwit-
zer, 2012). Further studies indicated that form-
ing implementation intentions not only height-
ens the activation (and thus the accessibility) of
the mental presentation of the situational cues
specified in the if-part, it also forges a strong
associative link between the mental representa-
tion of the specified critical situation and the
mental representation of the specified response
in the then-part (Webb & Sheeran, 2007,2008).
These associative links seem to be quite stable
over time (Papies, Aarts, & de Vries, 2009), and
they allow for priming the mental representa-
tion of the specified response (the plan’s then-
part) by subliminal presentation of the specified
critical situational cue (if-part) (Webb &
Sheeran, 2007). Moreover, mediation analyses
suggest that both the cue accessibility and the
strength of the cue-response link qualify as me-
diators of the impact of implementation inten-
tion formation on goal attainment (e.g., Aarts,
Dijksterhuis, & Midden, 1999;Webb &
Sheeran, 2007,2008). Finally, making if-then
plans seems to also affect the perceptual pro-
cessing of the specified situational cues. Using a
well-established chronometric method (i.e., the
psychological refractory period paradigm) and
combining it with the locus-of-slack logic, Janc-
zyk, Dambacher, Bieleke, and Gollwitzer
(2015) found that if-then plans facilitate early
perceptual processing and not just attentional
responding to the specified critical cues.
The Features Associated With Action
Control by If-Then Planning
But will the critical situational cue specified
in the if-part once encountered elicit the goal-
directed response specified in the then-part in a
manner that qualifies as automatic— exhibit
features of automaticity including immediacy,
efficiency, uncontrollability, and redundancy of
conscious intent. There is extensive evidence
that if-then planners act quickly (e.g., Gollwit-
zer & Brandstätter, 1997, Experiment 3), deal
effectively with cognitive demands (i.e., speed
up effects still evince under high cognitive load;
e.g., Brandstätter, Lengfelder, & Gollwitzer,
2001), do not need to consciously intend to act
in the critical moment (i.e., implementation in-
tention effects are observed even when the crit-
ical cue is presented subliminally; e.g., Bayer,
Achtziger, Gollwitzer, & Moskowitz, 2009),
and show uncontrolled attention to the specified
cues (i.e., the situational cue specified in the
if-part of an implementation intention still re-
ceives attention when it is presented in a task
that requires ignoring it; Wieber & Sassenberg,
2006). In line with this latter finding, Schweiger
Gallo, Pfau, and Gollwitzer (2012) observed
that hypnotic instructions enriched with respec-
tive implementation intentions produced an in-
crease in hypnotic responsiveness; importantly,
this performance increase was accompanied by
a felt involuntariness of responding. Finally, a
recent line of research by Martiny-Huenger,
Martiny, Parks-Stamm, Pfeiffer, and Gollwitzer
(2017) suggests a further process by which im-
plementation intentions achieve effective action
control. The authors argue that prospectively
planning actions in an if-then format induces
sensorimotor simulations of the anticipated sit-
uation and the intended action (i.e., enacting the
event in the sensory and motor brain areas). Due
to their temporal overlap, these activity patterns
are assumed to become linked. Whenever the
previously simulated situation is encountered,
the previously simulated action is partially re-
activated through spreading activation and thus
more likely to be executed. Empirical support
for this line of theorizing is provided by dem-
onstrating that implementation intentions which
imply a certain movement (e.g., “If I see an
apple, then I will immediately grab it” implies
an elbow flexion) facilitate this very movement
when the critical situation is later encountered
in a different context (e.g., they speed up a pull
response in a classification task that requires
differentiating apples and other fruits from veg-
etables by pulling vs. pushing a joy stick).
The most direct test of the hypothesis that
action control by if-then plans promotes bot-
tom-up control has been conducted in an fMRI
study reported by Gilbert, Gollwitzer, Cohen,
Oettingen, and Burgess (2009). In this study,
participants had to perform a prospective mem-
ory task (assessing whether people forget to act
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on their intentions or not) on the basis of either
goal intention or implementation intention in-
structions. Acting on the basis of goal intentions
was associated with brain activity in the lateral
rostral prefrontal cortex, whereas acting on
the basis of implementation intentions was
associated with brain activity in the medial
rostral prefrontal cortex. Brain activity in the
latter area is known to be associated with
bottom-up (stimulus) control of action,
whereas brain activity in the former area is
known to be related to top-down (goal) con-
trol of action.
Support for the delegation hypothesis also
comes from studies using critical samples of
individuals with handicapped top-down action
control and demonstrating that they can still
benefit in their action control from forming im-
plementation intentions. The participants in
these studies ranged from people suffering from
schizophrenia or substance abuse (Brandstätter
et al., 2001, Studies 1 & 2), patients with frontal
lobe damage (Lengfelder & Gollwitzer, 2001),
to children with attention-deficit/hyperactivity
disorder (ADHD; Gawrilow & Gollwitzer,
2008;Gawrilow, Gollwitzer, & Oettingen,
2011a). For example, response inhibition in the
presence of stop signals was found to be im-
proved in children with ADHD when they had
formed respective implementation intentions,
and this held for other executive functions such
as task shifting and working memory perfor-
mance. Finally, Gawrilow, Gollwitzer, and Oet-
tingen (2011b) analyzed whether delay of grat-
ification can be facilitated by asking children
with ADHD to from respective implementation
intentions. A computer task was developed in
line with the delay of gratification paradigms
used by Walter Mischel (1974) and Sonuga-
Barke (2002)—waiting in the presence of a
suboptimal cue to make money for a delayed
optimal cue allowing for a higher total amount
of money earned. In two studies, it was ob-
served that the goal intention to do well on the
task did not improve performance as compared
to a control group that received mere task in-
structions specifying the reward contingencies.
