When pooping babies become more appealing: The nonconscious pursuit of goals

When pooping babies become more appealing the effects of nonconscious goal pursuit on experienced emotions

From Psychological Science

This study considers the intensity of emotions people feel due to goals they nonconsciously pursue. Traditionally, emotions were seen as an obstacle to goal pursuit and self-control, in recent years, however, this view has begun to change. Emotion is functional in nature: It serves to increase the probability of goal achievement. To test the effect of nonconscious goal pursuits on emotions, in this study, female participants where primed with a motherhood goal by viewing baby related images. It revealed how the subtle activation of a motherhood goal was influenced by goal-relevant baby pictures, but not goal irrelevant pictures. The findings not only extend the existing literature on nonconscious goal pursuit, but also suggest a novel determinant of emotions. Learning which goals people nonconsciously pursue may thus help to explain why people experience the emotions they do, and may allow for the prediction of their future emotional responses.


In this report, we argue that the intensity of the emotions people experience is partly determined by the goals they nonconsciously pursue, and that this effect is functional in nature: Emotions are modulated in ways that may increase the probability of goal achievement. To test this hypothesis, we primed female participants with a motherhood goal and then measured their level of disgust in response to mildly disgusting pictures. Priming led to a reduction of disgust in response to goal-relevant stimuli (e.g., pictures of babies with runny noses) but not goal-irrelevant stimuli. This effect was moderated by the women’s probability of conception, a proxy of their ability to pursue the motherhood goal.

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Article details
Shidlovski, D., & Hassin, R. (2011). When Pooping Babies Become More Appealing: The Effects of Nonconscious Goal Pursuit on Experienced Emotions Psychological Science DOI: 10.1177/0956797611417135

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