human affairs

In all human affairs there is always an end in view—of pleasure, or honor, or advantage.

—Polybius, 125 B.C.

Our plans miscarry because they have no aim. When a man does not know what harbor he is making for, no wind is the right wind.

—Seneca, 4 B.C.–65 A.D.

■ Whereas incentives are potential motivators, goals are actual ones. For example, a goal of reading this chapter can be to find and understand the answers to the following questions:

1. Where do people’s goals originate?

2. What goal characteristics are important for motivation?

3. What factors determine whether a goal should be pursued?

4. How do goals motivate behavior?

5. How are goals achieved, and what happens when they are not?

Origins of Goals “Skating takes up 70% of my time,” Michelle says. “School about 25%. Having fun and talking to my friends 5%. It’s hard. I envy other kids a lot of things, but I get a guilt trip when I’m not training” (Swift, 1998, p. 117). These are the words of Michelle Kwan, whose goal was to win a gold medal in the 1998 winter Olympics. To achieve this goal she divided her time as described above. In addition, she never took a day off, skated when tired, took no vacations, and even skated on Christmas day. She has also skated with a sore throat, runny nose, flu, and chicken pox. Michelle even turned down her father’s offer of $50 for every day she did not skate. She is a person totally committed to her goal. (Swift, 1998, p. 118)

The purpose of this section is to describe how goals differ from incentives and the various sources that give rise to goals.

Incentives versus Goals There are many similarities between incentive motivation (discussed in the last chapter) and goal motivation. There are also differences.




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Differentiating Characteristics. When faced with choices on how to spend time and effort to obtain an outcome or incentive, the outcome or incentive that is chosen becomes the goal (Klinger, 1977). For example, Michelle Kwan’s goal was to become an Olympic skater rather than to become a successful water skier. There are other differences between incentive and goal motivation. First, goals are portrayed as larger and more important in scope than incentives. The goal of winning an Olympic gold medal, for example, also entails such aspects as personal achievement, worldwide recognition, and possibly product endorsements. Second, goals are usually more complex than incentives and have both positive and negative features to be approached and avoided, respectively. For example, in a risky investment, a person could earn a lot of money but she could also lose it. Third, goals involve the cognitive realm of motivation. A person cognitively evaluates the worth of a goal and the chances of achieving it and then formulates the necessary plans for doing so. Michelle, for instance, made long-range plans to try to achieve her goals (Swift, 1998). Fourth, a person’s goals are usually one-time events that will not be repeated. Incentives, in contrast, occur over and over. For example, the goal of a university degree happens once, while a monetary incentive occurs repeatedly in different situations. Fifth, incentives can serve as assists toward the achievement of a goal. For example, a profit-sharing incentive motivates sales personnel to achieve the company’s goal of the number of units sold for the year. Finally, it is also possible to have more than one goal. A person may work toward one goal and then shift direction and work toward another goal.

From Incentives to Goals. Consider the following alternatives facing a hypothetical student on a Saturday afternoon:

1. Wash dirty clothes. (Clean clothes have a great utility.) 2. Prepare for a psychology exam on Monday. (An A in this class is important for achiev-

ing a desired career in psychology.) 3. Decide whether to go to a party that evening and whom to ask as a date. (Enjoying

oneself and looking for a romantic partner are important to a sense of well-being.)

One task in the psychology of motivation is discovering what incentives people pur- sue (Karniol & Ross, 1996). In this example, what factors determine the incentives the stu- dent is going after: clean clothes, an A on Monday’s exam, or the party? If the student decides on clean clothes, then washing clothes becomes a goal. If the student decides on an A on the exam, then earning the A becomes a goal. If she decides on the party, then going to it becomes a goal. Which incentive is selected, however, depends on several factors. First, the value of an incentive affects whether it will be selected as a goal. Washing clothes competes with studying for the exam. Doing well on the exam may be more important than clean clothes, but since clean clothes are needed in a few hours and the exam is still two days away, clean clothes may have higher value. Second, all other things being equal, the incentive with the highest probability of success will be selected as a goal. The probabili- ties of getting a date, going alone, or staying home determine whether the student decides to go to the party. The time and effort to achieve a goal are also factors in the decision. If in- centives are valued equally, then the one requiring the least amount of time and effort is pur- sued (Hull, 1943; Tolman, 1932). Perhaps the student will choose to wash clothes, if that requires less time and effort than studying for the exam. Incentive value or utility, probability, and effort are all factors that interact to determine what incentive becomes a goal.


