Making sense of one’s actions in an explanatory vacuum: The interpretation of nonconscious goal striving

Document Type


Publication Date


Publication Title

Journal of Experimental Social Psychology


Explanatory vacuum, Nonconscious goals, Social norms, automatic


Previous research has found that performing norm-violating behaviors based on a nonconsciously-activated goal elicits negative affect (Oettingen, Grant, Smith, Skinner, & Gollwitzer, 2006). In the present research we explored whether this negative affect is eliminated when an earlier conscious goal with congruent behavioral effects can be used to explain the norm-violating behavior. Our findings suggest that applicable conscious goals are indeed used to interpret nonconsciously-activated goal striving (Study 1), and that this interpretation occurs reflexively rather than reflectively (Study 2), with implications for interpersonal behavior (Study 3). The role of social norms, applicable conscious goals, and negative affect in the interpretation of nonconscious goal pursuit is discussed.


Copyright © 2010 Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.