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Combined effect of mental contrasting and implementation intention on college students' book reading.

Reading books is an activity usually undertaken throughout life. However, many people have books that they want to read but have either not started or never finished. In addition to poor reading skills and motivation, a lack of selfregulation may prevent a person from achieving his/her reading goals. In this regard, researchers have found that mental contrasting with implementation intention (MCII) is a useful self-regulation strategy that helps people succeed in pursuing their goals (Oettingen & Gollwitzer, 2009, 2010). We, therefore, examined the impact of using the MCII strategy and its component features on book-reading behavior.

Literature Review and Hypotheses Development

Self-Regulation Strategy: Mental Contrasting with Implementation Intention

MCII is the combination of two self-regulation techniques to enhance goal setting: mental contrasting and goal implementation intention.

Mental contrasting. Mental contrasting, or contrasting the desired goal with real obstacles, is a goal-setting strategy that can turn fantasy into binding goals (Oettingen, 2000; Oettingen, Pak, & Schnetter, 2001). Unlike fantasizing about the positive future (indulging), elaborating on the reality that stands in the way of the desired future (dwelling), and contrasting reality with the desired future (reverse mental contrasting), mental contrasting can induce an expectation-dependent commitment. When their expectations are high, individuals will actively commit to their goals; however, when their expectations are low, individuals will refrain from commitment. Further, according to Oettingen (2012), when individuals expect to realize their goals, mental contrasting leads to strong goal commitment, which is indicated by feelings of energization, engagement in plans to overcome obstacles, and investment in effort and achievement.

Implementation intention. Implementation intention, a strategy in goal implementation that supplements goal intention, is the means by which an individual turns goal intention into actions, and goal pursuit becomes successful (Gollwitzer, 1999; Gollwitzer & Brandstatter, 1997). In contrast to goal intention ("I want to achieve z"), in which only the behavior or outcome is identified, in implementation intention when, where, and how the appropriate actions will lead to the achievement of a goal are specified ("If situation x arises, then I will perform goal-directed behavior y to achieve goal z"). The formation of an if-then plan (i.e., implementation intention) creates mental links between the anticipated situation and the expected behavior, and when individuals encounter the situation, they automatically perform the intended behavior (Webb & Sheeran, 2007, 2008). Findings in both laboratory experiments and field studies have shown that implementation intention contributes to facilitating goal attainment (Gollwitzer & Sheeran, 2006).

Combining mental contrasting and implementation intention. As goal setting and goal striving are distinguishable strategies in the process of goal pursuit, combining mental contrasting and implementation intention into one self-regulation strategy may be more effective as a goal-pursuit intervention than using only one of these methods. On one hand, use of mental contrasting can not only provide goal commitment as a premise for implementation intention (Sheeran, Webb, & Gollwitzer, 2005), but also enable the individual to identify obstacles in reality, engendering a readiness to form if-then plans (Kappes, Singmann, & Oettingen, 2012). On the other hand, having implementation intentions can strengthen the effectiveness of the individual's mental contrasting by closing the gap between goal intention and behaviors. Indeed, researchers examining snacking habits (Adriaanse et al., 2010) and integrative bargaining (Kirk, Oettingen, & Gollwitzer, 2013) have found that MCII is more effective than mental contrasting alone or implementation intention alone in eliminating unhealthy snacking habits, and in reaching more joint agreements, respectively.

The effect of MCII intervention has been demonstrated in various domains, such as health, interpersonal, and achievement, and for various age groups, including children, adolescents, and adults (for a summary, see Oettingen, Wittchen, & Gollwitzer, 2013). In the health domain, in studies of use of the MCII intervention conducted with middle-aged women, researchers have reported that participants who were taught MCII techniques exercised more (Stadler, Oettingen, & Gollwitzer, 2009), and ate more fruits and vegetables (Stadler, Oettingen, & Gollwitzer, 2010) than did participants who were only provided with information about the techniques. Adriaanse et al. (2010) found that using the MCII strategy benefited students by helping them fight unhealthy snacking habits. Moreover, the MCII strategy has been shown to help patients with chronic back pain increase their physical capacity (Christiansen, Oettingen, Dahme, & Klinger, 2010) and to help people who are in a relationship with a romantic partner reduce the frequency with which they engaged in insecure behaviors, and increase their relationship commitment (Houssais, Oettingen, & Mayer, 2013).