However, when the goal intention was fur-
nished with an implementation intention that
linked a waiting response to the suboptimal cue,
a significantly higher amount of money was
earned, indicating heightened delay gratifica-
The Control of Habitual and Impulsive
Responses by If-Then Planning
By assuming that action control by imple-
mentation intentions is immediate and efficient,
and adopting a simple horse race model of ac-
tion control (Gurney, Prescott, & Redgrave,
2001), research explored whether people might
be in a position to break unwanted impulsive
and habitual responses by forming implementa-
tion intentions that spell out an antagonistic
wanted goal-directed response. The research
question was: Could an implementation inten-
tion that spells out an antagonistic response to a
critical situation outrun an impulsive or habitual
response that is otherwise shown to this very
situation? Research on the control of impulsive
and habitual unwanted responses by the use of
implementation intentions has addressed this
question by targeting cognitive, affective, and
behavioral responses.
With respect to cognitive responses it has
been shown that implicit stereotyping can by
successfully controlled by forming implementa-
tion intentions (Gollwitzer & Schaal, 1998;
Stewart & Payne, 2008); this even extends to
the behavioral expression of such stereotyping
(Mendoza, Gollwitzer, & Amodio, 2010).
Schweiger Gallo, Keil, McCulloch, Rockstroh,
and Gollwitzer (2009, Study 3) analyzed
whether it is also possible to curb impulsive
affective responses by forming implementation
intentions. They found that implementation in-
tentions specifying an ignore response in the
then-component helped reduce fear in response
to pictures of spiders in participants with spider
phobia—to the low level that was experienced
by participants who did not report any spider
phobia. The obtained electro-cortical correlates
(the authors used dense-array EEG) revealed
that those participants who furnished the goal
intention to stay calm with an ignore-implemen-
tation intention showed significantly reduced
early activity in the visual cortex in response to
spider pictures, as reflected in a smaller P1
(assessed at 120 milliseconds [msec] after a
spider picture was presented). This finding sug-
gests that the ignore-implementation intention
assigned to individuals with a spider phobia
achieved a strategic automation of the specified
goal-directed response (i.e., an ignore response)
when the critical cue (i.e., a spider picture) was
encountered, so that—according to the horse
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race metaphor—the planned response outran
the habitual response (i.e., the fear response).
Various studies have targeted the control of
habitual and impulsive behavioral responses by
implementation intentions. For instance, Cohen,
Bayer, Jaudas, and Gollwitzer (2008, Study 2;
see also Miles & Proctor, 2008) observed the
suppression of habitual responses using a Si-
mon task paradigm; the Simon task allows to
compare the control of habitual responses (e.g.,
grabbing things presented on the right side of
the person with the right arm) as compared to
nonhabitual responses (e.g., grabbing things
presented on the right side with the left arm).
Expanding this research to a clinical sample,
Marquardt, Cohen, Gollwitzer, Gilbert, and
Dettmers (2017) had stroke patients with a mild
to moderate hand paresis perform the Simon
task before and after they had formed respective
if-then plans. A significant Simon effect (i.e.,
comparatively faster responding in correspond-
ing trials where things need to be responded to
with the arm of the side where the stimulus is
presented as compared to noncorresponding tri-
als) was observed in both the affected and the
nonaffected arm; however, there was no longer
a significant Simon effect for trials that were
prepared by forming if-then plans. Apparently,
making if-then plans effectively reduced the
Simon effect for both the affected and the non-
affected arm. Importantly, this recent finding
opens a potential new route to improving stroke
rehabilitation as if-then plans may qualify as a
viable strategy to overcome the commonly ob-
served learned nonuse of the affected arm. Fur-
ther studies on the control of unwanted auto-
matic responses by implementation intentions
analyzed abolishing concept and goal priming
effects on behavior (using different concept and
goal priming methods; Gollwitzer, Sheeran,
Trötschel, & Webb, 2011), and breaking bad
eating habits (using a lexical-decision task pre-
senting the unwanted food item as the critical
word; Adriaanse, Gollwitzer, De Ridder, De
Wit, & Kroese, 2011).
A new line of research on the question of
whether implementation intentions can control
unwanted habitual responding has focused on
social phenomena that are known to run off
automatically. For instance, Wieber, Gollwit-
zer, and Sheeran (2014) demonstrated that mim-
icry effects on social interactions can also be
controlled by forming implementation inten-
tions, even though people are not usually aware
of the influence of being mimicked on their
judgments and behaviors. Although mimicry
generally facilitates social interactions, some-
times mimicry effects can hamper the pursuit of
focal goals (e.g., when we fall for the persuasive
efforts of a salesperson mimicking our bodily
and facial expressions). In one of the studies
reported by Wieber et al. (2014), participants
formed the goal: “I want to be thrifty with my
money! I will save my money for important
investments!” or an implementation intention
regarding this goal “I want to be thrifty with my
money! And if I am tempted to buy something,
then I will tell myself: I will save my money for
important investments!” They were then mim-
icked by the experimenter who tried to seduce
them to spend the money they had earned for
participating in the experiment on some left-
over coffee vouchers and chocolate bars. As
compared to a control group, forming imple-
mentation intentions reduced participants’ giv-
ing in to the persuasive attempts of the experi-
menter to spend their money, whereas forming
mere goal intentions to be thrifty failed to do so.
Social projection is another quite automatic
social phenomenon, and as is true with social
mimicry it can have both benefits and costs; for
instance, spontaneously thinking that others are
like me increases feelings of closeness and thus
facilitates social interaction but it may induce
costs when I start projecting that the majority of
people smoke cigarettes and thus the needed
behavior change is hindered. Accordingly, A.
