When focusing on a goal interferes with action control: action versus state orientation and over-maintenance of intentions
People vary in action versus state orientation, or the ease versus difficulty by which they can form and enact goals under demanding conditions (Kuhl and Beckmann in Volition and personality: action versus state orientation, Hogrefe, Göttingen, 1994). According to the over-maintenance hypothesis, state-oriented people are prone to think about their intentions in a narrow linguistic format that prevents flexible action control. Two studies tested this hypothesis by manipulating intention focus among action- versus state-oriented participants and examining how well they performed difficult actions. Focusing strongly (rather than weakly) on the task goal led state-oriented participants to make more errors during incongruent trials of a Stroop task (Study 1) and led to greater task-switch costs in response latencies (Study 2). Action-oriented participants showed the reverse pattern, and performed difficult actions more effectively when focusing on the task goal. These findings suggest that focusing on intentions may paradoxically impair action control among state-oriented people.
KeywordsAction orientation State orientation Cognitive control Intentions Goals Proactive control Reactive control
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