In the academic domain, Duckworth, Grant, Loew, Oettingen, and Gollwitzer (2011) found that adolescents in an MCII intervention condition completed 60% more practice questions in a workbook than did students in the control condition. Instruction in the MCII strategy has also been observed to improve the grades, attendance, and conduct of economically disadvantaged children (Duckworth, Kirby, Gollwitzer, & Oettingen, 2013). Moreover, relative to instruction in learning styles alone, instruction in learning styles together with instruction in the MCII strategy was found to enhance school-related self-regulation behaviors in both children who were at risk of attention deficit hyperactivity disorder and in those not at risk, with a stronger effect observed for children who were at risk (Gawrilow, Morgenroth, Schultz, Oettingen, & Gollwitzer, 2013).

The Current Study

Thus far, all the intervention studies in which the MCII strategy has been used have been focused on Western cultures. To demonstrate the effectiveness of the MCII strategy across cultures globally, it is necessary to conduct intervention studies in Eastern cultures. Furthermore, although researchers have shown that it was the idealization of positive fantasies, rather than their content (outcome or process), that impeded successful performance (Oettingen & Mayer, 2002), and also that it is the specificity of implementation intention that positively predicts the performance (de Vet, Oenema, & Brug, 2011; van Osch, Lechner, Reubsaet, & de Vries, 2010), few researchers have analyzed the impact of the features of MCII on behavior and achievement. Finally, extracurricular book reading (i.e., professors' or students' own reading lists) is a fundamental task for college students. Therefore, we examined the effect of the use of the strategy of MCII and the features of the MCII strategy on reading of a book assigned to college students in an Eastern culture. Accordingly, we formed the following hypotheses:

Hypothesis 1a: Students in the MCII intervention condition will exert more effort in reading an assigned book than will students in the control condition.

Hypothesis 1b: Students in the MCII intervention condition will achieve a higher score in a test on the content of the assigned book than will students in the control condition.

Hypothesis 2: Students with a greater quantity and higher quality of MCII will invest more effort, and will achieve better results related to the assigned book reading task than will students with a lesser quantity and lower quality of MCII.

Method

Participants and Design

The participants were undergraduate students at a teachers' college in China. In the first session, 90 students voluntarily participated in this study. The students were randomly assigned to either an MCII intervention condition (n = 42) or a control condition (n = 48). Of the 42 students assigned to the MCII intervention condition, three did not complete the follow-up test. Of the 48 students assigned to the control condition, six did not complete the follow-up test. These nine students were excluded from all the analyses. For the 81 participants (79 women, and two men) who were included in the analysis, the age ranged from 18 to 23 years (M = 20.3, SD = 1.01).

Procedure and Intervention

Two female experimenters carried out the procedure for the study. They first provided an overview of the procedure, informing the students that their information would be kept confidential, and stressing that participation was voluntary. The cover story was an explanation that the aim of the study was to increase the number of art books that college students read.

The study comprised two sessions, with the first session consisting of three parts. In the first part, the experimenters went to the students' classrooms, briefly introduced the process for the study, and then played a motivation-arousing video, which lasted approximately 15 minutes. In this video, two teachers and four nonart major students spoke about the positive impact of art books on their lives. Students who indicated that they were not interested in participating in this study were then asked to leave the classroom quietly.

In the second part of the first session, the students who were interested in the study completed a written exercise. The first few pages of the control and MCII survey questions were identical. First, we presented (in Chinese) a brief introduction to a book entitled 100 Famous Paintings in Western Countries, saying as follows: "This book introduces 100 famous Western paintings from the perspective of history, culture, and art appreciation." Second, we collected data on the participants' name, age, gender, year of study, and academic performance; and then the participants answered questions on the level of their knowledge of art, their attitude toward art, and their goal intention with regard to the goal of reading the book, in terms of the following aspects: their expectation, the importance to them of achieving the goal, and how disappointed they would be if they did not finish reading the book.

Only the students in the MCII intervention condition completed the selfregulation items in the survey. First, the participants were asked to record the most positive outcome that would arise from finishing reading the book and the events and experiences that they associated with this positive outcome. Next, we asked the participants to record the most critical obstacle that would prevent them from finishing reading the book and to elaborate on this critical obstacle. Finally, the participants answered two questions: "When and where would this obstacle occur?" and "What could you do to overcome this obstacle?" The participants were then asked to make an if-then plan based on these two questions. To ensure the participants remembered their if-then plan, we asked them to rewrite it on a separate page.

