Behavioral Science
New study shows how self-prophecies may help
Feb 12, 2006 - 6:50:37 PM

By now, most of us have probably forgotten about our New Year's resolutions. But there's still hope: New research from the March 2006 issue of the Journal of Consumer Research shows that when people predict that they will do a socially good deed (such as recycling), the chances of them actually doing the good deed increases.

"A clear benefit of the self-prophecy technique is its simplicity: a question followed by a simple "yes" or "no" elicits behavioral change," explain Eric R. Spangenberg and David E. Sprott (Washington State University). For some of us, their results may also provide insight as to why we seem to have more trouble than others sticking to resolutions.

According to Spangenberg and Sprott, the "self-prophecy effect" affects some people more than others. The researchers categorized people according to level of self-monitoring, or how much they notice their own behavior being affected by the situations they are in. Low self-monitors pay more attention to their own dispositional qualities (such as being a responsible person) than to the circumstances of situation, and have been consistently shown to respond to appeals to values. High self-monitors are more aware of the situational factors and are more influenced by appeals to status.

After grouping subjects as low or high self-monitors, the researchers examined the effects of self-prediction on the subjects' willingness to either commit to a health-and-fitness assessment or donate time to the American Cancer Society. Confirming the authors' predictions, the results from two experiments showed, "…stronger self-prophecy effects for low (compared to high) self-monitors."

The authors believe that the threat to one's own self-conception is crucial to the self-prophecy effect: "A self-prediction needs to confront the self-concept of the person making the prediction, as it does with low self-monitors," explain Spangenberg and Sprott.

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