Gollwitzer, Schwörer, Stern, Gollwitzer, and
Bargh (2017) explored whether implementation
intentions could be used for both intensifying
and reducing social projection. They found that
implementation intentions managed to success-
fully up-regulate (“If I’m asked to estimate what
percentage of people agree with me, then I will
remember that other people are similar!”) as
well as down-regulated (“If I’m asked to esti-
mate what percentage of other people agree
with me, then I will remember that other people
are different!”) social projection.
Still, one wonders whether forming imple-
mentation intentions always manage to block
impulsive and habitual responses? The answer
by the horse race metaphor is a clear no. If the
impulsive or habitual response is based on
strong urges or strong habits (Webb, Sheeran, &
Luszczynska, 2009) but the if-then guided re-
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This article is intended solely for the personal use of the individual user and is not to be disseminated broadly.
sponse is based on weak implementation inten-
tions, then the impulsive or habitual response
should win over the if-then planned response;
and the reverse should be true when weak im-
pulses and habits are sent into a race with strong
implementation intentions. Accordingly, con-
trolling behavior that is based on strong im-
pulses or habits requires the formation of strong
implementation intentions. One effective strat-
egy for arriving at strong implementation inten-
tions pertains to creating particularly strong
links between the specified situational cue (if-
part) and the selected goal-directed response
(then-part). Knäuper, Roseman, Johnson, and
Krantz (2009) found that instructing people to
use mental imagery to make if-then plans in-
creased the rate of initiation of the planned
response by almost 50%, and Chapman, Armit-
age, and Norman (2009) observed that for the
goal to increase one’s fruit and vegetable intake
an if-then plan instruction had greater impact
than the instruction to simply think of the when,
where, and how of acting toward the goal.
What else could strengthen the effects of
implementation intentions? For strong imple-
mentation intention effects to occur people need
to be highly committed to the superordinate
goal (e.g., De Nooijer, De Vet, Brug, & De
Vries, 2006;Sheeran, Webb, & Gollwitzer,
2005), which is facilitated when the goal is
self-concordant (Koestner, Lekes, Powers, &
Chicoine, 2002), the self-efficacy to reach the
goal is high (Wieber, Odenthal, & Gollwitzer,
2010), there are no doubts whether pursuing the
goal is worthwhile or not (Wieber, Sezer, &
Gollwitzer, 2014), and one feels energized to
move forward (e.g., is angry rather than sad;
Maglio, Gollwitzer, & Oettingen, 2014). It was
also found that the commitment to the formed
implementation intention needs to be high to
produce strong effects of if-then planning (e.g.,
Achtziger et al., 2012, Study 2).
This latter finding has raised the question of
whether action control by implementation in-
tentions shows costs in terms of a heightened
degree of rigidity (Gollwitzer, Parks-Stamm,
Jaudas, & Sheeran, 2008). Research on this
question suggests however that goal striving
guided by implementation intentions shows nei-
ther total rigidity nor total flexibility; instead it
is characterized by flexible tenacity. Indication
of tenacity comes from recent research assess-
ing physiological measures of effort increase
(i.e., cardiac preejection periods, PEPs; Freyde-
font, Gollwitzer, & Oettingen, 2016). The au-
thors observed that when task difficulty
increased, only implementation intention partic-
ipants continued to display shorter cardiac PEPs
and thus mobilized additional effort, while mere
goal and control participants failed to mobilize
additional effort. But there is also indication
that this tenacity shows features of flexibility.
Legrand, Bieleke, Gollwitzer, and Mignon
(2017) compared action control by implemen-
tation intentions with that by goal intentions
under different degrees of pleasantness. When
performing the goal-directed behavior was only
somewhat unpleasant, participants with imple-
mentation intentions showed greater persistence
than participants with goal intentions. However,
when performing the goal-directed behavior be-
came highly aversive (i.e., monetary loss) both
goal and implementation intention participants
were less likely to perform the goal-directed
There is a further question though when it
comes to the issue of flexibility/rigidity of ac-
tion control by implementation intentions: Do
their effects generalize to similar situations by
still triggering the specified action? Studies on
promoting physical exercise (Epton & Armit-
age, 2017) and enhancing safe driving (Brew-
ster, Elliott, McCartan, McGregor, & Kelly,
2016) addressed this question and found that
implementation intention effects do generalize
to similar situations. In contrast, with dissimilar
situations it is observed that implementation
intention effects no longer evince (see also
Masicampo & Baumeister, 2012;Parks-Stamm,
Gollwitzer, & Oettingen, 2007). Finally,
Bieleke, Legrand, Mignon, and Gollwitzer
(2018) studied the flexibililty/rigidity issue with
respect to the question of: What will happen
when a response is required that differs from the
planned one? In a series of experiments, it was
found that behavior was impaired when a sim-
ilar situation required a behavior different from
the planned one, suggesting that participants
could not withhold the planned response (re-
sembling a habit capture error). Moreover, the
results also showed an impaired performance of
the planned behavior when participants encoun-
tered different situations. No such impairments
occurred, however, in different situations that
required different responding.
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Finally, recent research has addressed a fur-
ther question: When it comes to controlling an
unwanted impulsive or habitual response, are
there any other effective kinds of if-then plans?
Other than those based on the horse-race model
which merely specify an antagonistic response
to the unwanted impulsive or habitual response.
In various studies, it was observed that indeed
another type of if-then plan exists that can also
be used to halt acting on the spur of the mo-
ment. This type of plan specifies a switch to
reflective thinking once the critical situation
that triggers unwanted impulsive or habitual
responses is encountered (e.g., Doerflinger,
Martiny-Huenger, & Gollwitzer, 2017;Bieleke,
Gollwitzer, Oettingen, & Fischbacher, 2017).
Apparently, people can use such implementa-
tion intentions to automate the initiation of deep
thinking; they thus prevent being guided by
unwanted impulses and habits by planning to
think when thinking is needed.
