Seminar Series

On desire and decentering: Nonconscious self-regulation in health behavior

In this talk, I will introduce my research program and discuss two current lines of research in more detail. In general, my research addresses 1) the representations that underlie people’s health behavior, 2) how activating these representations by environmental cues affects behavior, and 3) how these representations can be changed to make healthy behavior easier. In my talk, I will first address Theme 1 and briefly introduce a grounded theory of desire and motivated behavior, which argues that rewarding consumption simulations within situated conceptualizations of earlier appetitive experiences play a key role in desire and in motivated behavior. I will review recent work from my lab that supports this theory, and I will discuss both future research directions for this work as well as planned and potential applications. Then, I will turn to Theme 3 and address recent mindfulness-based approaches to deconstruct the desire that results from such rewarding simulations. Here, we show across populations with and without mindfulness experience that observing one’s thoughts as passing mental events (“decentering”) can reduce their motivational power, and thus prevent approach impulses, cravings, and unhealthy preferences and choices. Again, I will address future research directions and potential applications. Finally, I will discuss this work in the larger context of using insights about nonconscious self-regulation to support behavior change.