Stay the course

Kevin Lewis

October 28, 2017

Relative Effects of Forward and Backward Planning on Goal Pursuit
Jooyoung Park, Fang-Chi Lu & William Hedgcock
Psychological Science, forthcoming


Considerable research has shown that planning plays an important role in goal pursuit. But how does the way people plan affect goal pursuit? Research on this question is scarce. In the current research, we examined how planning the steps required for goal attainment in chronological order (i.e., forward planning) and reverse chronological order (i.e., backward planning) influences individuals' motivation for and perceptions of goal pursuit. Compared with forward planning, backward planning not only led to greater motivation, higher goal expectancy, and less time pressure but also resulted in better goal-relevant performance. We further demonstrated that this motivational effect occurred because backward planning allowed people to think of tasks required to reach their goals more clearly, especially when goals were complex to plan. These findings suggest that the way people plan matters just as much as whether or not they plan.

Emotions Know Best: The Advantage of Emotional versus Cognitive Responses to Failure
Noelle Nelson, Selin Malkoc & Baba Shiv
Journal of Behavioral Decision Making, forthcoming


Making mistakes or failing at tasks is a common occurrence in human life. People can respond to and cope with failure in many ways. In this research, we examine potential advantages of relatively emotional (versus cognitive) responses to failure. In particular, we study how effort and time spent in subsequent tasks depend on whether people predominantly focus on their emotions or their cognitions as they respond to a failure. We demonstrate that, left to their own means, people's cognitions upon a failure are mainly justificatory in nature and thus do not automatically have the commonly believed reflective, self-improving qualities. We further argue and demonstrate that a relative focus on cognitions following a failure can prevent improvement in subsequent episodes, but a focus on emotions can allow for learning and, therefore, increased effort.

Cool, Callous, and in Control: Superior Inhibitory Control in Frequent Players of Video Games with Violent Content
Laura Stockdale et al.
Social Cognitive and Affective Neuroscience, forthcoming


Research on the effects of media violence exposure has shown robust associations among violent media exposure, increased aggressive behavior, and decreased empathy. Preliminary research indicates that frequent players of violent video games may have differences in emotional and cognitive processes compared to infrequent or non-players, yet research examining the amount and content of game play and the relation of these factors with affective and cognitive outcomes is limited. The present study measured neural correlates of response inhibition in the context of implicit attention to emotion, and how these factors are related to empathic responding in frequent and infrequent players of video games with graphically violent content. Participants completed a self-report measure of empathy as well as an affective stop-signal task that measured implicit attention to emotion and response inhibition during electroencephalography (EEG). Frequent players had lower levels of empathy as well as a reduction in brain activity as indicated by P100 and N200/P300 event related potentials (ERPs). Reduced P100 amplitude evoked by happy facial expressions was observed in frequent players compared to infrequent players, and this effect was moderated by empathy, such that low levels of empathy further reduced P100 amplitudes for happy facial expressions for frequent players compared to infrequent players. Compared to infrequent players, frequent players had reduced N200/P300 amplitude during response inhibition, indicating less neural resources were recruited to inhibit behavior. Results from the present study illustrate that chronic exposure to violent video games modulates empathy and related neural correlates associated with affect and cognition.

Positive autobiographical memory retrieval reduces temporal discounting
Karolina Lempert et al.
Social Cognitive and Affective Neuroscience, October 2017, Pages 1584-1593


People generally prefer rewards sooner rather than later. This phenomenon, temporal discounting, underlies many societal problems, including addiction and obesity. One way to reduce temporal discounting is to imagine positive future experiences. Since there is overlap in the neural circuitry associated with imagining future experiences and remembering past events, here we investigate whether recalling positive memories can also promote more patient choice. We found that participants were more patient after retrieving positive autobiographical memories, but not when they recalled negative memories. Moreover, individuals were more impulsive after imagining novel positive scenes that were not related to their memories, showing that positive imagery alone does not drive this effect. Activity in the striatum and temporo parietal junction during memory retrieval predicted more patient choice, suggesting that to the extent that memory recall is rewarding and involves perspective-taking, it influences decision-making. Furthermore, representational similarity in the ventromedial prefrontal cortex between memory recall and decision phases correlated with the behavioral effect across participants. Thus, we have identified a novel manipulation for reducing temporal discounting - remembering the positive past - and have begun to characterize the psychological and neural mechanisms behind it.

How Incidental Confidence Influences Self-Interested Behaviors: A Double-Edged Sword
Claire Tsai & Jia Lin Xie
Journal of Behavioral Decision Making, forthcoming


The present research investigates how incidental confidence influences self-interested behaviors. It is well established that being in a psychological state of lower confidence causes people to experience psychological aversion that they are motivated to reduce. We study the transfer effect of confidence; people strive to compensate for lower confidence in one domain by obtaining higher status in other unrelated domains. Prior research has linked money with status and suggested that money can increase confidence. Building on this research, we proposed and showed in four experiments that lower incidental confidence increased self-interested behaviors that brought financial gains. Drawing on research on competitive altruism, we also predicted and found that when altruism, rather than money, was seen as the primary source of status, the effect of incidental confidence reversed such that lower incidental confidence decreased self-interested behaviors. Data ruled out alternative explanations and provided consistent evidence for the proposed compensatory mechanism. We also discussed theoretical and practical implications of the present research.

Self-Uncertainty and the Influence of Alternative Goals on Self-Regulation
Alysson Light, Kimberly Rios & Kenneth DeMarree
Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin, forthcoming


The current research examines factors that facilitate or undermine goal pursuit. Past research indicates that attempts to reduce self-uncertainty can result in increased goal motivation. We explore a critical boundary condition of this effect - the presence of alternative goals. Though self-regulatory processes usually keep interest in alternative goals in check, uncertainty reduction may undermine these self-regulatory efforts by (a) reducing conflict monitoring and (b) increasing valuation of alternative goals. As such, reminders of alternative goals will draw effort away from focal goals for self-uncertain (but not self-certain) participants. Across four studies and eight supplemental studies, using different focal goals (e.g., academic achievement, healthy eating) and alternative goals (e.g., social/emotional goals, attractiveness, indulgence), we found that alternative goal salience does not negatively influence goal-directed behavior among participants primed with self-certainty, but that reminders of alternative goals undermine goal pursuit among participants primed with self-uncertainty.

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