In conclusion, let’s return to the question of
how the goal concept stimulated research on
if-then planning. It is important to recognize
that research on if-then planning has benefitted
in multiple ways from keeping the goal concept
in mind, but two aspects are most prominent.
First, the beneficial effects of if-then plans on
action control were always considered in com-
parison to action control by mere goals. Pro-
ceeding in this way, it quickly became apparent
that making if-then plans qualifies as a powerful
self-regulation strategy for closing the com-
monly observed gap between committing to
goals and actually achieving them. It is thus not
surprising that forming implementation inten-
tions has become part of many modern-day
behavior change interventions (see Oettingen,
2014;Rothman et al., 2015). Second, when
exploring the mechanisms underlying the ben-
eficial effects of if-then planning on action con-
trol it was quickly recognized that the top-down
mechanisms on which action control by goals is
based on do not qualify. As a consequence, new
mechanisms had to be thought of and bottom-up
processes appeared to qualify as the proper al-
ternative mechanism. This ultimately led to the
novel hypothesis that people can strategically
automate the control of their action by making
if-then plans, and this hypothesis received ex-
tensive empirical support by the many experi-
ments it stimulated.
Conclusion and Outlook
The aim of the present article was trying to
demonstrate that the goal concept can help to
develop and test theories in motivation science.
This is exemplified by discussing self-comple-
tion theory, the Rubicon model of action phases,
and the theory of action control by if-then plan-
ning. It is argued that relying on the goal con-
cept helped to elucidate the phenomenon of
compensation in people who strive for personal
identities (symbolizing the possession of an as-
pired-to identity), to understand what is implied
by moving from undecidedness to feeling de-
termined with respect to realizing one’s wishes
and desires (crossing the Rubicon), to delineate
the distinct cognitive features of the task-
congruent mindsets associated with the various
phases of action (deliberative vs. implemental
mindsets), and to create hypothesis on how im-
plementation intentions differ from goal inten-
tions in how they guide a person’s actions (bot-
tom-up vs. top-down control of action).
What has not been addressed yet is how the
goal concept can be used to elucidate the classic
phenomena studied in motivation science. One
such phenomenon that immediately comes to
mind is making causal attributions for achieved
outcomes (Weiner, 1986). Turning to the goal
concept would allow to raise the question of
what makes people attribute these outcomes to
their goals rather than ability, effort, task diffi-
culty, and luck, and whether goal attributions
lead to different downstream consequences than
other attributions (e.g., ability attributions).
That such a goal approach to causal attribu-
tions could provide numerous novel insights
is suggested by the very recent research of
Olcaysoy Okten and Moskowitz (2018), dif-
ferentiating between trait and goal attribu-
tions with respect to explaining the behavior
of others. They discovered that there are dis-
tinctive antecedents to trait versus goal attri-
butions related to whether behaviors are per-
formed toward specific entities or not, and
whether these behaviors are shown with high
or low consistency over time.
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Received April 16, 2018
Revision received July 13, 2018
Accepted July 13, 2018
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... Among the multiple goals that individuals pursue, some are particularly important to them and become central to the understanding of their identity. These so-called identity goals, such as becoming an eco-friendly person, can never be fully attained and individuals keep striving for these goals by engaging in self-symbolizing activities that are figurative or real means (Gollwitzer, 2018;Gollwitzer et al., 1982;Wicklund & Gollwitzer, 1981). Symbols can be self-evident and manifest themselves in obvious activities, such as using a Greenpeace-branded carrier bag. ...
... The state of completeness is associated with the feeling that the desired identity has been reached, and as a result, individuals no longer experience an urge to strive for the identity goal ). When someone is convinced about possessing the characteristics that indicate the possession of the aspired-to identity, they are unlikely to engage in further self-symbolizing activities (Gollwitzer, 2018). In contrast, feelings of identity goal incompleteness occur in situations when committed individuals learn that their behaviors have distanced them from this identity. ...
... Interruption of the identity goal striving or a recall of relevant failures have also been observed to induce feelings of incompleteness (Gollwitzer et al., , 2013Jordan et al., 2011;Marquardt et al., 2016;Wicklund & Gollwitzer, 1981). The state of incompleteness results in an unpleasant tension that needs to be reduced, and to do this, individuals undertake self-symbolizing activities as a means of compensation aimed at restoring completeness (Gollwitzer, 2018;Gollwitzer & Wicklund, 1985;Lalot et al., 2019;Moskowitz et al., 2011;Susewind & Walkowitz, 2020). ...
... Goals allow individuals to exert control over their actions, direct mental processes, and interact with the environment in an instrumental way (Moskowitz & Grant, 2009). A goal can be thought of as a mental representation of a desired future state that the individual intends to attain (Gollwitzer, 2018;Oettingen et al., 2001). This mental representation is stored in memory as an organized knowledge structure connecting the desired outcome, the means and opportunities to act toward it, and other goal-relevant information (Kruglanski & Köpetz, 2009). ...
... Having a goal means that the individual is committed to working toward that goal, which in turn directs and energizes the individual to engage in goal-directed action (Locke & Latham, 2013). Goals related to an aspired-to identity of the individual are labeled identity goals (see Gollwitzer, 2018). ...
... While individuals committed to a cultural identity goal should generally experience more belongingness, the constructs are theoretically distinct. Commitment encompasses effort and investment into a goal and is comparatively more stable (see Gollwitzer, 2018). In contrast, belongingness is more prone to situational influences and does not necessarily lead to goal-directed efforts (Knowles et al., 2010). ...
