AIMS: Inadequate self-control has been linked to behavioural and impulse-control problems such as overeating, alcohol and drug abuse and smoking. Construal-level theory (CLT) suggests that a high-level construal (highlighting central goals associated with an event), relative to a low-level construal (highlighting means and resources), promotes self-control. Inspired by CLT, we examined whether smokers primed with a high-level (versus low-level) construal mind-set would show reductions in smoking that might be mediated by improved self-control.
DESIGN: A single-factor (construal level: high, low, control) between-subjects design was employed. We used a widely employed why/how paradigm to induce high/low construal levels, whereby participants were asked to respond to questions about 'why' or 'how' they would maintain good physical health.
SETTING: Laboratory at Kaohsiung Medical University, Taiwan.
PARTICIPANTS: A community sample consisting of 102 daily smokers participated in this experiment.
MEASUREMENTS: The Stroop task measuring self-control was implemented after the construal-level manipulation. The dependent measure was actual cigarette consumption during an ostensible survey.
FINDINGS: Participants in a high-level construal mind-set smoked fewer cigarettes [mean = 1.3, 95% confidence interval (CI): 0.9, 1.7] than those in a low-level construal mind-set (mean = 2.6, 95% CI: 2.2, 3.0; P < 0.01). A bootstrapping analysis supported for the role of self-control (B = -1.14, 95% CI: -1.65, -0.74, P < 0.01) as a mechanism underlying this effect.
CONCLUSIONS: Smokers primed with a high-level construal mind-set (i.e. cognitive abstraction) may induce greater self-control that leads to reduced cigarette consumption. Thus, reminding smokers to think abstractly about health may be an effective strategy that could help them to smoke fewer cigarettes.
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