Critique of a Research Study

The identified article, “I Don’t” versus “I Can’t”: When Empowered Refusal Motivates Goal-Directed Behavior” is designed to give an insight on the language used by people, its impact on their choices, and describe ways it impedes or enhances goal-directed behavior. The landmark paper by Patrick and Hagtvedt (2012) attempts to understand the emergence of the human understanding of the way the language of thoughts affects their behavior. The research specifically explores the impact of the logistic element of self-talk and focuses on the use of the refusal terms “I don’t” versus “I can’t” to resist temptation or motivate goal-directed behavior. In particular, the researchers investigate whether the phrasing “I don’t” has more power as compared to the phrasing “I can’t” when an individual is trying to resist temptation and follow through with their goal-motivated behavior. Thus, the authors theorized that utilizing the “I don’t” phrase connotes a firm attitude and the personal willingness to strictly follow the decision. However, using the “I can’t” phrase, connotes an external focus, with a lesser feeling of empowerment and hindrance of self-regulatory goal pursuit.

Presentation of Background Information

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In research, background information identifies and describes the origin of the research problem in references to existing literature. The background information provides a conceptual framework of the problem being research, appropriate theory, research, practice, scope, and the extent to which the existing studies have explored the problem. It also identifies existing gaps that the current study should attempt to address. Notably, background information is based on the main points highlighted at the beginning of the paper, but should not be the focus. Rather, it should support the research question, highlight previous knowledge to provide a basic understanding of the research problem being investigated. 

Consistently, Patrick and Hagtvedt (2012) present a well-balanced summary of the current knowledge on intentional language. Specifically, the authors explore the distractions and temptations that often sway consumers from their desired goals. Existing research focused on the social, psychological, and individual differences as some of the factors that influence temptations and distractions. However, the current research is the first to investigate the element of self-talk and the impact of actual words used on consumers when resisting temptation and pursuing goal-motivated behavior. Further along, the authors explore the barriers to the pursuit of goals, examining the factors attributed to goal achievement or hindrance. According to Patrick and Hagtvedt, previous research has identified several strategies that individuals use to attain their goals successfully. Exploring the linguistic framing, past studies show every thought is associated with language. Viewed from this perspective, it means that verbal framing has far-reaching influence on the behavior of the consumers. Considerable research has focused on the role of message frame in the persuasion process with a broader bias on the various types of frames that are logically equivalent. Recent research has also focused on the effect of words that are not equivalent but similar and often used interchangeably. 

Ultimately, although the authors focus to determine the empowerment of the “I don’t” phrasing over the “I can’t” phrasing, the difference in the applicability of the supporting literature is clearly denoted. Precisely, the authors critically and independently present information from several scientific literature materials and avoid treatments that may be potentially harmful to the validity and reliability of the study.

Research Methods

In research, there are two ways to categorize research designs; experimental and non-experimental research. In experimental research, the researchers have a clear hypothesis, and research purpose is to confirm or rebut the validity of the hypothesis (Bleske-Rechek, Morrison, & Heidtke, 2015). In this particular research design, the purpose is to manipulate the variables to identify causation. The research is conducted in a laboratory with the group being manipulated placed on the experimental group and the other in the placebo group or inert position. On the other hand, non-experimental research design does not involve manipulation of variables and is carried out in the natural settings. In order establish a correlation, the researcher should be able to observe and describe the results. Unlike the experimental research design, this one does not have a control group, which means the researcher cannot ascertain the direct influence of the variable studied. In the particular article, Patrick and Hagtvedt (2012) used the experimental research design where they conducted multiple experiments on the one hundred and twenty undergraduates. The primary purpose of the study was to investigate the effect of the “I don’t” versus “I can’t” framing on actual choice of tempting items. The secondary purpose was to demonstrate that the effect was only visible in individuals who had healthy eating as their relevant goal. 

Qualitative research is exploratory research used to investigate a research problem and provide insights into the problem to help develop ideas or hypotheses for quantitative research. Usually, in qualitative research, unstructured or semi-structured methods are used to gain an understanding of the research problem (McCusker & Gunaydin, 2015). On the other hand, quantitative research uses numerical data to quantify the problem and can be transferred into important statistics. The research approach uses measurable data to uncover research patterns and design facts. Data collection methods are more structured and in the form of surveys, online polls, and systematic observations among others.  Patrick and Hagtvedt used both qualitative and quantitative approaches to carry out the research successfully. The qualitative research was used to explore how the participants felt about using the ‘I don’t eat, and I can’t eat X” strategy to achieve their goals. The research also used quantitative research approach through a more structured sampling method in the form of questionnaires. For instance, in Study 1 the participants received different questionnaires and expected to mark discreetly each question as they turned it in. In study 2A, the researchers used a Qualtrics interface and utilized a self-selection and professional survey recruitment to get the participants. 