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We explore motivational processes stemming from bicultural identity goals of being Turkish and being German by investigating the effect of identity goal incompleteness versus completeness in the two identity goals on the use of multifinal means to self-symbolize German-Turkish cultural identity goals. Individuals incomplete in either or both identity goals were more likely than individuals complete in both identity goals to engage in multifinal self-symbolizing via social media activity (Experiment 1) and helping (Experiment 2). Incompleteness regarding the two identity goals had an additive effect on effort and elicited distinct patterns of subjectively experienced incompleteness for German and Turkish cultural identity goals (Experiment 2). These findings offer new insights relevant for symbolic self-completion theory and goal systems theory.
... From a theoretical point of view, the present research encourages the adoption of a goal perspective on identity (Gollwitzer, 2018;Gollwitzer & Kirchhof, 1998). Research on self and identity traditionally focused on the cognitive structures for representing the self (i.e., the self-concept; Rosenberg, 1979) and the evaluation of such a representation (i.e., self-esteem; Greenwald, 1980), and-more recently-on the general motives underlying identity construction (i.e., identity motives; Vignoles, 2011). ...
... In this sense, our experiment supports a comprehensive and general conceptualization of goal-oriented states. As such, our findings may further stimulate the study of the basics of motivation-identifying what all motivational states have in common-to move toward a more complete understanding of motivated behaviors (e.g., Gollwitzer, 2018). ...
... This is not surprising, because engaging in actions is an efficient way to escape boredoma very aversive state (Wilson et al., 2014). More relevant, forming implementation intentions in terms of "if-then planning" (see Gollwitzer, 2018) reduced the tendency to disengage and increased the tendency to reengage. Also these 2 I am aware that the freedom to choose between action alternatives is only one aspect of autonomous motivation in Self-Determination Theory (e.g., Ryan et al., 2021). ...
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In this commentary, I discuss the eight empirical contributions to the Motivation and Emotion special issue on goal disengagement from a resource conservation perspective. This process was not in the focus of the reported studies, but is central for understanding both engaging and disengaging. I will outline that many of the new findings on disengagement reported in this special issue are highly compatible with the predictions of and research on motivational intensity theory. Examples are the roles of commitment, subjective goal value, affective experiences, autonomy, self-awareness, and action planning. These variables have been found to be central for both engagement and disengagement and their consideration in a resource mobilization perspective should contribute to a more complete understanding of “letting go”.
... Thus, examination of the mechanisms found in the current study when students' actual behavior is also considered represents a prospective line for future research. In this regard, measures of intentions that depict students' firm resolution or concrete action plan can be considered for inclusion since they may be more predictive of actual behaviors Achtziger and Gollwitzer, 2018;Gollwitzer, 2018). However, implementation intentions (i.e., concrete if-then plans) might be problematic to measure in the context of academic attrition considering the lack of measurement scales and ethical considerations related to experimental designs. ...
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Why do students leave universities? The current study addresses the problem of academic attrition from the perspective of students’ intentions. Specifically, we focus on the roles of academic self-efficacy and procrastination in exploring their relationships with attrition intentions. Based on existing research, we expected a negative relationship between academic self-efficacy and attrition intentions, with procrastination as a possible mediator. Furthermore, it was expected that this relationship would differ depending on the type of attrition (i.e., drop-out, transfer university, transfer study field). These hypotheses were investigated among Norwegian students in a questionnaire study ( N = 693). Results showed that procrastination partially mediated the relationship between academic self-efficacy and three attrition intentions categories. Although procrastination was a significant mediator of self-efficacy for all types of intentions, the sizes of the direct and indirect effects were different. We conclude that academic procrastination is important in understanding the relationship between students’ self-efficacy beliefs and attrition intentions.
Goals play a central role in human cognition. However, computational theories of learning and decision-making often take goals as given. Here, we review key empirical findings showing that goals shape the representations of inputs, responses, and outcomes, such that setting a goal crucially influences the central aspects of any learning process: states, actions, and rewards. We thus argue that studying goal selection is essential to advance our understanding of learning. By following existing literature in framing goal selection within a hierarchy of decision-making problems, we synthesize important findings on the principles underlying goal value attribution and exploration strategies. Ultimately, we propose that a goal-centric perspective will help develop more complete accounts of learning in both biological and artificial agents.
La Organización Científica de la Industria opúsculo escrito el 1922, editado por el Museo Social, es una de las obras más representativas del Pensamiento Organizativo Español (POE). Su lectura, análisis, interpretación y clasificación permite observar cómo se van ubicando los diferentes componentes de la Tecnópolis Española y la descripción constitutiva de la Mayoría Selecta. La disrupción provocada por la rápida substitución del vapor por la electricidad en los centros fabriles, el constante reemplazo de la tracción de sangre por la tracción fósil de los motores de combustión interna y la expansión de las innovadoras líneas telefónicas, lanzaron una nueva época en el discurrir de la sociedad industrial. Tras el fracaso del capitalismo decimonónico, causante de pobreza y conflictividad, la construcción del nuevo modelo social y económico precisaba de un andamiaje compuesto de distintas medidas de política económica, que intervinieran de manera directa en la organización del trabajo, aplicando los nuevos criterios científicos; de mecanismos redistributivos de la renta para incentivar la productividad y que garantizasen la equidad; y con especial hincapié, el obligado ajuste de instituciones formativas y educativas, a las necesidades de la nueva estructura productiva. Tallada propuso los distintos instrumentos de intervención social y económica, con la finalidad de gestionar el cambio social, para evitar las disfuncionalidades de la primera revolución industrial, defendiendo un modelo social de carácter liberal.
