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The role of proximal intentions in self-regulation of refractory behavior


The present experiment tested the hypothesis that self-regulation of refractory behavior varies as a function of goal proximity. Obese subjects were assigned to conditions in which they either monitored their eating behavior, monitored their eating behavior and set subgoals for reducing the amount of food consumed, or received no treatment. Within the goal-setting conditions, subjects adopted either distal goals defined in terms of weekly goal limits or proximal goals specifying the goal limits for each of four time periods during each day. Goal setting enhanced self-directed change as measured by reductions in both eating behavior and weight. The higher the goal attainments, the greater were the losses in weight. Proximal and distal goal setting yielded comparable overall results because the majority of subjects assigned remote goals altered this condition by adopting proximal goals to augment control over their own behavior. Within the distal goal-setting condition, the adherents to distal goals achieved relatively small changes, whereas those who improvised proximal subgoals for themselves attained substantial reductions on the multifaceted measures of self-directed change. The combined evidence lends support to the motivational and regulative functions of proximal intentions and highlights the reciprocal influence processes that operate in self-directed change.

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This research was supported by Public Health Research Grant MH-5162 from the National Institute of Mental Health. The authors wish to express their appreciation to Beth Ward for her assistance in the collection of data, and to Dr. Fred Volkmar for his helpful contributions to the exploratory work in this project.

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Bandura, A., Simon, K.M. The role of proximal intentions in self-regulation of refractory behavior. Cogn Ther Res 1, 177–193 (1977).

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  • Present Experiment
  • Cognitive Psychology
  • Eating Behavior
  • Regulative Function
  • Obese Subject