AbstractTask-oriented activities are preceded by a phase in which people approach the activities physically or temporally. In this paper, we suggest that the psychological effects of this progression are often marked by a discontinuity. In particular, we show that incidental cues in the task context — cues that are not diagnostic of task-related progress — can serve as a virtual boundary of the task system and define the perceived start of the task experience. Once this boundary is crossed, people adopt an in-system mindset that leads to greater commitment to the task. This mindset also results in an overall increase in optimism and action orientation even in other unrelated judgment scenarios. Further, we demonstrate that these effects are attenuated if people's initial commitment towards the activity is already elevated after encountering a preceding incidental cue, or when they become habituated to the cue over time.
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Zhao, Min, Leonard Lee, and Dilip Soman. "Crossing the Virtual Boundary: The Effects of Incidental Cues on Task Accomplishment." Psychological Science 23, no. 10 (October 2012): 1200-1207.