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Does confrontation with potential goal failure promote self-regulation? Examining the role of distress in the pursuit of weight goals

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How do people maintain goal pursuit when confronted with the risk of failure? In two studies (n = 62 and n = 49), we investigated whether a threat of failure manipulation, either or not involving the self, would affect self-regulation in women who were concerned about their weight. We expected that potential goal failure would result in greater distress and influence strategies for goal pursuit and self-control. Study 1, involving normal weight women, found that self-relevant goal threat resulted in greater distress but that distress did not affect self-regulation. Study 2, involving both normal weight and overweight women, found similar results. However, women who were exposed to objective goal threat and at the same time received feedback that the self was not involved spent more time on planning strategies for goal pursuit and demonstrated higher self-control. It is concluded that information emphasizing both opportunities for goal achievement and the necessity to act is sufficient for engaging in self-regulation.
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Keywords: Self-regulation; emotional distress; goal failure; self-control; weight goals

Document Type: Research Article

Affiliations: Department of Health Psychology, Utrecht University, The Netherlands

Publication date: August 1, 2007

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