The power of goal-directed processes in emotional and unhealthy behavior


08 novembre 2017



Salle Jean Ladrière, Place Cardinal Mercier 14

Agnes Moors (Psychology, KU Leuven), est l'invitée du séminaire intitulé "The power of goal-directed processes in emotional and unhealthy behavior" organisé par le CEFISES



People often engage in behavior that is not in their best interest. For instance, they become aggressive even when they risk a high cost (e.g., retaliation or ruining a relationship) and they engage in unhealthy behaviors such as smoking. Traditional theories have attributed these so-called suboptimal behaviors to a stimulus-driven process in which a stimulus activates a response based on the person’s prior learning history or innate wiring. This response can be regulated by a goal-directed process, which compares the values and likelihoods of the outcomes of different action options, but only when the person has ample opportunity to engage in this process. I propose an alternative theory in which goal-directed processes do not merely play a regulatory role, but are also at the heart of the emotional and unhealthy behaviors themselves. This deviates from the tenacious view that emotions and unhealthy behaviors are irrational. The project challenges the traditional theory by testing whether seemingly stimulus-driven behavior might be due to goal-directed processes after all. We do so by using state-of-the-art behavioral (reaction time) and neuroscientific (TMS/MEP) methods. Support for the alternative theory has important implications for behavior change in clinical practice and society in that it encourages strategies focused on the expectancies and values of action outcomes instead of installing new habits.