In the third part of the first session, we provided all of the participants with reading time diary cards and asked them to record the time that they spent on reading the book every day over the next 4 weeks.

Four weeks after the first session, all participants completed the second session of the study. First, the participants returned their reading time diary cards and completed a follow-up survey, in which we measured their general reading comprehension ability, effort, and comprehension of the works depicted and described in the assigned book.

Measures for Control Variables

Academic performance. To measure academic performance, we collected information on the participants' attitude toward school, their effort, and their achievement. Specifically, for attitude toward school, the participants answered the question "How much do you like your major?" by using a 7-point Likert scale where 1 = not at all and 7 = very much. For effort, we asked the question "How much time do you spend on studying or engaging in other academic activities every week?" For achievement, we recorded the percentage of A grades achieved by each participant in their final examinations during the last term.

Knowledge of, and attitude toward, art. To assess the participants' knowledge of art, we asked the following questions: "Have you ever read this book?", "Have you ever read similar books?", and "How much do you know about western paintings?" Response options for the first two questions were yes and no, whereas response options for the third question ranged from 1 = nothing to 4 = very much. In addition, we measured the participants' attitude toward art ("How much do you like art?") on a scale from 1 = not at all to 7 = very much.

Goal intention, expectation, importance, and anticipated disappointment if not achieved. The students' goal intention ("I intend to finish reading this book conscientiously over the next 4 weeks"), expectation ("How likely do you think it is that you will finish reading this book conscientiously over the next 4 weeks?"), importance valence ("How important is it to you to finish reading this book conscientiously over the next 4 weeks?"), and anticipated disappointment ("How disappointed will you be if you cannot finish reading this book conscientiously over the next 4 weeks?"). Participants responded to these questions by rating their response on a 7-point Likert scale where 1 = not at all and 7 = very much.

General reading comprehension. To measure participants' general reading comprehension, we asked them to read the 16 paragraphs used in the reading comprehension section of the 2012 National Civil Service Examination in China. For each paragraph, there are four corresponding multiple-choice questions. The internal consistency reliability (Cronbach's alpha) was .76.

Measures for Dependent Variables

Time involvement. Time involvement was measured with three indicators. The first indicator was reading time as indicated by the entries in the reading time diary card, which was based on a 7-point scale. The scale anchors were 1 = 0 hours, 2 = 0-0.5 hours, 3 = 0.5-1 hour, 4 = 1-1.5 hours, 5 = 1.5-2 hours, 6 = 2-2.5 hours and 7 = more than 2.5 hours. The second indicator comprised four questions from the follow-up survey regarding the amount of time spent on reading the book each week, for example, "How many hours did you spend reading this book in the first week?" The third indicator was participants' expanded reading time, which also comprised four questions, for example, "How many hours did you spend in the first week reading other books or surfing the Internet for more information to deepen your understanding of the paintings?"

Number of paintings. To establish how many paintings the participants had read about, we asked the following question: "How many paintings did you read about in the last 4 weeks?"

Application of knowledge about the paintings. To measure their application of knowledge about the paintings, the participants were asked the following question: "How many times in the last 4 weeks did you talk with others about the paintings?"

Painting comprehension. In the painting comprehension test, the participants were asked to answer one multiple-choice question about each of 33 paintings that were randomly selected from the 100 paintings depicted in the book. The participants were required to choose the correct response from four alternatives. From the 33 items, discrimination (correlation with the total score for the 33 items) for 15 items was less than .20, and the correlations were not significant. The discrimination for the remaining 18 items was between .20 and .59, with an average of .32. Further, item difficulty was between .21 and .61, with an average of .36. The internal consistency reliability (Cronbach's a) of the 18 items was .72.

Ratings of MCII Features

To analyze MCII quality, two raters independently evaluated the specificity of the participants' positive outcomes and critical obstacles in mental contrasting and assessed the level of match for their if-then plan. They also rated interactive factors in the elaboration of positive outcomes and the internality of the imagined obstacles to determine the contribution of mental contrasting content. In the case of disagreement, the two raters and one additional independent researcher discussed the final scores.

Specificity of mental contrasting. Two people rated the specificity of keywords for positive outcomes and critical obstacles on a 2-point scale. If the keywords were abstract (e.g., "knowing something about Western culture"), they were rated as 1. If the keywords were concrete (specific), such as "knowing the names of several Western famous paintings and extending my knowledge," they were rated as 2. Cohen's kappas, indicating the interrater agreement for the keywords for positive outcomes and critical obstacles, were .82 and .83, respectively.

