Society's emphasis on action over inaction may lead to unforeseen consequences

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Washington, September 5 : While people often emphasize the importance of action over inaction, University of Illinois researchers say that this trend may lead to unforeseen consequences.

"Our research highlights how the pressures of society to be active may produce fairly unregulated behavior," said study leader Dolores Albarrac¡n, a professor of psychology.

The findings appearing in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology may prove helpful in understanding how common words used in everyday life may influence conditions like attention deficit hyperactivity disorder and bipolar disorder, says the researcher.

Though such conditions have genetic roots, the researchers insist that there is a need to understand the social and cultural factors that can exacerbate them.

For their study, subjected participants to different sets of word primes, and asked them to perform a task that ranged from doodling to eating, and in some cases, learning new information.

In two of the studies, the subjects could choose to do none of the tasks and instead rest.

Albarrac¡n says that the study showed that the subjects primed with an action word were more likely to choose active tasks.

The researchers also found that the same stimulus triggered a diverse array of tasks that were normally not seen together, such as eating, learning and doodling.

In one lab setting, the active word prime enhanced learning, but in a different context the same stimulus encouraged participants to doodle or eat.

"What you actually end up promoting is a very general message to be active. You can be active by exercising or learning, but you can also be active by driving fast or taking drugs. That is the danger of a global message to be active," Albarrac¡n said.

The studies suggest that it is important to provide more specific cues about how to be active, and rings a note of caution about how children are educated, Albarrac¡n said.

"If you think about the number of activities that kids are engaged in these days - going to school, playing the piano, etc. - to what extent is this pattern desirable? Are you conveying that specific activities are valuable or that being busy and active all the time is what you are supposed to be doing?" Albarrac¡n said.

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