Mindset switching increases the use of 'want-based' over 'should-based' behaviors

PLoS One. 2018 Apr 30;13(4):e0196269. doi: 10.1371/journal.pone.0196269. eCollection 2018.


This study examines the consequences of mindset switching on behavioral choices in want/should conflicts. Building on the insights of the ego depletion literature, we propose that mindset switching depletes individuals' self-control resources and therefore prompts the choice of want behavior, which provides immediate pleasure, over should behavior, which provides long-term utility. Four laboratory experiments with university students that stimulated individuals to switch mindsets were conducted to test our hypotheses. Experiment 1 demonstrated that switching between individualist and collectivist mindsets increased the subjects' tendency to prefer popular magazines over scientific journals. Experiment 2 replicated the results by testing the relationship between an abstract/concrete mindset-switching task and want/should online behavioral choices. The mediating effect of ego depletion was also supported. Experiment 3 retested the main effect of language-switching on reading choices, and the mediating effect of ego-depletion. Experiment 3 also tested the moderating effect of the Need for Cognition, and eliminated the alternative explanation of cognitive fatigue. In Experiment 4, actual food choices were used as the direct measure of want/should behaviors to test the robustness of our findings. The results consistently supported our hypotheses that mindset switching has significant effects on behavioral choices in terms of overindulgence, such as increasing want behavior and thus foregoing should behavior.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Behavior / physiology*
  • Choice Behavior*
  • Cognition
  • Ego*
  • Feeding Behavior
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Internet
  • Male
  • Problem Solving
  • Self-Control
  • Students
  • Young Adult

Grant support

This research is supported by grants of the National Natural Science Foundation of China, 71572175, 71232012 (http://www.nsfc.gov.cn/). The funder had no role in study design, data collection and analysis, decision to publish, or preparation of the manuscript.