Multiple Paths Toward Goals Can Motivate, then Derail Success

Szu-Chi Huang

Szu-Chi Huang

Goal motivation changes as people move closer to their target, according to Stanford’s Szu-chi Huang and Ying Zhang of University of Texas, who built on Heinz Heckhausen’s Action-Phase Model.

Ying Zhang

Ying Zhang

In the first stages of effort, multiple paths toward the goal makes the target seem attainable, noted Huang and Zhang.

Albert Bandura

Albert Bandura

This perception of “self-efficacy,” belief in their ability to achieve a goal by applying effort and persistence, provides motivation to continue goal striving and reduce emotional arousal, reported Stanford’s Albert Bandura.

Clark Hull

Clark Hull

In contrast, when people are close to achieving a goal, a single goal path provides greater motivation, consistent with Clark Hull’s Goal Gradient Theory that motivation increases closer to the goal.

Sheena Iyengar

Sheena Iyengar

A single route to the finish reduces “cognitive load” of considering alternate “hows,” suggested Huang and Zhang.
This research supports Sheena Iyengar and Mark Lepper’s finding that “more choice is not always better.

Peter Gollwitzer

Peter Gollwitzer

These stages of goal pursuit are characterized by differing mindsets: “Deliberative Mindset” when considering work toward a goal contrasted with “Implemention Mindset” when planning execution steps to achieve a goal, according to NYU’s Peter Gollwitzer, Heinz Heckhausen, and Birgit Steller of University of Heidelberg.

Huang, a former account director at advertising giant JWT, evaluated customer loyalty behaviors to achieve incentive goals.
In one study, she issued two versions of an invitation to join a coffee-shop loyalty program.

Half of the participants were given a “quick start” to earning 12 stamps required to earn a free coffee by providing them with the first six when they began.
Half of these “head start” volunteers had multiple ways to earn additional reward stamps:  Buying coffee, tea or any other drink.
More than 25% of this multi-option/head start group joined the loyalty program.

The other half of the quick start volunteers could earn more stamps in only one way:  Buying a beverage.
In contrast, significantly more of the customers with a single option joined the loyalty program.

Remaining participants were the comparison group, and received no stamps.
Like the head start group, half these customers could earn more stamps in several ways and more than 1/3 registered for the loyalty program.
The remaining participants had the single option of purchasing more beverages, and registered significantly less frequently for the loyalty program.

This difference between goal pursuit behaviors when close to a consumer goal may apply to personally-meaningful goals like pursuing fitness, weight reduction, smoking cessation, and confident public speaking.

Motivation toward a goal is also determined by:

  • Goal value, related to “high level construal,” and “low level construal,
  • Expectancy of success, based on probability, difficulty, sufficiency, necessity,
Nira Liberman

Nira Liberman

argued Tel Aviv Universitys Nira Liberman and Jens Förster of Jacobs University of Bremen and Universiteit van Amsterdam.

Jens Förster

Jens Förster

Likewise, Huang and Zhang demonstrated the motivational impact of choice.
They compared the number of yoghurt shop customers who reached the incentive target when participants were required purchase six flavors in a specific order compared with any order they chose.

Volunteers with fewer choices were more likely to achieve the incentive goal, earning a free yoghurt.
“…relatively rigid structures can often simplify goal pursuit by removing the need to make choices, especially when people are already well into the process,” explained Huang.

A practical application is that nonprofits are likely to benefit from changing giving options when a fund-raising target is nearly met.
At that time, fewer and simpler ways to donate are likely to result in more participation in the campaign.

-*How do you maintain motivation when you are close to achieving a goal?

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©Kathryn Welds

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Anxiety Undermines Negotiation Performance

Maurice Schweitzer

Maurice Schweitzer

Anxious negotiators make lower first offers, exit earlier, and earn lower profits  due to their “low self-efficacy” beliefs, according to Harvard’s Alison Wood Brooks and Maurice E. Schweitzer of University of Pennsylvania,

Alison Wood Brooks

Alison Wood Brooks

Brooks and Schweitzer induced anxious feelings or neutral reactions during continuous “shrinking-pie” negotiation tasks.
Compared with negotiators experiencing neutral feelings, negotiators who feel anxious typically expect to achieve lower profits, present more cautious offers, and respond more cautiously to propositions presented by negotiation counterparts.

