General action and inaction goals: Definitions & effects

Sure enough, empirical data supports the claim that general action and inaction goals are influenced by cultural and regional factors such as religion and geographic location. In a study that examined college students’ attitudes towards action and inaction in nine different countries, endorsement of Christian religious beliefs was related to more positive general attitudes towards action (vs. inaction), whereas higher endorsement of Buddhist beliefs was positively correlated with general attitudes towards inaction (vs. action) (Li & Albarracin, unpublished data). To examine regional variation in action/inaction goals, Noguchi and colleagues (in press) analyzed archival data. The team used a variety of different “action-related” outcome variables to create “action-tendency indices” for various countries and U.S. states. For the United States study, the researchers looked at four key variables: the percentage of people in each state who exercised moderately 5+ days per week (or vigorously 3+ days per week) in the past month, the percentage of people in each state with diabetes, the percentage of obese people in each state, and the average amount of stimulant use throughout each state. States that had higher percentages of people who exercised and/or used stimulants (and lower percentages of diabetic or obese people) would have higher scores on the “action-tendency” index, even though the action being measured could either be considered good (exercise) or bad (stimulant use). The states (plus Washington D.C.) were then ranked from 1 to 51, with states that had higher “action-tendency” indices (such as Colorado, Alaska, Oregon, Nevada, and Vermont) at the top, and states with lower “action-tendency” indices (such as Louisiana, Alabama, Tennessee, West Virginia, and Mississippi) at the bottom. When the researchers correlated these indices with various measures of political participation and controlled for political interest, they found that states with higher “action tendencies” also demonstrated higher rates of voter turnout, campaigning, working for a political party, wearing campaign buttons/stickers/signs, political donations, and letter-writing to government officials. This suggests that activity in any given domain (such as stimulant use or exercise) is related to one’s likelihood of participating actively in a totally different arena, such as politics. When the same team of researchers conducted a similar study examining these variables in different countries across the world, the result was the same. They created another “action-tendency” index, this time involving measures of impulsivity, pace (based on average walking speed, postal speed, and clock accuracy), stimulant use, newspaper/movie production, and phone/internet prevalence, and ranked 69 different countries based on these index scores. Countries at the top of the list (such as Australia, Iceland, Norway, Denmark, and New Zealand) had higher voter turnout and higher percentages of citizens who signed petitions, joined boycotts, attended lawful demonstrations, and/or joined unofficial strikes than countries at the bottom of the list (such as Kyrgyzstan, Uganda, Vietnam, and Bangladesh). It may be that general cultural norms dictate whether members are encouraged to take action in response to events or be passive and accommodating (Cohen & Leung, 2011). Cultures that prescribe action at the expense of inaction should have members that are more likely to pursue action goals more frequently and intensely than inaction goals. This may lead to healthy and desirable forms of action, such as exercise and political participation, but might also lead to undesirable, unexpected behaviors, such as binge eating or drug abuse.

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