Missed by an inch or a mile? Predicting the size of intention-behaviour gap from measures of executive control

This reading explains the relationships between intention-behaviour gap and the executive control of individuals to maintain their intended behaviour to maintain a healthy diet. The measures of ‘executive control’ ability were used to predict the size of the intention-behaviour gap for two dietary behaviours, such as in this reading, they used eating fruits and vegetable and snacking to illustrate the relationships.

To read and further understands the background of the related topic, you can click on the link below:



It is important to understand the consumer’s intention but it is even more critical to understand their behaviour and outcome towards an ideology, a product or even a campaign advertisement, so as to communicate effectively and make the intended/ideal outcome possible.

Intention-behaviour gap

Ultimately, the behavioural intentions do not lead to the changes in the final behaviour. Most of the time when we decided on a healthy diet, we did it through our ‘intention’ that we want to lead a healthy lifestyle, however to put it to ‘action’ is another story. The intention-behaviour gap is the discrepancy between the intended and enacted actions.

Executive control

Executive control processes are conceptualised as the abilities that individuals take with them at any given situation that relates to an intended behaviour.

Executive control is thought to be heavily involved in any behaviour that requires:

1) Planning and decision-making

2) Error monitoring and correction

3) Sequencing of actions

4) Complex actions

5) Inhibition of habitual responses

6) Novel actions

Four main components regarding executive control were focused in the two studies discussed in the reading that were the most significant for intention-behaviour, they are Planning, Inhibition, Cognitive flexibility and Task switching.

1) Planning

To attain the intended goal, it is essential to have good planning. A person with a structured and feasible plan are link with situational cue (contextual cues in the environment that signal a person that an action or event may occur.), this leads to little need for the person to deliberately follow his planned action.

Good planners produce more effective plans spontaneously and therefore have less capacity to benefit from the provision of structured plans.

2) Inhibition

Inhibition here does not refer to embarrassment or self-consciousness, it refers to the ability to suppress dominant responses or desires if they are not in line with the current task that one aims to achieve.

3) Cognitive flexibility

Flexibility is important in goal pursuit as a person that is flexible, will generate multiple different ways of realising intentions and multiple alternative solutions to problems that arise.

4) Task switching

Task switching is the ability that reflects the reconfiguration of current task set to allow a different task to be undertaken. For example in the case when goal is novel and difficult from the current task, good task switching hence came in and initiate an alternative to the similar-goal task set. Effective task switching would be expected to reduce the demands on other executive control processes during the implementation of the intended actions.

Therefore the four key factors discussed above are essential for a goal to be attained, but they are not the more influential factors towards human behaviour. Personal experiences can be another important factor that may change a person’s intended behaviour.

What other factors do you think may affect an individual from achieving their intended goals?


Allan, J., Johnston, M., & Campbell, N. (2011). Missed by an inch or a mile? Predicting the size of intention-­‐behaviour gap from measures of executive control. Psychology & health, 26(6), 635-­‐650.


5 comments so far

  1. orube90 on

    Since we have started on using diet and excising as an example, I would follow suit as well.

    People with strong executive control are able to plan, execute and get through it successfully compared to people with weaker executive control. I feel that it is similar to willpower and determination, as the common saying goes

    “Where there’s a will, there’s a way”.

    If an individual is determined enough, he/she will find a way to achieve what he/she wants, even if it’s difficult.

    I agree that people with more executive control (high cognitive resources) has a higher chance of success. To me, these resources can be energy, time or even money.

    Also, I too feel that there are some factors that may affect an individual from achieving the goal of healthy lifestyle; these factors are mainly from the lack of cognitive resources.

    The most common factor that affects individuals from attaining their goal of healthy lifestyle is lack of energy (tiredness). When one is tired, he/she tends to revert back to their old habits of not eating healthily and not exercising. As we all know that one should avoid the gym when he/she is exhausted, most people tend to use that excuse for not sticking to the plan.

    Another factor may be the lack of alternatives or the difficulty of attaining the object of desire. Most of the food that are sold outside tends to be unhealthy and finding a shop that sells healthy food might be challenging and time consuming, those with weaker executive control would just settle for the unhealthy food for convenience sake. Healthier food tends to be more expensive as well, which might be difficult for some to afford in the long run.

    I find that stocking my refrigerator with healthier food helps me with my goal of attaining a healthier lifestyle, even though I do not stick to the plan from time to time, I know that the food/snacks that I take from my refrigerator would still be healthy no matter what.

    • leothg on

      Hey orube90 thanks for your comment! Very interesting idea about the stocking healthy food in your fridge, that may possibly be one solution for a lot of people who use ‘exhaustion’ as an excuse.

