About the Goallab

Our research examines the way people form goals, and how their perceptual and cognitive processes enable them to attain these goals. Our work deals with fundamental issues pertaining to the role of goals in human behavior and performance, as well as applied issues that are associated with human goal pursuit, such as environmental and health behavior, consumer behavior, work behavior and social discrimination. The major assumption underlying our research program is that human goal pursuit originates in the unconscious, and that goals and their achievement rely on, and are supported by mental processes that can occur in the absence of conscious awareness. In studying this topic, we also aim to address how people perceive their own as well as other people’s goal pursuits. Accordingly, our scientific quest concerns the understanding of how conscious goals differ from non conscious goals and how human behavior evolves from conscious and nonconscious goal-directed processes.

As such, our work can be divided into three themes: Habits and intentions, Affect, motivation and regulation, and Conscious experiences of goal pursuit and self-agency.

Habits and intentions

In our research on Habits and intentions, we examine how the instigation of goals affect cognition and behavior as a function of personal and normative habitual behaviors. In this research, for example, we show that if goal-directed behavior is habitual, conscious intentions do not guide future behavior, and information processing aiding decision making ceases to exist. In other words, the choice process is automatized. Furthermore, we examine the cognitive processes underlying the formation and maintenance of goal-directed habitual behavior and, from a more applied point of view, study how habits can be changed by, for example, the formation of intentions.

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Affect, motivation and regulation

Our research on affect, motivation and regulation analyses the question how people’s goal pursuit is motivated and guided in the absence of conscious will. For example we have established that the perception of other people’s actions, members of socially stereotyped groups, odors and food cues set on motivated cognitive and behavioral processes nonconsciously for a variety of social goals, such as making money, seeking casual sex, and socializing. We also examine the notion that goal pursuit is supported by nonconsciously cognitive processes following principles of executive control or self-regulation. We recently started to explore affective-motivational processes of nonconscious goal-pursuit in general, and restraint-eating in particular by using subliminal priming techniques. Finally, we aim to understand how no-go cues and response inhibition put a hold on motivated behavior and what happens when positive and negative features of goals collide.

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Conscious experiences of goal pursuit and self-agency

In other research, we investigate people’s experiences of goal pursuit and self-agency, that is, the feeling of wanting and doing things. We explore the nonconscious sources and cognitive processes that give rise to the subjective expression of goal pursuit (i.e., the feeling that one wants to perform an action or to attain a goal, such as the goal to drink as a result of being deprived). Furthermore, we have discovered that when people perform an action while having a certain outcome in mind in the absence of conscious awareness their feelings of doing increases automatically when a match between the expected and actual outcome occurs. Also, we study possible illusory feelings of self-agency resulting from this matching process, and the potential role of disorders, such as depression, in causing these deceptive feelings.

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URGE (Utrecht Research Group of Eating)

URGE (Utrecht Research Group of Eating) consists of a group of researchers that examines human food consumption and eating behavior from a social cognitive perspective. Click here to learn more about URGE

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