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A person persists in trying to achieve a goal, however, until one of three things has oc- curred: the goal has been achieved, the original goal has been displaced by another goal, or the goal has simply been abandoned (Atkinson & Birch, 1970; Klinger, 1977). A person can also be working on achieving one goal while at the same time be thinking or planning on how to achieve another.

Future Orientation of Goals. The seeming capacity of the future to motivate present behavior is a feature that goals share with incentives. This capacity is realized when a future positive goal is represented in the present as something a person is motivated to become or motivated to achieve. A negative goal, when visualized in the present, however, is to be avoided and represents what a person does not want to become. It is the current represen- tation of a goal that becomes the occasion for behavioral strategies designed to achieve or avoid it (Karniol & Ross, 1996).

How does a goal’s future location affect current motivation? To illustrate, assume that it has become the goal of your psychology department to require a comprehensive exam of all graduating psychology majors. Two positive features of this goal are that the exam is an opportunity for self-evaluation and for departmental evaluation. Two negative features are your distress and the possibility that you may do poorly. How much in favor are you of this comprehensive exam if it were given two or four semesters from now? Goals, like incentives, are affected by their distance in the future, as illustrated in Figure 11.1. The closer an indi- vidual comes to her goal, the stronger the motivation to approach its positive features and avoid its negative features (Markman & Brendl, 2000; Miller, 1959). When a long time away,

FIGURE 11.1 Goal-Approach and Goal-Avoidance Tendencies. The tendency to approach posi- tive goal features and to avoid negative features increases as a goal draws closer. Changes in the strength of an approach tendency are slower than changes in an avoidance tendency. At distant inter- vals, the approach tendency is stronger, while at nearer intervals, the avoidance tendency is stronger.


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the approach tendency is stronger, but as the goal gets nearer, the avoidance tendency is stronger. In the case of the comprehensive exam, a student supports taking the exam when it is four semesters away because the approach features of this goal are strongest. When the exam is two semesters away, however, a student does not support the goal because now the avoidance features are strongest.

Changes in a goal’s motivational strength vary with time to the goal as a result of delay discounting (Chapter 10). Shelley (1994) demonstrated that losses or negative fea- tures of a goal are discounted more steeply than are gains or positive features. This differ- ence in discount rate explains why the avoidance curve in Figure 11.1 is steeper than the approach curve. Negative goal features are less motivating than positive features far from the goal, but they are more motivating nearer the goal. In the comprehensive exam exam- ple, when it is four semesters away, the negative features of the exam are discounted more than its positive features. When two semesters away, however, the negative features are discounted less than the positive features.

Sources of Goals Goals motivate behavior because people strive to achieve them. One question for students of motivation concerns the origin of goals. Where do goals come from?

Levels of Aspiration. This refers to a person’s desire to excel, to do better the next time, or to do better than others (Rotter, 1942). Research on the level of aspiration describes people’s desires to strive for goals that exceed their current levels (Lewin et al., 1944). It is that part of our human nature that drives us to want more or to improve, not want less or get worse. Setting and pursuing goals is one way to achieve this. For instance, a promotion and raise in salary are likely to be goals while a demotion and cut in salary are unlikely to be.

Association of Goals with Affect. Asking someone for a date may result in either hap- piness if the person accepts or disappointment if not. In this example, the goal of getting a date may arise from its association with affect, which is the subjective tone of an emotion. Affect can be a positive, pleasant feeling or a negative, unpleasant feeling. Goals producing positive affect are approached, while those producing negative affect are avoided. The idea that goals are associated with affect can be traced back to the ideas of Thomas Hobbes in his book Human Nature (1640/1962). In modern terminology, Hobbes would argue that peo- ple pursue as goals those things they anticipate will give pleasure and avoid as goals those things they anticipate will bring displeasure or pain. Troland (1928/1967) elaborated this idea by claiming that the present anticipation of future pleasure is pleasant and the present anticipation of future pain is unpleasant. In this manner, present affect determines a future course of action. Modern psychologists also claim that goals are associated with positive or negative affect, which determines whether something is to be approached or avoided (Atkinson & Birch, 1970; Klinger, 1977; Mowrer, 1960; Pervin, 1989). Animal behavior theorists have also used affect to explain goal-approach and goal-avoidance behavior. According to Mowrer (1960) rats felt hope when in the presence of a stimulus that predicted food. They felt fear, however, in the presence of a stimulus that predicted shock. Positive af- fect like self-satisfaction and negative affect like self-dissatisfaction provide the motivation for personal accomplishments in humans (Bandura, 1991). Bandura and Cervone (1986)


