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Confabulating reasons for behaving bad: The psychological consequences of unconsciously activated behaviour that violates one's standards

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European Journal of Social Psychology

Published online on


Numerous studies have been conducted to demonstrate that behaviours are frequently activated unconsciously. The present studies investigate the downstream psychological consequences of such unconscious behaviour activation, building on work on the explanatory vacuum and post‐priming misattribution. It was hypothesized that unconsciously activated behaviours trigger a negative affective response if the behaviour violates a personal standard and that this negative affect subsequently motivates people to confabulate a reason for the behaviour. Results provided evidence for this mediated moderation model. Study 1 showed that participants who were primed to act less prosocially indeed reported increased levels of negative affect and, as a result, were inclined to confabulate a reason for their behaviour. Study 2 replicated these findings in the domain of eating and provided evidence for the moderating role of personal standards as well as the entire mediated moderation model. These findings have relevant theoretical implications as they add to the modest number of studies that demonstrate that the effect of unconscious priming may extend well beyond performing the primed behaviour itself to influence subsequent affect and attribution processes. Copyright © 2014 John Wiley & Sons, Ltd.