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“I Don’t” versus “I Can’t”: When Empowered Refusal Motivates Goal-Directed Behavior

Vanessa M. Patrick and Henrik Hagtvedt
Journal of Consumer Research
Vol. 39, No. 2 (August 2012), pp. 371-381
Published by: Oxford University Press
DOI: 10.1086/663212
Stable URL:
Page Count: 11
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This research is based on the insight that the language we use to describe our choices serves as a feedback mechanism that either enhances or impedes our goal-directed behavior. Specifically, we investigate the influence of a linguistic element of self-talk, in which a refusal may be framed as “I don’t” (vs. “I can’t”), on resisting temptation and motivating goal-directed behavior. We present a set of four studies to demonstrate the efficacy of the “don’t” (vs. “can’t”) framing (studies 1–3) when the source of the goal is internal (vs. external; studies 2A and 2B), as well as the mediating role of psychological empowerment (studies 1, 2A, and 2B). We demonstrate this novel and effective refusal strategy with actual choice (study 1) and with behavioral intent (studies 2A and 2B) and also illustrate its applicability in the real world in a longitudinal intervention-based field study (study 3).

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