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showed that self-dissatisfaction increased when goals were not met, whereas self-satisfaction increased when they were. Furthermore, greater self-dissatisfaction favored lowering future goals. Self-satisfaction gained from previous success, however, favored raising the level of future goals.

The emotions a person experiences from goal success or goal failure also determine goal- setting behavior, according to Weiner (1985). Success at achieving a goal produces happiness, whereas failure to achieve the goal is associated with sadness and frustration (Weiner, 1972). In some representative research, Weiner and Kukla (1970) had female student teachers rate what degree of pride and shame they would feel following feedback about various degrees of success on an exam. Feedback about their exam performance was categorized as excel- lent, fair, borderline, moderate failure, or clear failure. Ratings of pride depended on the amount of success feedback the students received. Pride was lowest for clear failure on the exam and highest for feedback signifying excellent performance. Shame ratings, however, showed the reverse pattern. Shame was highest for feedback indicating clear failure on the exam and lowest for feedback showing excellent performance. Thus, a person may strive to achieve a goal because its accomplishment is associated with pride. A person may avoid pur- suing a goal, however, because of the possibility that failure may bring shame.

Goals That Satisfy Needs. Some substances become goals because they satisfy physio- logical needs. Feelings of hunger and thirst, for instance, are the reasons that gaining food and water become goals. How does an individual know what substance satisfies a particu- lar physiological need? One idea is that the physiological need increases the attractiveness of the necessary substance but not of other substances. As Tolman (1959) expressed in his principle of purposive behavior, the subjective value, or valence, of a stimulus depends on the animal’s or person’s motivational or physiological state. Valence, in turn, determines psychological demand, how much a stimulus is wanted or desired (Tolman, 1932). Accord- ing to the valence concept, an incentive with the highest valence is selected as a goal, whereas those with a low or negative valence are avoided. Thus, for a hungry person food has a positive valence and becomes a goal, while watching television or reading a book has either a lower or a negative valence and is avoided.

A psychological need also influences the valence of the incentive that satisfies it. Attaining that incentive, therefore, becomes a goal. Chapter 8 described psychological needs such as for power and cognition. Goals satisfying these needs might include joining the po- lice force or becoming a crossword puzzle developer. There are also needs concerned with affiliation and intimacy. Goals satisfying these needs might include membership on a team or in an organization. Humans prefer to form close intimate relationships, to love and to be loved. In this case, the goal is to interact with individuals who can provide for this need. In addition, there are needs related to our sense of self-esteem, competence, and mastery. The actual process of achieving a goal helps satisfy these needs. As noted in Chapter 9, person- ality traits also determine what goals become important. The trait of conscientiousness, for example, may determine whether a person considers recycling to be a worthwhile goal. Finally, a person’s value system can determine her goals. If a person places a high ethical value on the lives of animals, then being a vegetarian may become a goal.

Goal Setting for Evaluating Self-Efficacy. Do you think you can make the grade, pass the inspection, or get the job done? Goals serve as a standard for evaluating one’s self-efficacy (Bandura, 1977, 1991). This is a person’s belief about how capable he is in performing the


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behavior necessary for achieving a specific goal. Self-efficacy is task specific, which means a person evaluates his capability of achieving the task at hand. For example, a pro- fessional musician might rate himself as having high self-efficacy for playing an instrument and low self-efficacy for working with a computer. Indications of success and failure at par- ticular tasks raise or lower self-efficacy, which in turn affects a person’s future achievement striving. Weinberg and associates (1979) compared high- and low-self-efficacy participants for their ability to perform a leg muscle endurance task. Low self-efficacy was created by telling participants they were competing against a varsity track athlete who had outper- formed the participant on a similar task. High self-efficacy was created by telling partici- pants they were competing against someone with a knee injury who had done poorly on a similar task. Measures of the participants’ self-efficacy were low when they compared themselves to the athlete and high when they compared themselves to the injured individ- ual. Furthermore, high-self-efficacy participants predicted better performance and also outperformed low-self-efficacy participants on the leg muscle endurance task.

