Mental contrasting of a negative future facilitates COVID-19 preventative behaviors: two randomized controlled trials

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

Abstract

Objective: The present research examined whether mentally contrasting a negative, feared future (i.e., infection with the Coronavirus) with a still positive reality can promote preventative actions in the context of the pandemic. Design: In two randomized controlled trials, we varied participants’ mode of thought (mental contrasting of a negative future with a positive reality versus fantasizing of a negative future). Study 2 took into account the interpersonal nature of the pandemic and manipulated the mode of thought in a vicarious manner (vicarious mental contrasting versus vicarious negative fantasizing). Main Outcome Measures: After the manipulation, we assessed participants’ intentions to learn about COVID-19 (Study 1) and attention to COVID-19 information (Study 1 and 2). Three days later, we measured the amount of physical distancing (Study 1 and 2). Results: Study 1 found that mental contrasting leads to more COVID-19 preventative behaviors than mere negative fantasizing. In Study 2, we observed that vicarious mental contrasting facilitates physical distancing among people who initially showed low compliance with COVID-19 preventative behaviors and thus were in most need of a boost in preventative behavior. Conclusion: The findings suggest that mental contrasting of negative fantasies may be an effective way to encourage COVID-19 preventative behaviors.

Original languageEnglish (US)
JournalPsychology and Health
DOIs
StateAccepted/In press - 2022

Keywords

  • COVID-19 preventative behaviors
  • mental contrasting
  • Negative fantasy
  • thinking about the future
  • vicarious experience

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Applied Psychology
  • Public Health, Environmental and Occupational Health

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