Do Conscious Thoughts Cause Behavior?

Posted: 8 Dec 2010  

Roy Baumeister

Florida State University - College of Arts & Sciences

E. J. Masicampo

Tufts University

Kathleen Vohs

University of Minnesota, Twin Cities - Carlson School of Management

Date Written: January 2011

Abstract

Everyday intuitions suggest full conscious control of behavior, but evidence of unconscious causation and automaticity has sustained the contrary view that conscious thought has little or no impact on behavior. We review studies with random assignment to experimental manipulations of conscious thought and behavioral dependent measures. Topics include mental practice and simulation, anticipation, planning, reflection and rehearsal, reasoning, counterproductive effects, perspective taking, self-affirmation, framing, communication, and overriding automatic responses. The evidence for conscious causation of behavior is profound, extensive, adaptive, multifaceted, and empirically strong. However, conscious causation is often indirect and delayed, and it depends on interplay with unconscious processes. Consciousness seems especially useful for enabling behavior to be shaped by nonpresent factors and by social and cultural information, as well as for dealing with multiple competing options or impulses. It is plausible that almost every human behavior comes from a mixture of conscious and unconscious processing.

Suggested Citation

Baumeister, Roy and Masicampo, E. J. and Vohs, Kathleen, Do Conscious Thoughts Cause Behavior? (January 2011). Annual Review of Psychology, Vol. 62, pp. 331-361, 2011. Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=1722018 or http://dx.doi.org/10.1146/annurev.psych.093008.131126

Roy Baumeister (Contact Author)

Florida State University - College of Arts & Sciences ( email )

United States

E. J. Masicampo

Tufts University ( email )

Medford, MA 02155
United States

Kathleen Vohs

University of Minnesota, Twin Cities - Carlson School of Management ( email )

19th Avenue South
Suite 3-150
Minneapolis, MN 55455
United States

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