Mental contrasting of a dieting wish improves self-reported health behaviour

K. B. Johannessen, G. Oettingen, D. Mayer

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Mentally contrasting a desired future with present reality standing in its way promotes commitment to feasible goals, whereas mentally indulging in a desired future does not. Dieting students (N = 134) reported their most important dieting wish that they deemed attainable within a 2-week period. Then, they were directed to mentally contrast or indulge in thoughts and images about the named dieting wish. A control condition was given no directions. Two weeks after the experiment, dieters retrospectively rated their behaviour change: in the mental contrasting condition they reported having eaten relatively fewer calories overall, fewer high-calorie food and more low-calorie food compared to those in the indulging and control conditions, and they also reported having been more physically active. This transfer effect from one health domain to another suggests a more generalised effect of mental contrasting versus indulging and control than previously assumed.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)43-58
Number of pages16
JournalPsychology and Health
Issue numberSUPPL. 2
StatePublished - Oct 2012


  • dieting
  • goal commitment
  • indulging
  • mental contrasting
  • physical exercise

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Applied Psychology
  • Public Health, Environmental and Occupational Health


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