How Images and Imagination Can Effect Productivity


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Throughout the entire semester, Andrew has been giving advice on productivity and time management. His recurring suggestion, not procrastinating, obviously is sound advice, but with the end of the semester drawing to a close, it is getting more difficult to keep up effective routines. For example, I have noticed that I keep interrupting my work to get a salty, sugary, or carb-y snack. This pattern reoccurs at the end of all my past semesters; it is like an addiction.   To justify taking a break, I get unhealthy food. NOT OK. Also, I find myself staring into space daydreaming about finals being over and having holiday fun at home.  I justify day dreaming as being motivation, but is it really just a waste of time?  For this blog post, I will initially look at research on breaking food habits to try to stop my snack-procrastination-scheme.  Then, I will look into daydream research to see if it is beneficial to my productivity or not.  Overall, I hope learn what will help me stay most successful and productive for the end of the semester.


I found one study that investigated if priming could change unhealthy eating habits. In the article,”Exposure to diet priming images as cues to reduce the influence of unhealthy eating habits” the sample size consisted of 139 girls who wanted to snack less. The experimental group was shown an image of a healthy and attractive person.  The idea is that viewing an image of an ideal and desired body type will prevent participants from eating unhealthy, which would cause participants to not look as healthy as the attractive women in the picture. Meanwhile, the control group was showed a picture of an animal.  Since no one (hopefully) believes that eating healthier will help them look like an animal, the picture is considered neutral and should not influence eating habits.  By having the control go through a similar process as the experimental group, this group also helps limit confounding variables that could effect the results.  Overall, the results found that the experimental group was less likely to eat junky snacks as oppose to the control.  Therefore, the image of the healthy person helped break unhealthy snacking habits.


gigi-hadid-bikini-figure              squirrel

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Does this mean I should start looking at pictures of super models, ultra-athletic women, or famous, pretty people anytime I want a snack? I am not sure. The study was relatively small and did not mention if the women in the experimental group actually lost any weight over a period of time. The motivation behind wanting to snack less could be a confounding variable.  Even though the women all wanted to limit snacking, maybe the people in the experimental group had specific weight loss goals, and therefore, were more motivated to avoid snacking after looking at a thin person.  The  participants in the control group might have wanted to snack less to avoid procrastination (like me!) and might have felt more inclined to look at a cute animal picture to avoid work.  Personally, I think that this method might just waste time and cause me to feel bad about my own physical appearance. With that being said, if I have more difficulties with nixing my junk food- procrastination scheme, I might give priming a shot.


After reading those results, I continued thinking about the potential power of images. In addition to eating junk food as a form of procrastination, I also daydream a lot when I have been studying many hours.  For example, I will start to image the assignment completed in a timely fashion, getting an A on it, and being able to work ahead on other assignments.  Suddenly, it is 15 minutes later before I snap out of my day dream.  According the previously  mentioned study, images of the end – goal (the healthy person) can change behavior.  So I was wondering if day dreaming about an ideal future will help me change study habits and work smarter rather than being a waste of time.  In the article  “Positive fantasies about idealized future zap energy” ,  the third study mentioned in the article investigated this question of imagination and performance.   In this study, 40 participants were randomly assigned to either the experimental group, where the group was asked to imagine a successful week, or a control group, which was not instructed to imagine an ideal week.  To my surprise, the researchers found that those who daydreamed where less energized/motivated to complete the tasks necessary to achieve a successful week. Even though the experimental group felt less nervous about the upcoming to-dos of the week than the control, the experimental group had less successful weeks.


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As per usual, my concern with this study is the small sample size. Despite the size, this study still raises a lot of questions regarding the previous study. If the priming images helped those participants achieve a goal by eating less, then why does visualizing an ideal week not help people stay motivated to achieve their goal?

Maybe the priming images are harsher than the happy daydreams and therefore more effective? When I look at a super model, I know that I do not look like them, and there is no lying to myself. On the other hand, when I am daydreaming, I confidently imagining myself in some fictional state. Therefore, I have a false sense of success and security when I am daydreaming.  Rather, when comparing myself to a healthy person, I have to confront the sometimes cold but honest truth.

Furthermore, maybe the priming study works because looking a picture of a healthy person is quick and directly relates to diet.  Meanwhile, daydreaming can waste a lot of time and does not relate directly to one specific behavior regarding productivity.

Since both of these methods seem time consuming and potentially dangerous to my self-esteem, I think my motivation for the semester will be to try to think about only one assignment or task at a time. I will have to see if that works. Wish me luck!

-Taylor Lender,%20H.,%20&%20Oettingen,%20G.%20(2011).%20JESP.pdf

3 thoughts on “How Images and Imagination Can Effect Productivity

  1. Alexandra Kaminsky

    I used to swim in high school and my mom would always tell me imagine myself chasing something so I would swim faster. Like Brett said in his comment, i believed it was true because I never researched the topic before.I agree with you, the study’s sample size is rather small. Perhaps a larger sample size with different soft/hard endpoints would be better. Also, have you ever wondered if colors could be the mechanism in the productivity of the images?

  2. Anthony Mitchell

    I completely agree with your piece. I saw myself in it when you said you noticed that you keep interrupting youwork to get a salty, sugary, or carby snacks. i was like, “Why is Taylor so accurate?!” (haha) But seriously, I appreciate that someone is speaking on the difficulty of maintaining what was a stable routine with final presentations, papers, assignments, BLOGS, etc. due and seemingly less time to do it all. The sample size isn’t as big of a problem as the congruence of this study with others like it. Let’s play around with something you touched on briefly, which was imagination and imagery. Stretching that a bit to imagination in higher education and getting a picture of what that looks like. Maybe this can help frame what I’m trying to get at:

  3. Brett Alan Merritt

    My coach used to tell my team to imagine doing the drill perfectly over and over and over again and eventually it will help us do it perfectly. I believed it to be true, although I had no real evidence. I think the work week study may have those results just due to chance. It could be that the group who imagined the good work week are just less productive people than the people in the other group.

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