Clinical psychologists at the University of Konstanz reached a surprising conclusion: Students with an “implemental mindset”, e.g. those who were not considered to be open to new information, responded more positively to a preventative alcohol intervention than students with a “deliberative”, e.g. more “open”, mindset. These results could take the research and development of effective prevention and intervention methods a significant step forward.
From past research on the use of addictive substances, clinical psychologists at the University of Konstanz are familiar with a missing openness to speaking about alcohol and drugs. At the same time, their colleagues from the motivational psychology group have investigated the receptiveness for new information within cognitive decision research for more than 20 years.
The role of cognitive open-mindedness
The authors of this study come from both of these working groups and raise the question whether the open-mindedness for processing new information influences the effect of participating in a preventive alcohol intervention, and thus an individual’s decision to reduce his/her consumption. Generally, in the phase before making a decision, people are in a “deliberative mindset”, in which new information is open-mindedly processed. Once a decision is made, an “implemental mindset” is activated, in which the brain considers information that supports the decision more readily than incongruent information. Regarding the rather difficult topic of drinking, it was hence expected that a deliberative mindset and therefore a more open-minded approach would enhance the participants’ acceptance for the message of a preventive intervention and, thus, increase the effect of this intervention.
In the recruiting phase, over 250 voluntary students were asked about their alcohol consumption. Thereafter, those with a risky alcohol use according to the definition of the World Health Organization were invited to participate in an intervention study in the university’s lab. The actual intervention study enrolled 64 students with risky alcohol consumption. They had consumed an average of 40 standard drinks in the previous month (one standard drink contains about 12g pure ethanol, that corresponds to a 0.33l beer or 0.15l of wine).
In the lab experiment, either a deliberative or an implemental mindset was induced through a period of brief instruction, causing the students to be either open or closed to receiving new information, and without the students noticing that this was related to the subsequent alcohol intervention. The psychologists conducting the intervention were also unaware of which mindset was activated. Thereafter, all students received the same standardized preventive face-to-face intervention (lasting 25 min.).
Potential to improve existing prevention strategies
Strikingly, the manipulation of the mindset showed a clear effect, but the direction was contrary to what the researchers had expected: Students in the implemental mindset reduced their alcohol use significantly in the following four weeks, whereas the students in the deliberative mindset significantly increased consumption. The difference between the average consumption of the two groups was as large as 21 standard drinks in the month after the intervention. In a follow-up assessment, the participants were not aware of the manipulation of their mindset, and they could not generally say whether they had changed their drinking after the lab experiment.
The researchers tentatively explain the results by assuming that the deliberative mindset might have caused more indecisiveness regarding the aim to reduce one’s own alcohol use, while the implemental mindset might have strengthened the decision to reduce the harmful consumption. Subsequent studies are needed to shed light on the cognitive processes which are activated through the induction of mindsets and responsible for these effects. If these effects would be replicated, the research on and the development of effective preventive intervention methods could take a big step forward.
- Original publication: Natascha Büchele, Lucas Keller, Anja C. Zeller, Freya Schrietter, Julia Treiber, Peter M. Gollwitzer, Michael Odenwald (2020). The effects of pre-intervention mindset induction on a brief intervention to increase risk perception and reduce alcohol use among university students: A pilot randomized controlled trial. PloS ONE 15(9):e0238833. https://dx.doi.org/10.1371/journal.pone.0238833
- Psychological study at the University of Konstanz on the alcohol consumption of students
- 250 voluntary students were asked about their alcohol consumption; 64 students with risky alcohol consumption were enrolled in the intervention study
- Unexpected results: Students in the deliberative mindset (open to new information) significantly increased consumption, whereas students in the implemental mindset (closed to new information) reduced their alcohol use significantly in the following four weeks
- The study was performed within the DFG research unit: The Dynamics of Risk. The original funding period of 2016 – 2019 was extended to 31 March 2023 for the completion of this and other sub-projects.