Negotiators who achieved more effective bargaining outcomes managed emotions with cognitive strategies including:

Julie Norem

Julie Norem

  • Strategic optimism, indicated by expecting positive outcomes without anxiety or detailed reflection, according to University of Miami’s Stacie Spencer and Julie Norem of Wellesley,
  • Reattribution, by considering alternate interpretations of events to increase optimism and self-efficacy beliefs.

Cognitive strategies with both performance benefits and liabilities include:

  • Andrew Elliot

    Andrew Elliot

    Self-handicapping, avoiding anxiety-provoking situations, and creating self-defeating obstacles to explain poor outcomes and preserve self-esteem, according to University of Rochester’s Andrew Elliott and Marcy Church of St. Mary’s University,

  • Defensive pessimism, marked by high motivation toward achievement coupled with negative expectations for future challenges, leading to increased effort and preparation, according to Wellesley College’s Julie Norem and Edward Chang of University of Michigan.
Edward Chang

Edward Chang

Norem and Cantor concluded that defensive pessimists performed worse when “encouraged by telling them that that based on their academic performance, they should expect to perform well on anagram and puzzle tasks.

Among university students, defensive pessimism was related to lower self-esteem, self-criticism, pessimism, and discounting previous successful performances when they began university studies, according to Norem and Brown’s Jasmina Burdzovic Andreas.

Jasmina Burdzovic Andreas

Jasmina Burdzovic Andreas

However, their longitudinal study demonstrated that self-esteem increased to almost the same levels as optimists during their four years of university study.
Pessimists’ precautionary countermeasures may have resulted in strong performance, which built credible self-esteem.

Defensive pessimism’s positive performance outcomes suggest that this cognitive strategy is an effective, if uncomfortable, approach to managing anxiety and performance motivation.

-*How do you manage anxiety in high-stakes negotiations?

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©Kathryn Welds

Are You Excited Yet? Anxiety as Positive “Excitement” to Improve Performance

Alison Wood Brooks

Alison Wood Brooks

People can improve task performance in public speaking, mathematical problem solving, and karaoke singing, by reappraising anxiety as “excitement,” according to Harvard’s Alison Wood Brooks.

Using silent self-talk messages (“I am excited”) or reading self-direction messages (“Get excited!”) fosters an “opportunity mind-set” by increasing “congruence” between physical arousal and situational appraisal.

Jeremy Jamieson

“Excitement” is typically viewed as a positive, pleasant emotion that can improve performance, according to Harvard’s Jeremy Jamieson and colleagues, whereas anxiety drains working memory capacity, and decreases self-confidence, self-efficacy, and performance before or during a task, according to Michael W. Eysenck of University of London.

Despite these differences in emotional experience, anxiety and excitement have similar physiological arousal profiles, but different effects on performance.

Michael Eysenck

Efforts to transform anxiety into calmness are usually ineffective due to the large shift from negative emotion to neutral or positive emotion and from physiological activation to low arousal levels, noted Brooks.

Stefan Hofmann

Stefan Hofmann

Such efforts to calm physiological arousal during anxiety can result in a paradoxical increase in the suppressed emotion, reported Stefan Hofmann of Boston University and colleagues.
However, most people in Woods’ studies inaccurately believed that this is the best way to handle anxiety.

Stanley Schachter

Stanley Schachter

These similarities can confuse the experiences of anxiety and excitement, demonstrated in much-cited studies by Columbia’s Stanley Schacter and Jerome Singer of SUNY.
Anxiety’s similarity to excitement can be used to advantage by intentionally relabeling uncomfortably high “anxiety” as pleasant excitement to reduce anxiety’s negative impact on performance.

Jerome Singer

Jerome Singer

Brooks provoked anxiety by telling volunteers that they would present an impromptu, videotaped speech.

For some participants, she said that it is “normal” to feel discomfort and asked them to “take a realistic perspective on this task, by recognizing that there is no reason to feel anxiousand “the situation does not present a threat to you…there are no negative consequences to be concerned with.”
She also told volunteers to say aloud randomly-assigned self-statements like “I am excited.”

People who stated I am excitedbefore their speech were rated as more persuasive, more competent more confident, and more persistent (spoke longer), than participants who said “I am calm.”

Brooks evaluated peoples’ reactions to another anxiety-provoking task, performing a karaoke song for an audience, and rated by program’s voice recognition software for “singing accuracy” based on:

  • Volume (quiet-loud),
  • Pitch (distance from true pitch),
  • Note duration (accuracy of breaks between notes).

This score determined participants’ payment for participating in the study.

