Affiliation: College of Arts and Sciences, Department of Psychology and Neuroscience
Despite the abundance of research on unwanted intrusive thoughts, positive spontaneous thoughts have been the subject of very little prior research. The present work aimed to evaluate the role of positive spontaneous thoughts in motivation by exploring their relationship with incentive salience – a property that energizes wanting and approach motivation by rendering cues that are associated with reward more likely to stand out to the individual when encountered in the environment (Berridge, 2007). I reasoned that positive spontaneous thoughts may be concomitants of incentive salience, and as such, they may mediate the effect of liking on wanting. The three studies discussed in Chapter 2 tested that hypothesis using a variety of measures and methods and revealed that positive spontaneous thoughts do indeed mediate the relationship between liking something and wanting it. Given that positive spontaneous thoughts were related to wanting as predicted, I explored whether they may play an active role in energizing wanting rather than merely co-occurring with incentive salience. The experiment discussed in Chapter 3 provided a preliminary answer to that question; participants who believed that their spontaneous thoughts about a target activity were especially positive planned to engage in that activity more often over the coming week than participants who had no such perception about their spontaneous thoughts. Collectively, these studies demonstrate an important role of positive spontaneous thoughts in shaping approach motivation. Broader implications and future directions in the study of positive spontaneous thoughts are discussed.