por José María Cortés Martí, director del XXIV Congreso de Sociología de ACMS (2019) Don Quijote a la mar Galopa Don Quijote a barlovento, mas no quiere aire a favor ni estrella o luna llena (no hay rutas en la mar ni anuncio o canto) A diestra y a siniestra, al sur del norte abre sus lineas. (no hay lugar para Sancho en alta mar: que al faro, al puerto) Oh sí, marcar la mar, hacer la mar, ni muro o límite. Oh sí, vivir contra la mar, contra los astros: gran deseo, que dicen oceánico. Octavio Uña, A la vera del camino Los sociólogos, bien sabemos, que el fenómeno organizativo como herramienta para convertir en realidad los proyectos acordados es una cuestión de voluntad y compromiso. Valores que sustentan estructuras e instituciones, y que expresado crudamente, sin compromiso y sin voluntad no hay proyecto que pueda andar. Nuestro congreso de las supuestas “sociedades inteligentes” no son más inteligentes por poseer únicamente alta tecnología de la comunicación, sino por algo tan humano como es la generosidad resultado del compromiso y la voluntad, como también de la paciencia, madre de la ciencia, tal como versa nuestro saber popular. Caminos de Utopía: las ciencias sociales en las nuevas sociedades inteligentes, celebrado en Valdepeñas, Ciudad Real, del 22 al 24 de noviembre de 2019, se puede afirmar que marcó un antes y un después. Un antes de la pandemia del COVID-19 y un largo después de aproximadamente dos años. La puesta en marcha del congreso de aquel año 2019, la pertinente gestión que conllevó para su realización y visto en perspectiva, se asemejaba más a una utopía que un proyecto realizable dadas las innumerables complicaciones que iban surgiendo, marcándonos a medida que apresaba el tiempo un severo compás para su ejecución. El primer asunto a resolver fue la de formar una nueva comisión ejecutora responsable del congreso por la nonata propuesta primigenia. No cabe decir, la preocupación en que estuvimos inmersos en imprevistas reuniones, un sinnúmero de llamadas e innumerables partidas y llegadas, pero finalmente se constituyó la arquitectura nuclear de la comisión "por vía de urgencia". A pesar de todo ello, superando codo a codo los obstáculos de la travesía, no puedo más que agradecer el apoyo prestado a la dirección del Congreso 2019. Especialmente y me remito por sus nombres: Candelas, Octavio, Joaquín, José Miguel, Mercedes. Candelas sin su minuciosa custodia no hubiese sido posible la supervivencia efectiva del congreso; Octavio desde el puente de mandos divisando el horizonte y atendiendo los procederes de navegación; la inestimable ayuda de Joaquín técnico de la sala de máquinas ya que sin él no hubiese sido posible la travesía congresual; José Miguel que gracias a sus habilidades TIC, su gran generosidad y su benemérita constancia ha sido posible la publicación de las ponencias presentadas. Mi estimada Mercedes supervisando que la temperatura de la sala de máquinas fuese la idónea. A los compañeros participantes que sin su paciente buen hacer el congreso no hubiera sido posible. Y un emotivo agradecimiento al Ayuntamiento, a su alcalde, D. Jesús Martín, y especialmente a su primera teniente de Alcaldía, Dª. Vanessa Irla, que nos brindaron todas las facilidades para su celebración. Sintetizando las ponencias presentadas y debatidas en sus respectivas mesas, no hay duda alguna que por su temática y nivel los “caminos a la utopía” se manifestó una honda preocupación por las aristas que presenta nuestra sociedad y las tendencias que parecen vislumbrase. Cada una de las temáticas, con sus títulos correspondientes, las trece mesas expresaron el profundo sentir de las problemáticas de las sociedades “autodenominadas inteligentes”. En la mesa numero uno “Sociología de la Comunicación y del Lenguaje” tuvo un hilo conductor que denotó la preocupación existente sobre la honestidad y la veracidad de las noticias difundidas por los grandes medios de comunicación. En la segunda mesa “Sociología Política, Gobierno y Administración Pública” abarcó desde las políticas de intervención sobre la discapacidad hasta la calidad del régimen democrático. “Teoría, epistemología y metodología de las ciencias sociales” título de la tercera mesa, profundizó desde una perspectiva socio-histórica los hechos que configuraron nuestra sociedad capitalista y sus consecuentes luchas, dando lugar a una sociedad caracterizada por el consumo de masas. Cuarta mesa “Pobreza y desigualdad y exclusión social” su hilo conductor fue la estigmatización social en el tecnocapitalismo. Seguidamente en la quinta mesa “Inmigración, integración, identidades políticas” observó el impacto de la inmigración en las sociedades avanzadas ante el viraje ideológico a la denominada extrema derecha. “Mayores y envejecimiento. Nuevas alternativas sociales” sexta mesa de trabajo, razonó sobre los retos que nos plantea el envejecimiento en las sociedades occidentales avanzadas. En la séptima “Defensa, conflicto y seguridad. Las relaciones internacionales en el mundo actual” se abordaron aspectos, a veces no analizados por su complejidad, como son la vulnerabilidad de nuestras sociedades ante el escenario de un mundo globalizado. La octava mesa de trabajo “Innovación docente” comprendió las temáticas de inclusividad educativa, hasta el análisis de las motivaciones del acceso a los veinticinco años a la universidad. La mesa novena estudió una problemática acuciante cuyo título suficientemente revelador “El medio y sus riquezas naturales. El agua como fuente de conflictos” profundizó la gestión política de un recurso escaso. La décima mesa “La familia ante los retos sociales. Nuevas formas de convivencia” definió una realidad social, la familia, ante los retos que se presentan en las sociedades inteligentes centrándose especialmente en la infancia y la juventud. No menos fue la mesa decimoprimera “Mujer, Igualdad y violencia” implicando estudios de género empíricos sobre las condiciones laborales de las mujeres en el Magreb, pasando por el estudio del abanico jurídico para alcanzar la igualdad hasta la indagación discursiva de género. Ya en la mesa de trabajo decimosegunda “Transparencia, buen gobierno y educación ciudadana” formuló la preocupación sobre la gobernanza en sus distintos niveles institucionales. Finalmente en la decimotercera mesa “El modelo social de la discapacidad. Atención a la diversidad” puso especial atención en las políticas activas aplicadas en dicho ámbito de la discapacidad y en paralelo la creación del relato de la población afectada por la discapacidad funcional. Desde la memoria sentida de aquellos días plúmbicos del noviembre manchego, compartimos el privilegio de celebrar el vigésimo cuarto congreso de la Asociación de Sociología Castellano-Manchega. La “mise en scene” transcurrió en ese maravilloso escenario del Valle de Peñas, donde gótico isabelino y modernismo industrial transitan por plazas, por calles, por callejuelas y por cerros. En ese rincón de la manchega llanura, en el meandro del Jabalón, surcado por enjutas vides, sazonado por blanqueados molinos, peregrinan utopías de azahar acariciando la dulce marinada de la playa de Barcino, donde nuestro buen amigo de la triste figura extravió, muy a su pesar, la cordura. Barcelona, Septiembre 2022
