Action Dominance: The Performance Effects of Multiple Action Demands and the Benefits of an Inaction Focus

Dolores Albarracin, Wei Wang, Kathleen C. McCulloch

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Four experiments uncovered an action dominance error by which people’s natural focus on actions hinders appropriate responses to social and nonsocial stimuli. This surprising error comprises higher rates of both omission (misses) and commission (false alarms) when, in responding to action and inaction demands, people have higher numbers of action targets. The action dominance error was verified over four experiments using an analog that required responses to words and to target individuals. Experiments 1 and 2 tested our hypotheses and distinguished the action error effect from the effects of practicing action or inaction responses. Experiment 3 linked the error to the greater cognitive load imposed by the higher proportion of action over inaction targets. Furthermore, Experiment 4 demonstrated that (a) there is a default tendency to pay more attention to action (vs. inaction) targets and (b) shifting focus to inaction targets reduces the action dominance error.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)996-1007
Number of pages12
JournalPersonality and social psychology bulletin
Issue number7
StatePublished - Jul 1 2018


  • action goals
  • focus
  • goals
  • inaction
  • motivation
  • performance

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Social Psychology

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