The coding criteria for the specificity of the students' elaborations of outcomes and obstacles were as follows: (a) 0 = no elaborations; (b) 1 = abstract elaborations, e.g., "I will know more about art, and I will be a cultured person"; and (c) 2 = specific elaborations, e.g., "I may see the paintings in books or magazines in the future, and then I will have a relevant image to draw on, and my appreciation of art will be enhanced"). Cohen's kappas, indicating the interrater agreement for the elaboration of positive outcomes and critical obstacles, were .91 and .80, respectively. The raters resolved any disagreement through discussion.

If-then plan match. Rating scales for the if-then plan match ranged from 1 = poor match to 3 = good match. We excluded plans that involved a time frame that extended beyond the time limit of the study or that involved not reading the assigned book, for example, "If I have no time to read this book in the next 4 weeks, I will read it during summer vacation." Plans were coded as a poor match if the "then" part of the action plan was vague and/or could apply to any behavior (e.g., "If I forget to read this book, then I will read it in my free time"). We coded plans that involved making plans to read the book instead of direct behavior as a medium match (e.g., "If reading this book conflicts with my plan to prepare for the College English test, then I will change my plan"). Plans were coded as a good match if the action was described specifically (e.g., "If I am tired when reading this book, then I will rest and continue with it later"). The interrater reliability for the evaluation of if-then plan match was good (Cohen's [kappa] = .69; Cicchetti, 1994; Fleiss, 1981). Disagreement between raters was resolved through discussion.

Interactive factors in the elaboration of positive outcomes. Two raters independently evaluated interactive factors in the elaboration of positive outcomes as 1 = interactions with other people or 0 = no interactions. Outcomes were coded as 1 if a description of an interaction with other people was included in the elaboration of positive outcomes (e.g., "When I chat with other people and they discuss art, then I will have something to talk about"). The raters coded outcomes as 0 if no interactions with other people were described in the elaboration of positive outcomes (e.g., "I will artistically appreciate the beauty in our daily lives after reading this book, and I will know about Western culture by reading about Western art"). The interrater reliability for the evaluation of interactive factors in the elaboration of positive outcomes was excellent (Cohen's [kappa] = 1).

Internality of critical obstacles. The internality of obstacles was rated by using a 5-point scale ranging from 1 = not internal to 5 = very internal. Regarding the rating criteria, whereas obstacles internal to the person were, for example, lack of self-control or lack of interest in art, obstacles external to the person were, for example, the need to complete other study assignments, taking part in entertainment events or social activities, and working in part-time employment. Entertainment and social activities were rated as 1; part-time jobs and student work were rated as 2; course work was rated as 3; lack of interest in, and knowledge of, art were rated as 4; and low self-control and persistence were rated as 5. Cohen's kappa indicating interrater agreement was .89. Disagreement between raters was resolved through discussion.

Results

None of the participants had read the assigned book 100 Famous Paintings in Western Countries prior to taking part in this study. However, 40% had read similar books, and there was no significant difference between those in the control (45.2%) and MCII intervention (34.2%) conditions in this regard ([chi square] = 1.01, p = .315). We have presented the results in three parts: first, sample characteristics and randomization; second, comparisons in effort and achievement between the MCII intervention and control groups; and, finally, analyses within the MCII intervention condition group.

Sample Characteristics and Randomization

As shown in Table 1, there were no significant differences between the control and MCII intervention groups in terms of academic performance, knowledge of art, attitude toward art, goal intention, expectation, importance valence, and anticipated disappointment. However, the students in the MCII intervention condition had higher scores for general reading comprehension than did students in the control condition, t(79) = 2.32, p < .05.

Comparison of Effort and Achievement Between MCII and Control Conditions

Time involvement. Table 2 shows the total time that the students spent reading the assigned book. For time involvement, no difference was observed between those in the MCII intervention and control conditions. Specifically, there were no significant differences between the two groups in terms of total reading time reported in the diaries, t(79) = 0.43, p = .666, total reading time as reported in the follow-up survey, t(79) = 0.34, p = .731, or total expanded reading time as reported in the follow-up survey, t(79) = 0.51, p = .880.