      I personally feel that the executive control or the mentality of a person is rather important, especially trying to achieve and maintain the idea of a healthy diet. Some people will always use, ‘I’ll do it tomorrow.’, or ‘Ah I’ll do it later.’, but the later seems so far and so distant away every time.

      Anyway i don’t really agree that healthier food are more expensive than unhealthy food or ‘junk’ food. I personally was a vegetarian before, and i felt that to eat healthy is control by monetary value but by choice.

      Let’s strive to be healthy human beings! LOL

      • travelrene on

        I agree that behavioural intentions do not necessary lead to the final actions taken. There is always the case that we thought of and intend to do something, yet the actions taken may be a totally different one. The example of healthy diet has illustrated the situation well. Many of us tend to realise the importance of healthy diet, then we intend to have a healthy lifestyle by consuming more fruits and vegetables, yet, we may not carry out the action in real. This make me think of another example which link to healthy diet, which is exercise. We may have the idea and intention to exercise, for instance, once a week; yet when it comes to action, we tend to delay it, with many excuses. We may say, “I’ll do it later, or “I’ll do it tomorrow” and “I’ll do it when I am free”, yet, we never free for exercise.

        Thus, executive control, the abilities for individuals to make their intention into action is very important for them to achieve their goals or plans. This includes a strong mentality of the individuals to achieve a certain target. For the example of exercise, if a person has a strong mentality to achieve a certain target, says, to slim down by 10kg in a month, he or she may be able to works towards the goal with strong determination rather than keep delaying in exercising.

        Indeed, planning, inhibition, cognitive flexibility and task switching are key factors which are essential to attain a goal. They can affect a person’s intended behaviour and to achieve their intended goals. Yes, I think there are some other factors which will affect an individual from achieving their intended goals, for instance, personal experiences, family background and peers’ pressures. For the case of exercise, if a person has bad experiences from exercise, for example, he has injured badly while exercise previously, this may discourage him from exercising. On the other hand, if a person has a family background whereby all the family members like to exercise together, he or she may be influenced and like to exercise more often. This applies to the idea of peers’ pressure as well. If the person is surrounded by friends who are health conscious and like to exercise in a regular basis, he or she will tend to be influenced and will exercise more frequent.

  2. jrchong on

    I think the most important factor here is having the right mindset. I read several books long time ago by Tony Buzan who explained in very simple terms how the human mind works. The book explained many simple thinking steps we always overlook, many are tricks to so called ” over-write the brain”.

    Having the right mindset is very important for achieving your goals. How many times have we told ourselves ” I will eat less today “. This is the most common approach to tackle problems we have such as planning to lose weight. Strong executive control allows people to harness the mindset of eating less to achieve their final goal of losing weight.

    What happens to people with weaker executive control ?

    Like most of us would do. Eat !

    Our brain focuses on key phases and words we encounter or activities we do daily, using leothg blog post example of losing weight the main activity my mind would focus on EAT. Eating is something we enjoy most that’s the reason why our brains focuses on key activities.

    Simple means setting the mindset ” i want to eat less ” does not work best. People’s brain would focus on the EAT and most of us would lose control and continue eating.

    One simple method is set a positive mindset is simply to bypass the word of focus. Using power phases like ” i want to lead a healthy lifestyle” would increase the effectiveness of maintaining the right mindset.

    Try it out !

  3. rururu143 on

    I think this is an insightful article and the analysis referencing diet is interesting. I believe one has to possess an innate strong belief (on top of behavioural intentions) in their cause or the right state of mind in order to make their diet (or whatever task they decide to undertake) effective.
    The article contends that successful goal pursuits require additional processes such as suppression of goal-incongruent habits and thoughts, inhibition of distracting information, and maintenance of goal relevant thoughts and behaviours over time. One who do not efficiently control and utilise these additional processes will be less likely to perform intended actions.

    Relating back to the diet/vegetarian issue, regardless of the If-Then analysis or intention-behaviour gap, if one do not exercise discipline in those processes, he or she will detract from their goal by the slightest de-motivational action/words/thoughts.

    One example where one may be swayed in their pursuits to achieving those goals: Some people claims to be vegetarian (they have all intention to be one), but all they need is for someone to tell them alternative views such as life is too short to miss out, and being vegetarian is a big missed steak (mistake), and they just may succumb.

    Its quite the same with quitting to smoke. An ‘ex-smoker’ may not be determined enough in his quest to quit. The slightest issue prompts a relapse, and this is attributed to a lack of executive control.

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