Wieber, F., Thürmer, J. L., & Gollwitzer, P. M. (2015). Promoting the translation of intentions into action by implementation intentions: Behavioral effects and physiological correlates. Frontiers in Human Neuroscience.
The present review addresses the physiological correlates of planning effects on behavior. Although intentions to act qualify as predictors of behavior, accumulated evidence indicates that there is a substantial gap between even strong intentions and subsequent action. One effective strategy to reduce this intention–behavior gap is the formation of implementation intentions that specify when, where, and how to act on a given goal in an if-then format (“If I encounter situation Y, then I will initiate action Z!”). It has been proposed that implementation intentions render the mental representation of the situation highly accessible and establish a strong associative link between the mental representations of the situation and the action. These process assumptions have been examined in behavioral research, and in physiological research, a field that has begun to investigate the temporal dynamics of and brain areas involved in implementation intention effects. In the present review, we first summarize studies on the cognitive processes that are central to the strategic automation of action control by implementation intentions. We then examine studies involving critical samples with impaired self-regulation. Lastly, we review studies that have applied physiological measures such as heart rate, cortisol level, and eye movement, as well as electroencephalography (EEG) and functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) studies on the neural correlates of implementation intention effects. In support of the assumed processes, implementation intentions increased goal attainment in studies on cognitive processes and in critical samples, modulated brain waves related to perceptual and decision processes, and generated less activity in brain areas associated with effortful action control. In our discussion, we reflect on the status quo of physiological research on implementation intentions, methodological and conceptual issues, related research, and propose future directions.