Synthesizing the Effects of Mental Simulation on Behavior Change: Systematic Review and Multilevel Meta-Analysis

Scott N. Cole, Debbie M. Smith, Kathryn Ragan, Robert Suurmond, Chris J. Armitage*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalReview articleAcademicpeer-review

Abstract

Mental simulation of future scenarios is hypothesized to affect future behavior, but a large and inconsistent literature means it is unclear whether, and under what conditions, mental simulation can change people’s behavior. A meta-analysis was conducted to synthesize the effects of mental simulation on behavior and examine under what conditions mental simulation works best. An inclusive systematic database search identified 123 (N = 5685) experiments comparing mental simulation to a control group. After applying a multilevel random effects model, a statistically-reliable positive effect of Hedges’ g=0.49 [95% CI 0.37;
0.62], which was significantly different than zero. Using a taxonomy to identify different subtypes of mental simulation (along two dimensions, class [process, performance, outcome] and purpose [whether an inferior, standard, superior version of that behavior is simulated]), it was found that superior simulations garnered more reliable beneficial effects than inferior simulations. These findings have implications for integrating theories of how mental simulations change behavior, how mental simulations are classified, and may help guide
professionals seeking evidence-based and cost-effective methods of changing behavior.
Original languageEnglish
Number of pages24
JournalPsychonomic Bulletin & Review
Early online date4 May 2021
DOIs
Publication statusE-pub ahead of print - 4 May 2021

Keywords

  • behaviour change
  • mental practice
  • mental simulation
  • outcome simulations
  • process simulations
  • Outcome simulations
  • Mental simulation
  • Mental practice
  • PERFORMANCE
  • Behavior change
  • WEIGHT-LOSS
  • SELF-REGULATION
  • FUTURE
  • IMPLEMENTATION INTENTIONS
  • Process simulations
  • MEMORY
  • MOTOR IMAGERY
  • SNACKING HABITS
  • THOUGHTS
  • INTERVENTION

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