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While research on tenacious goal pursuit and persistence has evoked a myriad of research efforts, research on goal disengagement has rather been neglected and has been focusing mainly on positive consequences of individual differences in goal disengagement capacities. In recent years, however, research on goal disengagement has seen an upsurge in studies, specifically addressing the conceptualization of goal disengagement, the processes involved, and factors facilitating or undermining it. However, many questions remain unanswered or only partly answered providing numerous opportunities for further investigation. With this special issue of Motivation and Emotion, we aim to stimulate such progress in research on goal disengagement. To this end, this special issue includes empirical studies with cross-sectional, prospective, longitudinal, and experimental designs with a wide range of personal and experimentally induced goals as well as invited commentaries from scholars across different psychological sub disciplines. In this introductory essay, we provide a brief review of the current state of goal disengagement research. We also provide an overview about the contributions to this special issue with reflections related to the current state of research and areas where further advancement in conceptualization and empirical studies is needed.
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Our commentary highlights the importance of the present special issue on disengagement from goals. The various contributions focus on as vital topics as people vexed by goals being blocked, stuck between going on versus letting go, and drowning in ruminations. They clarify that person and contextual factors, framing strategies, and emotional make-up play a role in dealing with such hardships. Reviewing the contributions also indicated that research on the processes of disengagement is especially scarce. To start closing this gap, we argue that research on the self-regulation strategy of mental contrasting, primarily used to specify the processes of active goal pursuit, can just as well be used to elucidate the processes of active disengagement. We present evidence about how mental contrasting promotes disengaging from desired futures and from missed-out pasts, and we highlight the non-conscious mechanisms that induce people to actively let go from unfeasible endeavors. We then address research on how people can disengage from upcoming inevitable endings. We conclude with applauding the courage of the editors to tackle goal disengagement, the black sheep of the psychology of motivation, and we discuss how fruitful further research on the topic will be for the individual and the society.
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The Oxford Handbook of Human Motivation, Second Edition, addresses key advances made in the field since the previous edition, offering the latest insights from the top theorists and researchers of human motivation. The volume includes chapters on social learning theory, control theory, self-determination theory, terror management theory, and regulatory focus theory and also presents articles from leading scholars on phenomena such as ego depletion, choice, curiosity, flow, implicit motives, and personal interests. A special section dedicated to goal research highlights achievement goals, goal attainment, goal pursuit and unconscious goals, and the goal orientation process across adulthood. The volume sheds new light on the biological underpinnings of motivation, including chapters on neuropsychology and cardiovascular dynamics. This resource is also packed with practical research and guidance, with sections on relationships and applications in areas such as psychotherapy, education, physical activity, sport, and work. By providing reviews of the most advanced work by the very best scholars in this field, this volume represents an invaluable resource for both researchers and practitioners, as well as any student of human nature.
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Der lange vernachlässigte Willensbegriff wird gegenwärtig in einigen Humanwissenschaften, vor allem in der Psychologie und Hirnphysiologie neu aufgegriffen. Dieser Band soll dazu beitragen, die alltägliche Erfahrungsvielfalt des Wollens wieder als einen Forschungsgegenstand aller Humanwissenschaften zu entdecken. Der erste Abschnitt behandelt das Wollen als einen Gegenstand vielfältiger Erfahrung, sei es in Gestalt geschichtlicher Ereignisse oder literarischer Zeugnisse, im Experiment oder schließlich im Spiegel bildhafter Vorstellungen. Die weiteren Abschnitte beschäftigen sich mit der Vorstellung vom Wollen in der Antike, der Philosophie des Willens sowie der Geschichte der Willenspsychologie. Neuansätze einer psychologischen Willenstheorie betreffen das Bilden von Absichten und ein vornahmegeleitetes Handeln ("Rubikon-Modell"). Abschließend werden pädagogische, psychotherapeutische, strafrechtliche, evolutionsbiologische und hirnphysiologische Forschungsansätze skizziert und diskutiert.
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Background: After stroke, the learned non-use of a paretic arm is a major obstacle to the improvement of hand function. Objective: We examined whether patients with a central paresis could profit from applying the self-regulation strategy of making if-then plans that specify situational triggers to using the paretic arm. Method: Seventeen stroke patients with a mild to moderate hand paresis were asked to perform a Simon task which is commonly used to study the enhanced executive control needed when there is a mismatch between stimulus (e.g., color) and response (e.g., location) features. We examined whether patients with hemiparesis would be able to reduce the Simon effect (i.e., responding slower to mismatched as compared to matched stimulus and response features) by creating new stimulus-response associations via if-then plans. Results: A significant Simon effect was observed in both the affected and the non-affected arm for control trials. However, there was no longer a significant Simon effect for the critical trials prepared by forming if-then plans. This led to a significant stimulus×compatibility interaction effect for the affected arm and a marginally significant interaction effect for the non-affected arm. Making if-then plans was effective for eliminating or at least reducing the Simon effect for the affected and the non-affected arm, respectively. Conclusion: This observation opens a potential new route to improving stroke rehabilitation. If-then plans may qualify as a viable strategy to overcome the learned non-use of the affected arm. Further research is now required to develop and test therapeutic measures based on this proof-of-principle.
