Stability and Change in Self-Defining Goals

Time and Location
Saturday May 24, 2008, 9:00 AM - 10:20 AM
Chicago 6


This symposium focuses on goal stability and change. Kruglanski discusses how high magnitude goals, even if implicit, can override low magnitude, focal, goals. Koo discusses how perceived commitment and lack of progress enhance actual commitment. Carroll discusses the transfer of commitment between possible selves. Higgins suggests implications and future directions.

Patrick Carroll (Chair)
The Ohio State University

Aaron M. Sackett (Co-Chair)
University of Chicago

Arie W. Kruglanski
University of Maryland, College Park
The Vicissitudes of Goal Activation: Implicit Goal Effects on Self Regulation
The conception of goals as knowledge structures (Kruglanski, 1996) suggests that they are subject to the vagaries of activation just as are other knowledge structures. From this perspective, goals can be chronically or momentarily activated and, in turn, appropriately guide goal relevant activities. In this paper, we review evidence that momentary goal activation can be implicit and that it unconsciously affects individual behavior. We also consider evidence that goal magnitude matters and that successful self regulation requires higher magnitude goals to override low magnitude goals. Our experiments show that high magnitude goals, even if implicit and outside of actors’ awareness, may override the impact of focal, conscious goals, in affecting individuals’ preferences and activity choices. In such cases individuals’ perceptions tend to be distorted, and they view activities as instrumental to their focal goals just because they are instrumental to their implicit (and unrelated) background goals.

Catalina Kopetz , University of Maryland, College Park

Minjung Koo
The University of Chicago
Dynamics of Self-Regulation: How (Un)Accomplished Goal Actions Affect Motivation
Two factors increase the motivation to adhere to a goal: goal commitment and lack of goal progress. When people ask about commitment, focusing on what they have accomplished (to date) signals to them high commitment and increases motivation. Conversely, when commitment is certain and people ask about goal progress, focusing on what they have yet to accomplish (to go) signals to them lack of progress and increases motivation. Accordingly, four studies show that emphasizing to-date information increases goal adherence when commitment is uncertain¾that is, when participants study for a relatively unimportant exam, consume luxuries, fulfill a desire, and make first-time contributions to a charity. Conversely, emphasizing to-go information increases goal adherence when commitment is certain¾that is, when participants study for an important exam, consume necessities, fulfill a need, and make repeated contributions to a charity.

Ayelet Fishbach, The University of Chicago

Patrick Carroll
The Ohio State University
From Pipe Dreams to Promised Lands: The Passage of Commitment Between Possible Selves
People do not readily abandon or embrace possible selves in response to social feedback. Building from past work (Oettingen, 2000; Oettingen, Pak, Schittner, 2001), my colleagues and I have shown (Carroll, Shepperd, & Arkin, 2006; Carroll, 2007) that the revision of possible selves occurs when social feedback (positive and negative) clearly specifies the implications of a discrepancy between present and desired standing into the ultimate likelihood of the desired self relative to undesired selves. The current investigation tested two hypotheses regarding the effects that changes in commitment to threatened possible selves have on changes in commitment to new possible selves. Hypothesis One predicted that specified threats would precipitate elevations in commitment to a new possible self as people abandon commitment to an old possible self. Hypothesis Two predicted that declines in commitment to the old possible self would mediate the effect of threat on ultimate commitment to the new possible self. Results confirmed both predictions. This presentation will close by considering the conceptual and therapeutic implications of this work.

James Shah (Discussant)
Duke University

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Psychology as a Hub Science - John T. Cacioppo