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

Abstract

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.

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Acknowledgments

This work was supported by a Grant from NSF BCS #1147550 awarded to Emily Balcetis. Study 2 was conducted as a part of Matthew Riccio’s undergraduate senior thesis.

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Correspondence to Emily Balcetis.

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Cole, S., Riccio, M. & Balcetis, E. Focused and fired up: Narrowed attention produces perceived proximity and increases goal-relevant action. Motiv Emot 38, 815–822 (2014). https://doi.org/10.1007/s11031-014-9432-3

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Keywords

  • Exercise
  • Attention
  • Distance perception
  • Motivation
  • Self-regulation