The sum of reading time (reading time plus expanded reading time) for those in the MCII intervention and control condition groups over the 4 weeks is shown in Figure 1. General linear model repeated measure analyses revealed differences between the two groups. Specifically, the results of calculation of mean squared error (MSE) showed a main effect of week, F(3, 75) = 12.87, MSE = 2.60, p < .001, [chi square] = .14, but not of condition, F(1, 77) = 0.04, MSE = 25.96,p = .838, [chi square] = .00, nor of the interaction between condition and week, F(3, 75) = 0.40, MSE = 2.60, p = .753, [chi square] = 01. These results suggest that, for the change in reading time over the 4 weeks, there were no significant differences between the participants in the MCII and control conditions.

[FIGURE 1 OMITTED]

Number of paintings. On average, the participants in the MCII intervention condition had read about 28.95 paintings, whereas the students in the control condition had read about 42.89 paintings. This difference was significant, t(79) = -2.36, p < .05.

Application of knowledge about paintings. The participants in the MCII and control conditions had discussed the paintings with others, 2.54 and 3.06 times, respectively, over the 4 weeks. This difference was not significant, t(79) = 1.36, p = .177.

Painting comprehension test scores. Although the students in the MCII intervention condition achieved higher painting comprehension test scores, M = 7.08, than did the students in the control condition, M = 6.93, the difference was not significant, (79) = 0.22, p = .829. Because there was a significant difference in general reading comprehension ability between those in the MCII and control conditions, we controlled for general reading comprehension ability, but the result still did not show any significant impact on the painting comprehension test scores, t(78) = -0.29, p = .771.

Analysis Within the MCII Intervention Condition

We conducted a within-MCII intervention condition analysis to determine whether the participants' performance in the MCII exercise phase influenced their subsequent behavior and achievement. Specifically, we analyzed the effects of MCII quantity, MCII quality, and mental contrasting content on the participants' reading behavior and achievement.

MCII Quantity

We identified two indicators for MCII quantity. The first indicator was word count, and to assess quantity we counted the number of words that the participants had written in their responses when they completed the MCII exercise. On average, the participants wrote 116.32 words. Correlation analysis revealed that word count was significantly related to the painting comprehension test scores, r = .44, p < .01.

The second indicator was integrity of mental contrasting and implementation intention. Of the 39 participants in the MCII intervention condition, 11 did not complete the MCII exercise because they either omitted the outcome elaboration or did not record their if-then plan twice. For mental contrasting practice, the participants had to provide responses on four aspects: a positive outcome keyword, the positive outcome elaboration, a critical obstacle keyword, and the critical obstacle elaboration. We assigned a score of 1 for each aspect, so the highest possible score for integrity of mental contrasting was 4. Because we asked the participants to record their if-then plan twice, we coded the recording of one if-then plan as 1, thus the highest score for integrity of implementation intention was 2.

Correlation analyses revealed a significant relationship between the integrity of implementation intention and the painting comprehension test scores, r = .42, p < .01, but not between the integrity of mental contrasting and either effort or achievement. Partial correlation analysis, in which we controlled for the integrity of mental contrasting, revealed that integrity of implementation intention was significantly related to painting comprehension test scores, r = .34, p < .05.

MCII Quality

We used the specificity of the positive outcome keyword, the positive outcome elaboration, the critical obstacle keyword, and the critical obstacle elaboration, as well as an if-then plan match as indicators of MCII quality. Correlation analyses revealed no positive significant relationships among the indicators. Consequently, these indicators were not combined.

Regarding the specificity of the positive outcome keyword and positive outcome elaboration, correlation analyses showed that the specificity of the outcome keyword had a marginally significant positive correlation with the painting comprehension test score, r = .30, p = .065, and that the specificity of the outcome elaboration had a significant relationship with both the number of paintings read about, r = .39, p < .05, and the painting comprehension test score, r = .44,p < .01. Partial correlation analysis, in which we controlled for specificity of the positive outcome elaboration, showed that the relationship between the specificity of the positive outcome keyword and the painting comprehension test score was not significant, r = .26, p = .115. Partial correlation analysis, in which we controlled for the specificity of the positive outcome keyword showed that the specificity of the outcome elaboration still had significant relationship with both the number of paintings read about, r = .41, p < .05, and the painting comprehension test score, r = .40, p < .05.

Correlation analyses also revealed that the specificity of the obstacle keyword had a significant relationship with the total reading time in the follow-up survey, r = .35, p < .05, and the relationship remained significant after we controlled for obstacle elaboration, r = .36, p < .05.

