Motivation and Emotion

, Volume 29, Issue 4, pp 236–266 | Cite as

Turning Fantasies About Positive and Negative Futures into Self-Improvement Goals

  • Gabriele Oettingen
  • Doris Mayer
  • Jennifer S.  Thorpe
  • Hanna Janetzke
  • Solvig Lorenz


Contrasting fantasies about the future with reflections on reality that impedes fantasy realization creates a tight link between expectations of success and forming commitments to self-improvement goals. This effect applies to both fantasies about a positive future contrasted with impeding negative reality as well as fantasies about a negative future contrasted with impeding positive reality. In Study 1, with 63 student participants, contrasting positive fantasies about benefiting from a vocational training with negative reflections on reality impeding such benefits led to expectancy-dependent willingness to invest in the training, more so than indulging in the positive future and than dwelling on the negative reality. In Study 2, with 158 high school students from former East Berlin, contrasting negative, xenophobic fantasies about suffering from the influx of immigrants with positive reflections on reality impeding such suffering led to expectancy-dependent tolerance and willingness to integrate the immigrants. Findings are discussed in terms of how mental contrasting facilitates self-improvement and personal development by making people form expectancy-dependent goal commitments to approach positively-perceived as well as negatively-perceived futures.


fantasies goals expectations commitment personal growth xenophobia 



Preparation of this article was supported by German Science Foundation Grant Oe-237/1-1 awarded to the first author. We thank the motivation lab at New York University for helpful comments on an earlier version of this article, and we greatly appreciate Niall Bolger's statistical advice.


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Copyright information

© Springer-Science+Business Media, Inc. 2006

Authors and Affiliations

  • Gabriele Oettingen
    • 1
    • 2
    • 4
  • Doris Mayer
    • 2
  • Jennifer S.  Thorpe
    • 1
  • Hanna Janetzke
    • 3
  • Solvig Lorenz
    • 3
  1. 1.Department of PsychologyNew York UniversityNew YorkUSA
  2. 2.Department of PsychologyUniversity of HamburgHamburgGermany
  3. 3.Technical UniversityBerlinGermany
  4. 4.Department of PsychologyNew York UniversityNew YorkUSA

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