Turning fantasies about positive and negative futures into self-improvement goals

Gabriele Oettingen, Doris Mayer, Jennifer S. Thorpe, Hanna Janetzke, Solvig Lorenz

Research output: Contribution to journalReview articlepeer-review


Contrasting fantasies about the future with reflections on reality that impedes fantasy realization creates a tight link between expectations of success and forming commitments to self-improvement goals. This effect applies to both fantasies about a positive future contrasted with impeding negative reality as well as fantasies about a negative future contrasted with impeding positive reality. In Study 1, with 63 student participants, contrasting positive fantasies about benefiting from a vocational training with negative reflections on reality impeding such benefits led to expectancy-dependent willingness to invest in the training, more so than indulging in the positive future and than dwelling on the negative reality. In Study 2, with 158 high school students from former East Berlin, contrasting negative, xenophobic fantasies about suffering from the influx of immigrants with positive reflections on reality impeding such suffering led to expectancy-dependent tolerance and willingness to integrate the immigrants. Findings are discussed in terms of how mental contrasting facilitates self-improvement and personal development by making people form expectancy-dependent goal commitments to approach positively-perceived as well as negatively-perceived futures.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)237-267
Number of pages31
JournalMotivation and Emotion
Issue number4
StatePublished - Dec 2005


  • Commitment
  • Expectations
  • Fantasies
  • Goals
  • Personal growth
  • Xenophobia

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Social Psychology
  • Experimental and Cognitive Psychology


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