The Operation and Control of Implicit Influences on Health Decisions and Actions
P. Sheeran1, E. Miles2, H. Baird3, I. Macdonald3, T.L. Webb3, P.R. Harris2
1University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill
2University of Sussex
3University of Sheffield
Background: Health behavior theories predominantly focus on conscious, reflective precursors of health behaviors and eschew the possibility of implicit influence. Four studies examined whether behavior priming influences decisions and actions related to diet, exercise, alcohol consumption, and condom use. A fifth study explored whether self-control training moderates the impact of priming on eating behavior. Method: Participants were university staff and students (Ns = 50, 151, 31, 24, and 173 in Studies 1-5, respectively) who were randomly assigned to conditions. Decisions were measured using questionnaires and behavior was measured objectively. Findings: Priming stereotypes, exemplars, or goals had reliable effects on exercise and condom use decisions, mental readiness to drink alcohol, and food intake. Self-control training did not moderate the impact of priming on food intake. Discussion: This research obtained evidence of priming effects on health cognitions and behaviors, but found that self-control training not attenuate priming effects. Implications for dual-process theories of health behavior and for interventions to promote behavior change will be discussed.