Executive functions, self-report self-control and the intention-behaviour relationship

  • I. Pfeffer
  • T. Strobach


Background: Self-control refers to the ability to regulate cognition and behaviour to achieve long term goals and involves both explicit pursuit of long terms goals and implicit associative processes that promote resistance to temptation (dual-processes). Self-control can be explicitly assessed through self-report questionnaires. Self-control conceptualised as a set of higher order neurocognitive processes (executive functions) is assessed by implicit measures such as stop-signal tasks. Both measures were independently found to moderate the intention-behaviour relationship in physical activity behaviour. To go beyond these results, we hypothesise that the interaction between self-report self-control and a stop-signal task can explain the discrepancy between physical activity intention and behaviour in a prospective study. Methods: In a prospective design with two laboratory sessions participants (N = 134) completed standardised questionnaires (past physical activity behaviour, trait self-control and intention) and a computer based stop-signal task at session 1. Physical activity behaviour was assessed at session 2 (one week later). A discrepancy score between behaviour and intention was calculated and used as dependent variable. Results: Hierarchical multiple regression analyses controlling for past behaviour revealed a two-way interaction effect of Trait Self-Control x Stop-Signal Task. Participants with poor performance in the stop-signal task showed a positive association between self-report self-control and the discrepancy score whereas participants with high performance in the stop-signal task showed no association between self-control and discrepancy score. Discussion: Self-report self-control and executive functions interact in predicting the intention-behaviour relationship. Our results support dual-process theories of self-control.
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