Mental contrasting spurs energy by changing implicit evaluations of obstacles

Sandra Wittleder, Andreas Kappes, Nora Rebekka Krott, Melanie Jay, Gabriele Oettingen

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Mentally contrasting a desired future with the obstacle of current reality produces expectancy-dependent changes in explicit evaluations of the obstacle of current reality. Past research has shown that these changes at least partly mediate the beneficial effects of mental contrasting on performance. We tested whether mental contrasting also leads to expectancy-dependent changes in implicit evaluations of the obstacle and whether those changes mediate mental contrasting effects on energization and performance. In 3 studies, participants named a desired future (improving interpersonal relationships, Study 1; excelling in a creativity test, Study 2; and improving one's eating habits, Study 3) and named an important obstacle standing in the way of attaining the desired future. They then engaged in either mental contrasting or control exercises. We assessed participants' implicit evaluations of their obstacles. Participants in the mental contrasting (vs. control) conditions implicitly evaluated their obstacles more negatively when they had high expectations of success (Studies 1, 2, and 3). Furthermore, expectancydependent changes in implicit evaluations of obstacles (i.e., food temptations) mediated mental contrasting effects on energization, which, in turn, predicted commitment and performance (i.e., commitment to eat healthily and healthy eating over the course of 2 weeks, Study 3).

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)133-155
Number of pages23
JournalMotivation Science
Issue number2
StatePublished - Jun 2020


  • Expectations
  • Implicit evaluations
  • Mental contrasting
  • Obstacles
  • Self-regulation

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Applied Psychology
  • Developmental and Educational Psychology
  • Environmental Engineering
  • Health, Toxicology and Mutagenesis


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