Attention, self-control, and health behaviors

Traci Mann, Andrew Ward

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

85 Scopus citations


Past research has shown that limitations on attention can lead to loss of control. Our model of self-control suggests that when attentional resources are restricted, individuals can focus on only the most salient behavioral cues, to the neglect of more distal stimuli. Subsequent action is then likely to be under the near-exclusive motivational influence of those "central" cues. This state of narrowed attentional focus, which we term "attentional myopia," is predicted to lead to loss of control when salient cues serve to promote a behavior that violates self-standards. By contrast, limitations on attention can lead to more successful self-control when salient cues instead suggest restraint. We have investigated this model in the health domains of eating, smoking, and aggression, and we discuss its implications for individuals' efforts to respond to health-relevant messages.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)280-283
Number of pages4
JournalCurrent Directions in Psychological Science
Issue number5
StatePublished - Oct 2007

Bibliographical note

Funding Information:
We gratefully acknowledge the many research assistants who have worked with us on these studies at Stanford University, UCLA, and Swarthmore College, as well as support from National Institute of Mental Health Grant R01 63795.


  • Attention
  • Health behavior
  • Self-control


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