However, the correlations among the if-then plan match, effort, and achievement were not significant.

MC Content

Interactive factors in the elaboration of positive outcomes. We performed correlation analyses and found that participants whose interaction with other people included elaborations had a higher painting comprehension test score, M = 8.78, than did participants who had interactions with other people without elaborations, M = 6.57, r = .30, p = .065. However, this relationship became nonsignificant once we controlled for the specificity of the positive outcome elaboration, r = .01, p = .569.

Internality of critical obstacles. Results of analyses of correlations among the internality of critical obstacles, effort, and achievement revealed that the internality of obstacles was significantly negatively related to total reading time as reported in the diary, r = -.40, p < .05, and the relationship remained significant when we controlled for the specificity of the obstacle keyword and for elaboration, r = -.41, p < .05.

Overall, the results we obtained did not support our hypotheses. We found that participants in the MCII intervention group did not exert greater effort than the participants in the control group did in reading the assigned book, nor did they achieve higher scores on a test about the content of the book. In addition, the students in the control group had read about more paintings than students in the MCII intervention group had.

Discussion

In this study, we tested the effect of the specific self-regulation strategy of MCII on reading behavior and achievement among college students in China. Because we found that students in the MCII group read about fewer paintings, exerted less effort in reading the assigned book, and achieved lower scores on a test about the content of the book than did participants in the control condition, the results we obtained do not replicate findings from previous MCII intervention studies in the domains of health, relationships, and academic performance (Oettingen et al., 2013).

There are two possible explanations for the lack of positive effect of the MCII strategy in this study. First, participants in our MCII intervention group prioritized activities other than reading the assigned art book; thus, they had looked at fewer paintings than did those in the control condition. Many students in the MCII intervention condition listed other goals (e.g., preparation for a final examination) as obstacles when they did the MCII exercise. The use of the MCII strategy might have resulted in the students realizing that they had more important things to do than reading the art book. That is, thinking what it was in themselves that prevented them from completing the low-priority assigned task made them focus less on this task, and more on the crucial higher priority task. In sum, use of MCII might have led the students to act more on their own account than on what others (the experimenters) wanted them to do. However, more research is needed to confirm this conclusion.

Second, our participants may have received insufficient training in the MCII strategy. Indeed, of the 39 participants in the MCII intervention condition, 11 did not complete the MCII exercise. Moreover, further analysis showed that the quantity and quality of MCII influenced the students' future goal-pursuit behavior and achievement. Consequently, in future research the method used for MCII instruction should be improved in order to enhance the quantity and quality of MCII achieved. Direct contact between experimenters and participants may be a better method of delivery than using a printed survey, as Elder et al. (2005) found that participants who had direct contact with an interventionist showed more behavioral change than did those who received printed material only.

Our study provides evidence that the features of MCII influenced individuals' reading behavior and achievement. First, the quantity of MCII (i.e., word count and integrity of implementation intention in the survey response) was positively correlated with the painting comprehension test score. We asked students to record their if-then plan twice to increase their retention of it, and the observed significant relationship between the participants' integrity of implementation intention and their painting comprehension test score demonstrated the importance of remembering the devised if-then plan for goal attainment. Second, MCII quality affected the participants' behavior. The specificity of participants' positive outcome elaboration (but not the outcome keyword) influenced the number of paintings they read about and their painting comprehension test score. However, the specificity of their critical obstacle keyword (but not the critical obstacle elaboration) was positively related to their total reading time in the follow-up survey. An explanation for these inconsistent results is that the obstacles may have been identified as cues in the "if" stage of implementation intention in our study, which is in line with the finding of Gollwitzer, Wieber, Myers, and McCrea (2010) that specific cues in an implementation intention were more effective than nonspecific cues. In summary, we suggest that people who imagine a specific positive outcome, identify a specific obstacle as a cue in the "if" stage of their implementation intention, and memorize the implementation intention, will exert more effort in goal pursuit and will achieve a better outcome than do people who do not follow this process. Third, our results showed that the content of mental contrasting influenced the participants' performance. Interaction factors in the elaboration of a desired future had no impact on the amount of effort that participants invested or their level of achievement when we controlled for the specificity of elaboration of the desired future. This result replicates those of Oettingen and Mayer (2002), who found that the idealization, rather than the content (outcome or process), of positive fantasies influenced participants' performance. The participants for whom the obstacles were external had, nevertheless, spent more time on reading the book than did those for whom the obstacles were of internal origin. Researchers who have conducted studies in Western cultures have found that people who have internal obstacles invest more effort in achieving a goal than do people who have external obstacles and, thus, more cross-cultural studies are needed to draw conclusions about cultural differences in this regard (Oettingen, 1997).

