Nonconscious goal pursuit: Acting in an explanatory vacuum

Gabriele Oettingen, Heidi Grant, Pamela K. Smith, Mary Skinner, Peter M. Gollwitzer

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Nonconsciously activated goals and consciously set goals produce the same outcomes by engaging similar psychological processes (Bargh, 1990; Gollwitzer & Bargh, 2005). However, nonconscious and conscious goal pursuit may have different effects on subsequent affect if goal pursuit affords an explanation, as nonconscious goal pursuit occurs in an explanatory vacuum (i.e. cannot be readily attributed to the respective goal intention). We compared self-reported affect after nonconscious versus conscious goal pursuit that either violated or conformed to a prevailing social norm. When goal-directed behavior did not require an explanation (was norm-conforming), affective experiences did not differ after nonconscious and conscious goal pursuit. However, when goal-directed behavior required an explanation (was norm-violating), nonconscious goal pursuit induced more negative affect than conscious goal pursuit.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)668-675
Number of pages8
JournalJournal of Experimental Social Psychology
Issue number5
StatePublished - Sep 2006


  • Affective experience
  • Automatic goal pursuit
  • Conscious goal pursuit
  • Explanatory vacuum
  • Norm-violating behavior

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Social Psychology
  • Sociology and Political Science


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