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We provide a theoretical framework and empirical evidence for how verbally planning an action creates direct perception-action links and behavioral automaticity. We argue that planning actions in an if (situation)–then (action) format induces sensorimotor simulations (i.e., activity patterns reenacting the event in the sensory and motor brain areas) of the anticipated situation and the intended action. Due to their temporal overlap, these activity patterns become linked. Whenever the previously simulated situation is encountered, the previously simulated action is partially reactivated through spreading activation and thus more likely to be executed. In 4 experiments (N = 363), we investigated the relation between specific if–then action plans worded to activate simulations of elbow flexion versus extension movements and actual elbow flexion versus extension movements in a subsequent, ostensibly unrelated categorization task. As expected, linking a critical stimulus to intended actions that implied elbow flexion movements (e.g., grabbing it for consumption) subsequently facilitated elbow flexion movements upon encountering the critical stimulus. However, linking a critical stimulus to actions that implied elbow extension movements (e.g., pointing at it) subsequently facilitated elbow extension movements upon encountering the critical stimulus. Thus, minor differences (i.e., exchanging the words “point at” with “grab”) in verbally formulated action plans (i.e., conscious thought) had systematic consequences on subsequent actions. The question of how conscious thought can induce stimulus-triggered action is illuminated by the provided theoretical framework and the respective empirical evidence, facilitating the understanding of behavioral automaticity and human agency.
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In two experiments, we investigated the downstream consequences of activating deliberative versus implemental mindsets on risk perception (Experiment 1) and risk-taking behavior (Experiment 2). We hypothesized that participants in an implemental versus deliberative mindset arrive at more optimistic judgments about their own risks of experiencing negative life events, compared to other peoples’ risks. The results of Experiment 1 confirm this hypothesis and reveal perceived controllability as an important moderator. Experiment 2 further augments these findings by demonstrating that participants in a deliberative mindset show less risk-taking behavior than participants in an implemental mindset using a behavioral risk task. Implications for research on mindset theory of action phases and mindset-dependent effects on risk perception and risk-taking behavior are discussed.
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Implementation intentions (if-then plans) help people to automatically perform goal-directed behaviors when they encounter goal-relevant critical situations. Besides the intended beneficial effects on goal attainment, however, goal-directed behaviors might entail various costs. Successful goal striving then requires flexible tenacity: tenaciously holding on to behaviors that inflict bearable costs but flexibly backing off from performing excessively costly behaviors. In the present research, we investigated whether goal striving with implementation intentions is characterized by such flexible tenacity. In Experiments 1 and 2, implementation intention participants held on to goal-directed behaviors that inflicted bearable costs (sustaining unpleasant noise and annoying effort), whereas participants with mere goal intentions reduced their performance of goal-directed behaviors. In Experiment 3, both goal and implementation intention participants backed off from performing an excessively costly behavior (involving monetary loss). This effect was more pronounced among implementation intention participants, who additionally lowered their goal commitment. We conclude that implementation intentions render goal striving tenaciously flexible, facilitating goal-directed behaviors unless this is associated with excessive costs. (PsycINFO Database Record (c) 2017 APA, all rights reserved)
The present article includes separate meta-analyses showing that self-concordance and implementation intentions are significantly positively associated with goal progress. Study 1 confirmed the positive relations of both self-concordance and implementation intentions to weekend goal progress. Study 2 confirmed the positive relation of self-concordance with monthly progress on New Year's resolutions but failed to find a direct benefit for implementation intentions. Both studies, however, obtained a significant interaction effect indicating that goal self-concordance and implementation intentions combined synergistically to facilitate goal progress. The article also reports a meta-analysis and results from the 2 studies that demonstrated that goal progress was associated with improved affect over time.
In 4 studies, we show that two behavioral dimensions specified in Kelley’s (1967) model of attribution, consistency and distinctiveness of behaviors, determine perceivers’ likelihood to explain others’ behaviors in terms of their goals versus traits. Participants tended to attribute the cause of others’ behaviors to their goals (vs. traits and other characteristics) when behaviors were characterized by high distinctiveness (Study 1A & 1B) or low consistency (Study 2). On the other hand, traits were ascribed as predominant causal explanations when behaviors had low distinctiveness or high consistency. Study 3 investigated the combined effect of those behavioral dimensions on causal attributions and showed that behaviors with high distinctiveness and consistency as well as low distinctiveness and consistency trigger goal attributions. We discuss the implications of the present research in terms of going beyond the dominant approach of trait-situation dichotomy in attribution research.
Interventions that encourage people to link critical situations with appropriate responses (i.e., "implementation intentions") show promise in increasing physical activity.The study tested whether implementation intentions designed to deal with generic situations are more effective than implementation intentions designed to respond to specific situations.One hundred thirty-three participants either: (a) formed implementation intentions using a volitional help sheet with 10 critical situations (i.e., standard volitional help sheet); (b) formed implementation intentions using a volitional help sheet with one generic situation (i.e., single situation volitional help sheet); or (c) did not form implementation intentions (i.e., control condition).Participants who formed implementation intentions reported more physical activity and greater self-regulation than those in the control condition. There were no differences between participants who were provided with one generic critical situation and those who were provided with 10 specific critical situations.Implementation intentions successfully increased self-reported physical activity irrespective of critical situation specificity. The implication is that implementation intention-based interventions are robust and require minimal tailoring.