Original Paper

Motivation and Emotion

, Volume 38, Issue 6, pp 815-822

First online:

Focused and fired up: Narrowed attention produces perceived proximity and increases goal-relevant action

  • Shana ColeAffiliated withDepartment of Psychology, New York University
  • , Matthew RiccioAffiliated withDepartment of Psychology, New York University
  • , Emily BalcetisAffiliated withDepartment of Psychology, New York University Email author 

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Insufficient physical activity contributes to rising obesity rates. We tested one social cognitive strategy aimed at increasing physical activity in the environment. Specifically, we tested whether attentional narrowing can shift people’s perceptual representations of the environment and improve exercise behavior. Participants who adopted a narrow focus of attention, compared to participants who looked around the environment as they naturally would, perceived a target as physically closer (Studies 1, 2). In addition, narrowed attention reduced the time required to walk to a finish line and increased subjective ease of physical task performance, two markers of improved exercise (Study 2). We discuss implications of attentional strategies for perception and action in regards to health and fitness.


Exercise Attention Distance perception Motivation Self-regulation