Being Active and Impulsive: The Role of Goals for Action and Inaction in Self-Control

Justin Hepler, Dolores Albarracin, Kathleen C. McCulloch, Kenji Noguchi

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle


Although self-control often requires behavioral inaction (i. e., not eating a piece of cake), the process of inhibiting impulsive behavior is commonly characterized as cognitively active (i. e., actively exerting self-control). Two experiments examined whether motivation for action or inaction facilitates self-control behavior in the presence of tempting stimuli. Experiment 1 used a delay discounting task to assess the ability to delay gratification with respect to money. Experiment 2 used a Go/No-Go task to assess the ability to inhibit a dominant but incorrect motor response to the words "condom" and "sex". The results demonstrate that goals for inaction promote self-control, whereas goals for action promote impulsive behavior. These findings are discussed in light of recent evidence suggesting that goals for action and inaction modulate physiological resources that promote behavioral execution.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)416-424
Number of pages9
JournalMotivation and Emotion
Issue number4
StatePublished - Dec 1 2012


  • Action
  • General goals
  • Inaction
  • Inhibition
  • Self-control

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Social Psychology
  • Experimental and Cognitive Psychology

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