How do goals and plans affect cognition and behavior?
My research concerns the question of how goals and plans affect cognition and behavior. It spans a number of areas in social psychology, cognition and perception, neuropsychology, and industrial and organizational psychology.
Four different theoretical concepts stimulate this research:
Deliberating which goals to pursue versus planning the implementation of set goals leads to different cognitive orientations (i.e., deliberative and implemental mindsets, respectively). We observed that the deliberative mindset leads to an accurate and impartial analysis of information that speaks to the feasibility and desirability of possible goals, whereas the implemental mindset promotes an optimistic and partial analysis of such information. Moreover, the deliberative mindset is associated with open-mindedness, whereas the implemental mindset is characterized by closed-mindedness.
We are currently investigating how deliberative and implemental mindsets differentially affect illusionary optimism and people's search for information that relates to ongoing self-views. Moreover, we study how mindsets affect the strength of attitudes and the effectiveness of action control. Also, implicit ways of activating deliberative and implemental mindsets are explored.
2) Implementation Intentions
People can delegate the initiation of goal-directed behavior to environmental stimuli by forming so-called implementation intentions (if-then plans of the format: If situation x is encountered, then I will perform behavior y!). We observed that forming implementation intentions facilitates detecting, attending to, and recalling the critical situation. Moreover, in the presence of the critical situation the initiation of the specified goal-directed behavior is immediate, efficient, and does not need a conscious intent.
Finally, we study whether and how implementation intentions help people meet their health goals (e.g., exercising more, eating less, taking pills regularly), whether people who are known to have problems with action control also benefit from implementation intentions (e.g., frontal lobe patients, schizophrenics, children with ADHD, alcoholics), and whether forming implementation intentions alleviates disruptive influences in negotiations between opposing parties.
3) Self-defining Goals
Committing oneself to a self-defining goal (e.g., becoming a good lawyer, mother, scientist) instigates an enduring striving towards possessing the desired outcome. We currently explore whether and how the self-defining goal of becoming an egalitarian person reduces stereotyping and prejudice, and whether effective suppression of stereotypes via such goals is void of rebound effects (i.e., subsequent stereotype activation). We also test whether sharing one's behavioral intentions with others reduces the enactment of these intentions, given that such public intending may produce a sense of identity completeness.
4) Nonconscious Goal Pursuits
In a recent line of research we explore whether and how conscious goal pursuits differ from nonconscious goal pursuits. First, various problems of action control that demand flexibility rather than rigidity are identified and it is analyzed whether nonconscious goal pursuits are equally effective in solving these problems as conscious goal pursuits. Second, various cognitive, affective, and behavioral consequences of goal conflicts are identified and it is analyzed whether these can be observed for conscious and nonconscious goal pursuits alike. Third, we explore whether there is dissociation between the variables that determine a strong feeling of intending to reach a goal and the variables that predict successful goal attainment.