Applying Weighting Biases in Cognitive Energetics Theory to Behavior Change

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Decision research – rooted in psychology, economics, and behavioral science – has received growing attention in the development of recent efforts to positively influence individuals’ health behaviors. The present research applied a specific motivational framework of Cognitive Energetics Theory (CET, Kruglanski et al., 2012) to better understand individuals’ consideration of “driving” and “restraining” forces in a given health decision and whether those forces (i.e. goal importance, available resources (physical or mental energy), task demands, the pull of competing goals) would be influenced by an individual’s tendency to focus on positive or negative information.

Three studies examined (1) positivity and negativity inclinations as latent factors reflecting sensitivities to positive and negative aspects of goal pursuit, (2) CET weighting biases (i.e., increased sensitivity to either driving or restraining forces in CET based on positivity and negativity latent factors) and (3) the extent to which weighting biases affect sensitivity to CET-based messaging aimed at influencing walking behavior. The results of these studies provided mixed support for the hypotheses. Potential considerations are discussed along with possible new directions for future research.