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Strategic Planning of the Automatic Activation of Goal-Relevant Knowledge

In addition to the spontaneous and strategic planning described above, planning with implementation intentions can also be beneficial as a context-sensitive reminder of one’s strategies or goals that supports reflective decision making and goal- directed actions. This strategic use of the automatic effects of planning with implementation intentions is related to the demands that have been postulated for human-centered computer systems in information management. The aim in the interaction between humans and computers in sociotechnical systems is to communicate the right information at the right time and the right place in the right way to the right person in order to empower that person to find and select the best goal- directed response (e.g., Fischer, 2012). Implementation intentions might also be used to achieve this end.

First, implementation intentions provide the relevant information about instrumental action responses in critical situations during goal pursuit. In a study on group decision-making (Thurmer, Wieber, & Gollwitzer, 2015a, 2015b), participants set themselves the goal of performing well. In keeping with this goal, they then either generated the specific goal of reviewing the advantages of the nonpreferred alternatives before making a group decision (control condition) or included this strategy in the implementation intention: “And when we finally take the decision sheet to note our preferred alternative, then we will go over the advantages of the non-preferred alternatives again” (Thurmer et al., 2015a, p. 104). As a result of this small difference in planning, implementation-intention groups succeeded more often than mere goal-intention groups at transforming their respective intentions into actions and thereby improving their goal attainment. Apparently, implementation intentions provided the strategy information to the group members just before the group decision was taken and thereby oriented them in their search for the best solution to the issue on which they were about to decide.

Second, implementation intentions have also been found to be capable of activating one’s goal at a critical juncture and thereby increasing the impact of this goal on individuals’ cognition and behavior (van Koningsbruggen, Stroebe, Papies, & Aarts, 2011). In a study on dieting, unsuccessful dieters either formed a think-of-dieting implementation intention (“The next time that I am tempted to eat chocolate [cookies, pizza, French fries, or chips], then I will think of dieting”) or just indicated why it was important for them to resist the temptation to eat chocolate [cookies, pizza, French fries, or chips]. In a subsequent word-completion task, participants in the implementation-intention condition were instructed to fill in unfinished words (e.g., _ij_e_) that were preceded by one of the five food cues (e.g., chocolate). In completing the task, they used diet-related words (e.g., lijnen, Dutch for dieting) instead of neutral words (e.g., tijger, Dutch for tiger) more often than control participants did. Evidently, implementation intentions reminded individuals of their dieting goal when they encountered a tempting situation (Study 1) and thus empowered unsuccessful dieters to reduce their consumption of palatable foods (Study 2). Together, the findings of these studies (Thurmer et al., 2015a, 2015b ; van Koningsbruggen et al., 2011; see also Wieber, Thurmer, & Gollwitzer, 2015a) demonstrate that strategic automation of action control by planning with implementation intentions can serve goal attainment even when a reflective decision needs to be made or when individuals are not aware of instrumental action strategies at the time of planning.

 
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