Goal setting also allows for self-efficacy evaluations of cognitive tasks like problem solving. Cervone and Peake (1986) manipulated self-efficacy by asking participants if they could solve more than, equal to, or less than a standard number of anagrams. The standard was either a high or low number. As a rating of their self-efficacy, participants were asked how many anagrams they thought they were capable of solving. Participants exposed to the high standard gave higher self-efficacy ratings than participants exposed to the low stan- dard. Furthermore, during the anagram-solving task, high-self-efficacy participants per- sisted longer than low-self-efficacy participants. Thus, goal setting allows individuals to test their self-efficacy. Successes and failures can raise and lower self-efficacy, which in turn can raise and lower the motivation to achieve one’s goal.

Environmentally Activated Goals. Goals may become associated with stimuli present in the situation in which goal-achievement behavior occurs. If these associations happen frequently enough, then those stimuli may activate goals. Markman and Brendl (2000) pro- vide an example of a person who notices the picture of a check as part of an advertisement displayed in the window of a bank. The check activates the goal that the rent must be paid, which is achieved when the person arrives home. Murray (1938) had a similar idea when he hypothesized that psychological needs can be evoked by environmental demands (see Chapter 2). The possibility that goal-relevant stimuli can activate goals from memory was provided in an experiment by Patalano and Seifert (1997). In the learning phase, they presented participants with a set of goals and with relevant objects that could be used to ac- complish those goals. In the recall phase, participants were more likely to recall a goal when a relevant object was presented as a cue. For example, when Vaseline rather than masking tape was presented as a cue, participants were more likely to recall the goal: remove stuck ring from finger. Finally, as noted in Chapter 8, the process by which situational stimuli activate goals can occur without a person’s awareness (Bargh & Barndollar, 1996).

Other People as Sources for Goals. A person’s relationships with other people also de- termine his goals (Hollenbeck & Klein, 1987). According to social comparison theory, the level of the goal set by an individual is determined by his standing relative to members in the group (Lewin et al., 1944). For example, imagine a task in which some individuals per- form better than the group’s average, while others perform worse. In setting future goals, individuals who are above average tend to lower their performance goals, whereas those


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below average tend to raise theirs. As Locke and Latham (1990) note, the demands other individuals make on a person often become goals. Professors make demands on students. Coaches make demands on players. Children and parents make demands on one another. In addition, the goals of the group become the goals of the individual. To illustrate, the goal of the team is to win games, but this is also the goal of an individual player when she joins the team. In the case of a student, if the professor’s goal is to give an exam on Monday, then as a member of the class the student accepts that goal.

Section Recap Goal motivation refers to the ability of a desired end-state to move a person into action. The goal is the incentive a person is motivated to achieve. They are selected from an array of in- centives, depending on their scope, complexity, cognitive nature, and their likelihood of be- ing achieved. Goals are one-time accomplishments, although a person may have several concurrent goals. The motivational power of a goal decreases as its distance in the future in- creases due to discounting. Negative goal features are discounted more steeply than are pos- itive features. People’s level of aspiration, which refers to their desire to want more and do better, serve as the motivation to set goals that accomplish that. Goals originate from their as- sociation with positive or negative affect, which is the emotional feeling the anticipated goal produces. Positive affect leads to approaching the end-state, whereas negative affect leads to avoiding the end-state. Goals are the means for satisfying physiological and psychological needs. Obtaining food is the goal for satisfying hunger, and obtaining praise is the goal for satisfying a need for self-esteem. The valence of a goal determines how much it is psycho- logically demanded or wanted. Goals provide the opportunity for the evaluation of self- efficacy, which refers to one’s capability to perform the task at hand. Achieving a goal increases self-efficacy, while failing to achieve a goal decreases it. Stimuli can activate goals as a result of the repeated association between goal pursuit in situations that contain those stimuli. People are also sources of goals. For instance, in the case of social comparisons, the goal to which a person aspires depends on how his performance compares to other members of the group. In addition, the goal of the group is also the goal of the individual members.

