Short-circuiting transference using implementation intentions

Elizabeth Przybylinski, Susan M. Andersen

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Prior relationships readily play out in present ones, often without awareness and even when problematic for an individual, and yet little is known about how individuals might be able to prevent this influence, if at all. The social-cognitive process of transference is a mechanism by which past relationships emerge in the present, i.e., through the relatively automatic use of significant-other (SO) representations in judging and remembering others. Two experiments tested the hypothesis that this process can be strategically regulated by the use of implementation intentions, which can automatize desired goal pursuit. Participants motivated to prevent transference learned about three individuals, one subtly resembling their own SO, and were provided either with no-additional strategy or with a goal intention to prevent transference, or crucially, with an implementation intention to prevent it. Across both experiments, the evidence strongly supported our hypothesis. Response latencies in a primed lexical decision task showed that, regardless of strategy, the SO representation was activated with the relevant new person, and yet, in terms of recognition memory, only those participants in the no-additional strategy and the goal-intention conditions showed the transference effect—i.e., the application of the knowledge that was activated by SO‐resemblance. As predicted, those randomly assigned to the implementation-intention condition did not. In short, participants in the implementation-intention condition effectively prevented transference. The experiments provide the first evidence we know of that individuals can be trained to use a regulation strategy with which to effectively regulate transference, when needed, using a strategy that itself can be relatively automatic.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)566-572
Number of pages7
JournalJournal of Experimental Social Psychology
Issue number3
StatePublished - May 1 2013


  • Goal conflict
  • Relationship
  • Self-regulation
  • Significant other
  • Social perception

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Social Psychology
  • Sociology and Political Science


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