Attention, Self-Control, And Health Behaviors

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Current Directions In Psychological Science


Past research has shown that limitations on attention can lead to loss of control. Our model of self-control suggests that when attentional resources are restricted, individuals can focus on only the most salient behavioral cues, to the neglect of more distal stimuli. Subsequent action is then likely to be under the near-exclusive motivational influence of those “central” cues. This state of narrowed attentional focus, which we term “attentional myopia,” is predicted to lead to loss of control when salient cues serve to promote a behavior that violates self-standards. By contrast, limitations on attention can lead to more successful self-control when salient cues instead suggest restraint. We have investigated this model in the health domains of eating, smoking, and aggression, and we discuss its implications for individuals' efforts to respond to health-relevant messages.

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