Goal Characteristics and Expectations The purpose of this section is to examine various characteristics of goals. A goal motivates behavior consistent with the value of the goal and guides behavior according to the specificity of the goal. But before a person commits, a goal’s value and likelihood of being achieved are estimated along with whether the goal is framed as achieving a gain or avoiding a loss.

Characteristics of Goals Being bored may mean an individual is not working toward any goal at the moment. A goal, however, motivates an individual, produces goal-relevant thoughts, and guides behavior according to how precisely the goal is defined.

Goal Level and Goal Difficulty. People set goals for themselves at various levels. Goal level refers to the rank of a goal in a hierarchy of potential goals. Higher-level goals have higher value or valence, greater utility, and provide greater benefits compared to lower-level ones. One person may have a goal to walk five miles per week, while another individual


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plans to run 10 miles per week. One student may have a GPA goal of 3.50, while another is satisfied with a GPA just high enough to graduate. Goal level is associated with goal diffi- culty, which means that some goals are harder to achieve than others (Lee et al., 1989; Locke & Latham, 1990). “While high goals may be harder to reach than easy goals, in life they are usually associated with better outcomes” (Locke & Latham, 1990, p. 121). In other words, as the value of a goal increases, the difficulty of achieving it also increases. In an at- tempt to determine the relationship between goal level and outcomes, Mento and associates (1992) told participants to assume that as undergraduate students their goal was to achieve a GPA close to an A (4.00), B (3.00), or C (2.00). Next, participants were asked to rate what benefits their GPA goal would bring, such as pride, respect, and confidence; job benefits; scholarship and graduate school benefits; and life and career benefits. The results showed a strong relationship between the GPA goal level and benefit ratings. Higher GPA goals were associated with greater benefits. Matsui and associates (1981) had students perform a clerical aptitude test that involved detecting a discrepancy between two lists of numbers. The goal set for the students varied between easy and hard. Prior to working on the clerical task, students were asked to rate the expected valence (value) of their goals for achievement, self-confidence, competence, ability to concentrate, and persistence. The ratings showed that more difficult goals were rated as having higher valence and greater benefits.

Goal Specificity. How important is it for a person to be able to visualize a goal? Is it nec- essary for a student to visualize herself in her chosen career? One requirement of goal setting is that a person must be able to visualize the goal in some respect (Beach, 1990; Miller et al., 1960; Schank & Abelson, 1977). The clearer the image a person has of his goal, the better he will know if it has been achieved. “Vague goals make poor referent standards because there are many situations in which no discrepancy would be indicated and, therefore, there would be no need for corrective action” (Klein, 1989, p. 154). A goal with a vague image will more likely result in poorer performance, because feedback from a variety of behaviors may appear to have met the goal (Klein, 1989). In contrast is goal specificity, which is an important part of the goal-achievement process. It refers to how precise the goal is in contrast to how vague or unspecified it is (Lee et al., 1989; Locke & Latham, 1990). For example, during one minute, list 4, 7, or 12 uses for a coat hanger or as many uses as you can (Mento et al., 1992). Listing 4, 7, or 12 uses is a specific goal, while “as many uses as you can” is a vague goal. In the former case, a person can determine whether the specific goal was met, while it is very difficult to determine whether the vague do-your-best goal was met.

An additional benefit of goal specificity is that it increases planning (Locke & Latham, 1990), as demonstrated by Earley and associates (1987). In their experiment, par- ticipants had to present an argument in favor of a certain advertising medium for various products ranging from household goods to business computers. In the do-your-best condi- tion, participants had to present as many arguments as they could in 60 minutes. The goal for these participants was vague, since they did not know when they had done their best. In the assigned goal condition, participants had to present a minimum of four arguments per advertising medium. The goal for these participants was specific. They knew precisely if they had met their goal. Following the completion of the task, the experimenter asked how much planning and energy participants had expended. The results showed that participants with assigned specific goals spent more time planning and expended more effort than participants who were given vague do-your-best goals.


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