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The mental representation of true and false intentions: a comparison of schema-consistent and schema-inconsistent tasks

Journal article
Authors Sofia Calderon
Karl Ask
Erik Mac Giolla
Pär-Anders Granhag
Published in Cognitive Research: Principles and Implications
Volume 4
Issue 29
ISSN 2365-7464
Publication year 2019
Published at Department of Psychology
Language en
Keywords Construal level theory, Action identification theory, True and false intentions, Mental representation
Subject categories Psychology


True and false intentions (i.e., lies and truths about one’s future actions) is a relatively new research topic, despite the high societal value of being able to predict future criminal behavior (e.g., in the case of an alleged terrorist attack). The current study examined how true and false intentions are mentally represented - the knowledge of which can aid the development of new deception detection methods. Participants (N = 151) were asked either to form a true intention about a future task (i.e., retrieve objects from an office) or to form a false intention about the same task (i.e., prepare a cover story about retrieving objects from an office) to conceal their actual intention (i.e., leave a secret note in the office). The schema consistency of the task was manipulated by presenting participants with a list of office supplies (schemaconsistent) or random objects (schema-inconsistent) to be retrieved from the office. The abstractness of mental construal was operationalized as the number of categories used by participants to organize the task-relevant objects into thematic groups. We predicted, based on construal level theory (CLT) and action identification theory, that participants would mentally represent true intentions more concretely (i.e., use a larger number of categories) than false intentions, particularly for schema-inconsistent (versus schema-consistent) future tasks. The results of the study lend no support for these predictions. Instead, a Bayesian analysis revealed strong evidence in favor of the null hypothesis. The findings indicate that predictions from CLT do not readily translate into deception contexts. The results are discussed in light of recent failed attempts to apply CLT to research on true and false intentions, and highlight the need for alternative approaches to the topic.

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