Daniela Becker: "Self-control conflict in the eating domain: A cognitive, affective and behavioral perspective"

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Daniela Becker: "Self-control conflict in the eating domain: A cognitive, affective and behavioral perspective"

On February 14, 2017 Daniela Becker successfully defended the PhD thesis entitled "Self-control conflict in the eating domain: A cognitive, affective and behavioral perspective" at Agenietenkapel in Amsterdam, 10.00 uur.

Prof. Dr. Rob W. Holland

Dr. Nils B. Jostmann


We all know those moments in which we are tempted to do one thing (e.g., order the burger) but know we should do another (e.g., choose the healthy meal). Such self-control conflicts, moments in which an impulse and a higher order goal are in conflict, are pervasive in everyday life, and at the heart of the self-control process, given that without such a conflict, there would be no need to engage in effortful self-control. Knowing how people experience and deal with conflict might, therefore, help improve self-control. In my thesis I address those questions through combining theory and methodology from cognitive, social and health psychology.

In one line of research I used a response conflict (i.e., Flanker) task to investigate the interplay between cognitive control and motivational processes. I found that cognitive control processes are weakened when in direct competition with the processing of motivationally salient information. In the second line of research I was interested in how people feel about making conflicted self-control choices (i.e., giving in vs. resisting temptation). Interestingly, the more conflict people experienced during decision making the less satisfied and more negative they felt about their choices – even if they had made the ‘healthy’ choice. Only if people were reminded that their healthy choice was a successful act of self-control did conflict strength predict increased feelings of pride. Finally, I tested whether reducing impulse strength by means of the approach avoidance training could be one way of increasing self-control in the eating domain. Three lab studies (and preliminary results from an online study) produced null results, suggesting that more research is needed before the approach avoidance training can be used in the applied setting.

Together, those findings help understand why self-control often fails, and generate several interesting ideas for how to improve self-control.

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