A new study says that those who ask themselves whether they will perform a task generally do better than those who tell themselves that they will.
University of Illinois Professor Dolores Albarracin and Visiting Assistant Professor Ibrahim Senay, along with Kenji Noguchi, Assistant Professor at Southern Mississippi University say that internal dialogue often influences the way people motivate and shape their own behavior.
Albarracin's team tested this kind of motivation in 50 study participants, encouraging them explicitly to either spend a minute wondering whether they would complete a task or telling themselves they would.
The participants showed more success on an anagram task, rearranging set words to create different words, when they asked themselves whether they would complete it than when they told themselves they would.
Professor Albarracin's team believe that by asking themselves a question, people were more likely to build their own motivation.
In a follow-up experiment, participants were once again parsed into the "I will" and "Will I" categories, but this time were then asked how much they intended to exercise in the following week. They were also made to fill out a psychological scale meant to measure intrinsic motivation.
Results showed that participants not only did better as a result of the question, but that asking themselves a question did indeed increase their intrinsic motivation.
These findings are likely to have implications in cognitive, social, clinical, health and developmental psychology, as well as in clinical, educational and work settings.
"We are turning our attention to the scientific study of how language affects self-regulation," Professor Albarracin said. "Experimental methods are allowing us to investigate people's inner speech, of both the explicit and implicit variety, and how what they say to themselves shapes the course of their behaviours."
This research raises an argument against the popularly held belief that self-affirmations enhance people's ability to meet their goals.
Professor Albarracin said, "It seems, however, that when it comes to performing a specific behavior, asking questions is a more promising way of achieving your objectives."
"This work represents a basic cognitive approach to how language provides a window between thoughts and action," said Dr. James W. Pennebaker, Professor and Chair of the Department of Psychology at the University of Texas.
The study is published in the April 2010 edition of the journal Psychological Science.