Mistaking an Intention for a Behavior: the Case of Enacting Behavioral Decisions Versus Simply Intending to Enact Them

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Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin

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Five experiments investigated a previously unrecognized phenomenon—remembering that one enacted a mundane behavioral decision when one only intended to do so—and its psychological mechanisms. The theoretical conceptualization advanced in this research proposes that this error stems from a misattribution when an intention and a behavior are similar. Intentions and behaviors are similar when the physical aspects of the behavior resemble the intention (e.g., both require similar keystrokes) and when the behavior and the intention share mental contents (e.g., both rely on the same criterion). Experiments 1 and 2 introduced a paradigm with similar intentions and enactments and showed misreports and subsequent performance errors even when controlling for guessing. Experiments 3 and 4 demonstrated greater confusion when the physical involvement and mental criteria for intention and behavior were similar. Finally, Experiment 5 indicated that monitoring enactment is highly effective at reducing this error and more effective than monitoring intention.


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