Applied lessons from the neuroscience of goals and behavior change

Our latest paper, in Consulting Psychology Journal, summarizes some practical lessons about goals, behavior change, and self-regulation that we’ve learned from neuroscience research. Read more below!


The ways that people set, pursue, and eventually succeed or fail in accomplishing their goals are central issues for consulting psychology. Goals and behavior change have long been the subject of empirical investigation in psychology, and have been adopted with enthusiasm by the cognitive and social neurosciences in the last few decades. Though relatively new, neuroscientific discoveries have substantially furthered the scientific understanding of goals and behavior change. This article reviews the emerging brain science on goals and behavior change, with particular emphasis on its relevance to consulting psychology. I begin by articulating a framework that parses behavior change into two dimensions, one motivational (the will) and the other cognitive (the way). A notable feature of complex behaviors is that they typically require both. Accordingly, I review neuroscience studies on cognitive factors, such as executive function, and motivational factors, such as reward learning and self-relevance, that contribute to goal attainment. Each section concludes with a summary of the practical lessons learned from neuroscience that are relevant to consulting psychology.

Citation info:

Berkman, E.T. (in press). The neuroscience of goals and behavior change: Lessons learned for consulting psychology. Consulting Psychology Journal. [pdf]

About Elliot Berkman

Associate Professor of Psychology at the University of Oregon Director of the Social and Affective Neuroscience Lab Associate Director of the Center for Translational Neuroscience
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