On the temporal dynamics of implicit self-regulation in the form of evaluative goal shielding
In order to successfully pursue a goal, it is important to be able to resolve potential conflict with other activities and resist any temptations that might otherwise distract from the task at hand. By now, a considerable amount of research has shown that this ability, i.e., self-regulation, does not only function on a conscious level (i.e., people exerting self-control), but also has an automatic component that fine-tunes a person’s perception, attention, cognition, and evaluations for a facilitated goal pursuit (e.g., Bargh, 1990; Ferguson & Bargh, 2004; Ferguson, 2008; Fishbach, Friedman, & Kruglanski, 2003; Fishbach & Shah, 2006; Fishbach, Zhang, & Trope, 2010; Gollwitzer & Moskowitz, 1996; Milyavskaya, Inzlicht, Hope, & Koestner, 2015; Moore, Ferguson, & Chartrand, 2011; Vogt, De Houwer, & Moors, 2011). These automatic processes, termed implicit self-regulation, are shown to be dependent on a number of different moderators that determine whether an ongoing goal pursuit is actually desirable and adaptive. This suggests that these processes are responsive to the partly subtle dynamics of goal pursuit, eventually playing a role in determining engagement in or disengagement from a goal (e.g., Ferguson, 2008; Fishbach et al., 2003; Milyavskaya et al., 2015; see also Rothermund, 2011). The present thesis expands the existing research on implicit self-regulation in four substantial ways: It examines and finds implicit self-regulation in the form of evaluative goal shielding measured as a temporally dynamic process, which it is supposed to be, for the very first time. This is done by measuring the change in implicit evaluations of two goals from before the explicit introduction of an alternative goal (when only one goal has been activated yet) to after the explicit introduction of an alternative goal in a within-subject design, instead of measuring mere states of goal evaluations. This approach allows one to capture individual differences in evaluative goal shielding without confounding it with participants’ initial implicit evaluations of the goals.