Objectives: Health behavior theories focus on the role of conscious, reflective factors (e.g., behavioral intentions, risk perceptions) in predicting and changing behavior. Dual-process models, on the other hand, propose that health actions are guided not only by a conscious, reflective, rule-based system but also by a nonconscious, impulsive, associative system. This article argues that research on health decisions, actions, and outcomes will be enriched by greater consideration of nonconscious processes.
Methods: A narrative review is presented that delineates research on implicit cognition, implicit affect, and implicit motivation. In each case, we describe the key ideas, how they have been taken up in health psychology, and the possibilities for behavior change interventions, before outlining directions that might profitably be taken in future research.
Results: Correlational research on implicit cognitive and affective processes (attentional bias and implicit attitudes) has recently been supplemented by intervention studies using implementation intentions and practice-based training that show promising effects. Studies of implicit motivation (health goal priming) have also observed encouraging findings. There is considerable scope for further investigations of implicit affect control, unconscious thought, and the automatization of striving for health goals.
Conclusion: Research on nonconscious processes holds significant potential that can and should be developed by health psychologists. Consideration of impulsive as well as reflective processes will engender new targets for intervention and should ultimately enhance the effectiveness of behavior change efforts.
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