A voluminous amount of empirical evidence in the social and medical sciences attests to people's everyday difficulties in regulating their behavior according to long-term goals rather than short-term temptations. Such difficulty in meeting one's long-term goals has serious consequences for mental and physical health, at both the societal and individual level. High prevalence rates of obesity, smoking, binge drinking, and drug addictions are just some of the overt manifestations of people's difficulty with self-regulation. Social psychologists have focused recently on how self-regulation operates according to implicit (unintentional, non-conscious) processes, and argue that an important determinant of successful goal pursuit is having in place certain automatic reactions to the environment, which guide the person toward functional behaviors without requiring a lot of effort or thought. For example, when the cigarette smoker who is trying to quit sees a passer-by smoking, she will be better able to resist asking for a cigarette if her automatic reaction to the cigarette is immediatly and spontaneously negative, rather than positive. But, the critical question in this line of research is how can people who do not have such functional automatic reactions to goals acquire them? Recent findings suggest that changing one's evaluative associations with goals and temptations through an implicit paradigm might effectively alter the person's behavior toward those goals. The current research application tests the causal impact and durability of altering self-regulation through an evaluative learning paradigm. Given that research has shown that decision-making and self-regulatory capacities change developmentally, the proposed work also tests the success of this evaluative conditioning procedure across the lifespan. The proposed work tests two critical questions about the causal impact and durability of improving self-regulation through an evaluative conditioning paradigm across the lifespan. Research Question 1 tests the exact circumstances under which acquiring positive versus negative associations with one's long-term goals leads to better goal pursuit. Research Question 2 of the proposed work tests whether the success of changing people's implicit goal evaluations varies across age groups. This research application has significant theoretical value in that it tests the causal influence of evaluative conditioning for behavior, and identifies the direction of that influence under various theoretically relevant circumstances. The proposed work also has tremendous practical value in that it seeks to identify a relatively easy and quick way to alter people's automatic evaluative reactions to the world around them with concomitant adaptive behavioral changes. Such findings would possess considerable translational value in terms of informing and advancing treatment within the fields of mental and physical health and self- regulation.
A voluminous amount of empirical evidence in the social and medical sciences attests to people's everyday difficulties in regulating their behavior according to long-term goals rather than short-term temptations, which has serious consequences for mental and physical health at both the societal and individual level. Recent findings in social psychology suggest that changing one's evaluative associations with goals and temptations in memory through an implicit learning paradigm might effectively alter the person's behavior toward those goals. The current research application comprehensively tests the causal impact and durability of improving self-regulatory ability through an implicit evaluative learning paradigm.