A limitation in our study is that the sample was relatively small, comprising 79 women and two men, thus limiting the generalizability of our findings. Second, the manipulation was conducted across classes: two classes were randomly assigned to the control group, and two other classes were randomly assigned to the MCII intervention group. Heterogeneity among the different classes may have influenced the results. Finally, the follow-up test was conducted during the preparation period for the final examination at the college, which resulted in our study's reading task becoming a secondary, conflicting goal for the students. In future research, such contextual influences should be avoided.

In summary, our results in this study did not demonstrate a positive benefit of MCII intervention on reading behavior. However, the current findings provide evidence for the importance of the quantity and quality of the MCII strategy for reading behavior. Furthermore, our findings showed that the content of mental contrasting (i.e., the internality of obstacles) affects goal-pursuit behavior.

http://dx.doi.org/10.2224/sbp.2016.44.5.767

GUOXIA WANG AND XIAOSONG GAI

Northeast Normal University

Guoxia Wang and Xiaosong Gai, Department of Psychology, Northeast Normal University. This research was supported by the Philosophy and Social Science Youth Fund of Northeast Normal University (the Fundamental Research Funds for the Central Universities, No. XQ15011), which was awarded to the first author, and the Program for New Century Excellent Talents at University of the Ministry of Education of China (Research on Adolescents' Positive Characters), which was awarded to the second author. Suggestions from Professors Gabriele Oettingen and Peter Gollwitzer on the research design, data analysis, and discussion of the study findings are gratefully acknowledged.

Correspondence concerning this article should be addressed to: Xiaosong Gai, Department of Psychology, Northeast Normal University, 5268 Renmin Street, Changchun, Jilin 130024, People's Republic of China. Email: gaixiaosong@126.com

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Table 1. Baseline Sample Characteristics

Characteristics                 All participants   MCIi Intervention
                                   N = 81 (a)        group n = 39

Age (years)                       20.30 (0.99)       20.20 (1.13)
School performance
  Attitude                        5.85 (1.11)         5.71 (1.27)
  Study time                      13.91 (9.94)       15.03 (9.15)
  Achievement                    22.11 (22.35)       23.88 (26.98)
Art knowledge                     1.74 (0.47)         1.71 (0.46)
Attitude toward art               4.95 (1.14)         4.85 (1.27)
Goal intention                    5.83 (0.85)         5.87 (0.84)
Expectation                       5.58 (1.13)         5.51 (1.07)
Importance valence                5.00 (1.27)         4.85 (1.37)
Disappointment                    4.96 (1.40)         4.69 (1.49)
General reading comprehension     4.91 (2.30)         5.51 (2.40)

Characteristics                 Control group      Group
                                   n = 42       differences
                                                     P

Age (years)                     20.39 (0.85)       .392
School performance
  Attitude                       5.99 (0.93)       .252
  Study time                    12.95 (10.59)      .361
  Achievement                   20.71 (18.13)      .546

Art knowledge                    1.76 (0.48)       .629
Attitude toward art              5.05 (1.01)       .430
Goal intention                   5.79 (0.88)       .654
Expectation                      5.64 (1.19)       .607
Importance valence               5.14 (1.18)       .298
Disappointment                   5.21 (1.28)       .094
General reading comprehension    4.36 (2.08)       .023

Note. (a) Baseline data missing for age = one participant, study time =
three participants, achievement = six participants, art knowledge =
one participant. Standard deviations are given in parentheses.

Table 2. Total Reading Time in MCII and Control Groups

                           MCII condition   Control condition

Total diary reading time   67.67 (23.13)      65.29 (25.67)
Total follow-up survey      13.12 (7.24)      12.53 (8.19)
  reading time
Total follow-up survey      2.40 (4.32)        2.52 (3.14)
  expanded reading time

Note. Diary reading time is measured by a scale (1-7), whereas the
reading time and expanded reading time are measured in hours.
Standard deviations are given in parentheses.
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Author:Wang, Guoxia; Gai, Xiaosong
Publication:Social Behavior and Personality: An International Journal
Article Type:Report
Date:Jun 1, 2016
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