Sample Size, Variables, Measures, Statistical tests, Coding and Analysis Procedures

In study 1, the sample size was one hundred and twenty undergraduates who participated in the “don’t” versus “can’t” framing on the choice of resisting the temptation of a particular item. The researchers used the questionnaires sampling method. In study 2A, there were one hundred, and seventy-nine adults picked randomly using self-selected and professional survey via a Qualtrics interface. In study 2B, the study used one hundred and twenty undergraduates to test the empowerment of “I don’t” versus “I can’t” on an internal focus condition. The last study was a field experiment that considered thirty working women who attended a health and wellness seminar organized by the authors. In all the studies, the authors used the ANOVA refusal framing to investigate the evidence of empowerment in “I don’t” and “I can’t” framing. The authors also used regression analysis to identify the effect of refusal framing on the effectiveness index. Generally, the procedures selected by the authors were appropriate for the study. 

Ethical Aspects

In any research involving human or animal participants, there are ethical implications. By definition, ethics are norms or standards of conduct that determine between right and wrong, or acceptable and unacceptable behavior. In research, ethical considerations are critical to avoid falsifying of data, encourage accountability, ensure trust, respect the participants, and uphold privacy and confidentiality of information gathered (Sanjari, Bahramnezhad, & Fomani, 2014). Unfortunately, for the researchers, they did not address any ethical issues. Participants’ safety and confidentiality were not protected in the entire data collection procedure. Additionally, although there were practices that were ethically questionable, they were not explicitly pronounced. For instance, the thirty women who signed up for a wellness and health seminar organized by the authors may have been coerced to participate in the study as a payback for the seminar. 


The researchers conducted multiple experiments to test the refusal framing and the psychological empowerment using the “I don’t” versus the “I can’t” framing. In the first study, the results correlated with their hypothesis that the empowerment of a refusal frame determines the effectiveness of goal-directed behavior. The set of the studies supported the theory of the effectiveness of the “don’t” frame over the “can’t” frame as a resisting strategy. The study also found that in the external force, the “can’t” frame was more effective as compared to the “don’t” frame. Notably, the authors impeccably separated the interpretations and conclusions from the result analysis, which made it easy to understand the results and conclusions.

Critique of the Conclusions

Essentially, the conclusion is designed to help readers understand the reasons why the research is of importance to them. A conclusion represents a synthesis of the main points covered with recommendations for future research. Definitely, the conclusions of the research follow logically from the results analysis. The study is clear, logical, and information presented in conclusion is drawn from the results analysis. On the overall efficacy of the research, the study has both strengths and weaknesses. The fact that the authors did not observe any ethical implications makes it a great weakness. On the strengths, the research relied on several studies to determine the empowerment of the “I don’t” versus “I can’t” framing. Considering the large sample size, this made it possible to accurately represent the population and investigate the causal relationship between “I don’t” and “I can’t” framing. 

The design and implementation were well carried out and thorough, although it did not address any ethical concerns. The authors identified the limitations of the study such as failure to address the efficacy of the “I can’t” frame in external focus. Another limitation is that the “don’t” frame invokes a permanent internal state, which failed to align with a particular external cause. The issue of empowerment and the use of “don’t” to lead to goal pursuit and persistence were also not addressed exhaustively. Among the recommendations by the authors for future research, it would be interesting to identify and map out the wide variety of influence that arises from verbal framing and use of language. The research would help understand the impact of the conversation between consumers and marketers. It would provide a better insight into why some products and adverts perform well in research but fail when launched in the marketplace. 


Bleske-Rechek, A., Morrison, K. M., & Heidtke, L. D. (2015). Causal Inference from Descriptions of Experimental and Non-Experimental Research: Public Understanding of Correlation-Versus-Causation. The Journal of General Psychology, 142(1), 48-70.

McCusker, K., & Gunaydin, S. (2015). Research using qualitative, quantitative or mixed methods and choice based on the research. Perfusion, 30(7), 537-542.

Patrick, V. M., & Hagtvedt, H. (2012). “I don’t” versus “I can’t”: When empowered refusal motivates goal-directed behavior. Journal of Consumer Research, 39(2), 371-381.Sanjari, M., Bahramnezhad, F., Fomani, F. K., Shoghi, M., & Cheraghi, M. A. (2014). Ethical challenges of researchers in qualitative studies: the necessity to develop a specific guideline. Journal of Medical Ethics and History of Medicine, 7(14), 1-6.

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