Notebaert, Karolien & Geldt, Alex

Der Effekte von Aufmerksamkeits-Cues auf Selbstkontrolle in Hinblick auf soziale und ökonomische Entscheidungen.

Self-control is a vital strength and key to success in life, and forms part of many social (e.g., helping behavior) and economic (e.g., saving rather than spending) decisions. Heatherton and Wagner [1] have recently proposed a balance model of self-control, stating that self-control is the result of a strong interplay between bottom-up impulses coming from subcortical regions and brain regions representing reward, salience and emotional value of a stimulus on the one hand, and top-down processes mainly controlled by the prefrontal cortex on the other hand. The balance between these regions can be tipped off in favor of either of those two processes, resulting in either failing or successfully deploying self-control.

The present study investigated how one can influence the extent of self-control exertion in the context of social and economic decision making by inducing attentional cues toward either the bottom-up impulses or the top-down control process. The attentional cues were focused on unconsciously drawing attention toward the bottom-up impulses (i.e., ‘stomach feeling’), by asking participants to place their non-dominant hand on the tummy during decision making or toward the top-down control process (i.e., ‘Rationality’) by placing the hand on the head during the decision making. The control condition was asked to place the hand on the table during decision making.

Social decision making was measured by means of moral dilemma’s. Participants were asked to envision themselves in 3 situations in which a real-life moral decision had to be taken, with a clear distinction between what is morally wrong (e.g., cheat on life partner) and what is morally right (e.g., behave faithfully). Participants were asked to indicate how likely they would behave (im)morally. Self-control in this case can be seen as overriding the more impulsive response associated with an immediate reward (e.g., fulfilling immediate sexual desire) in favor of long term self-interests (e.g., behaving faithfully and building up a trust relationship). These moral decisions have frequently been used before in moral decision research [2]. In addition, a typical self-control scenario (taken and adapted from [3]) was used to assess the exertion of self-control in a scenario in which a person has to decide to either choose an attractive social event or helping his parents.


For the social decision making, no significant differences were observed between the three conditions (F<1). Besides these measures, several economic decisions were measured: i) Intertemporal decisions: Participants were asked to make a series of eight choices between a smaller immediate reward or a larger reward at a later point in time, for example the choice between receiving 16€ today compared to 30€ in one month time (e.g., [4]). Exerting self-control here means to inhibit the impulse to choose the immediate reward and choose the larger future reward; ii) a consumer task was included measuring a series of five consumer preferences between two goods taken from real-life, namely choosing between making an initial investment for a larger future cost-savings/profit (e.g., investing in solar energy, choosing a more expensive low-energy use washing machine, … to reduce future costs) and not making the initial investment (using regular energy providers, choosing a cheaper washing machine that is higher in energy use, …); iii) impulsive buying decisions: Participants were asked to envision themselves in an imaginary scenario about a student with a limited budget to purchase groceries, and who is confronted with the desire to buy an attractive, but unnecessary good. The different answer categories measure different levels of impulsive buying behavior (adapted from [5]) (see Appendix V). The self-control conflict here has to be resolved by inhibiting the desire to buy the unnecessary item and to stick to the budget. Also for the economic decision making, no significant differences were observed between the three conditions (F<1).

Although the strength of the bottom-up processes and top-down processes clearly affect self-control capacity [1], it appears that the manipulation of attentional cues towards either the bottom-up impulses (stomach) or top-down control (head) was not strong enough to affect the present self-control measures.


1. Heatherton, T.F. and D.D. Wagner, Cognitive neuroscience of self-regulation failure. Trends in Cognitive Sciences, 2011. 15(3): p. 132-139.

2. Cushman, F., L. Young, and M. Hauser, The role of conscious reasoning and intuition in moral judgment: testing three principles of harm. Psychol Sci, 2006. 17 (12): p. 1082-9.

3. Labroo, A.P., V., Psychological Distancing: Why Happiness Helps You See the Big Picture.<(i> Journal of Consumer Research, 2009. 35: p. 800-809.

4. Van den Bergh, B., S. Dewitte, and L. Warlop, Bikinis Instigate Generalized Impatience in Intertemporal Choice. Journal of Consumer Research, 2007(35): p. 85-97.

5. Rook, D.W., Fisher, R.J., Normative Influences on Impulsive Buying Behavior. Journal of Consumer Research, 1995. 22: p. 305-313.


Titel (deutsch): Der Effekte von Aufmerksamkeits-Cues auf Selbstkontrolle in Hinblick auf soziale und ökonomische Entscheidungen.
Titel (englisch): The effect of attentional cues on the exertion of self-control with respect to social and economic decision making.
Erhebungszeitraum: 12/2013
Stichprobe (effektiv): 83
Stand der Informationen: 28.07.2014


Karolien Notebaert

© 2009-2024 SoSci Panel