Before performing, she asked participants to make a randomly-assigned self-statement:

  • “I am anxious,”
  • “I am excited,”
  • “I am calm,”
  • “I am angry.”
  • “I am sad.”
  • No statement.

Following their performance, volunteers rated their anxiety, excitement, and confidence in their singing ability.
People who said that they were “excited” had higher pulse rates than other groups, confirming that self-statements can affect physical experiences of emotion.

In addition, volunteers who said “I am excited” has the highest scores for singing accuracy and also for “singing self-efficacy”, a measure of confidence in ability.

In contrast, those who said, “I am anxious” had the lowest scores for singing accuracy, suggesting that focus on anxiety is associated with lower performance.

Brooks elicited anxiety on “a very difficult IQ test…under time pressure” that would determine their payment for participation.
To evoke further anxiety, she concluded, “Good luck minimizing your loss.”

Before the test, participants read a statement:

  • “Try to remain calm” or
  • “Try to get excited.”

Those instructed to “get excited” produced more correct answers than those who tried to “remain calm.”

Reappraising anxiety as “excitement” increased the subjective experience of “excitement” instead of anxiety, and improved subsequent performance in each of these tasks.

Reappraisal as “excitement” is congruent with physiological arousal common to both anxiety and excitement, so volunteers tended to agree with this characterization of their physical experience.

Stéphane Côté

Stéphane Côté

Arousal-congruent reappraisals primed an “opportunity mind-set” and a stress-is-enhancing mind-set, found University of Toronto’s Stéphane Côté and Christopher Miners.
These appraisals enabled superior performance across different anxiety-arousing situations.

In contrast, inauthentic emotional displays can be physically and psychologically demanding, and tend to reduce performance, they noted.

People have “profound control and influence…over…emotions,” according to Woods, who advised that “Saying “I am excited” represents a simple, minimal intervention…to prime an opportunity mind-set and improve performance…

Advising employees to say “I am excited” before important performance tasks or simply encouraging them to “get excited” may increase their confidence, improve performance, and boost beliefs in their ability to perform well in the future.”

 -*How effective have you found focusing on “excitement” instead of “calm” in managing anxiety?

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©Kathryn Welds

Transference in Everyday Life Biases Memory, Emotions

-*Ever catch yourself re-enacting scenarios from your past, but with different people?

Sigmund Freud

Sigmund Freud

 Sigmund Freud described this experience as “transference,” redirecting feelings toward one person onto a different individual in the present.

The current recipient of feelings may have different characteristics, motivations, and behaviors than the original person, but something about the present individual triggers a repeat of earlier feelings and actions.

Susan Andersen

Susan Andersen

NYU’s Susan Andersen and Alana Baum demonstrated transference in lab studies when they asked volunteers for descriptions of important people in their lives for whom they had positive feelings or negative feelings.
To contrast the results, Andersen and Baum also presented descriptions of other people’s significant others.

Later, Anderson and Baum described a person seated next door, using either the emotionally-positive or emotionally-negative descriptions of someone from the volunteer’s life or someone else’s life.

Participants more accurately recalled the stranger’s description when it resembled their own significant other.
Recall was enhanced because the salient features of the significant other’s description were memorable when assigned to a new person, suggesting transference.

In addition, biased inference and memory are based on “accessibility” and distinctiveness of the earlier triggering memory, according to Anderson’s collaborators Steve W. Cole and Noah Glassman.

Transference is an outgrowth of attachment to others in the past, according to Queens College’s Claudia Chloe Brumbaugh and R. Chris Fraley University of Illinois.

R. Chris Fraley

R. Chris Fraley

In their research, participants learned about two potential dating partners:  One description resembled a romantic partner from the person’s past, whereas another description matched another participant’s former partner.

These volunteers reported feeling both less avoidant and more anxious toward potential dating partners described as similar to previous significant others.
Brumbaugh and Fraley noted that participants “applied attachment representations of past partners” to any potential future partner, but to a greater extent when the new partner was described as resembling an important past partner.

Susan Fiske

Earlier, Princeton’s Susan Fiske described this transfer of affective responses to a new individual as schema-triggered affect.
Andersen used this framework and a socio-cognitive explanation in a paper with Berkeley’s Serena Chen.

Serena Chen

Serena Chen

People modify views of themselves and others in transference situations, found Katrina Hinkley and Andersen.
Volunteers also demonstrated biased recall of details about a new person when a representation of an earlier significant other was activated.
Participants’ list of the new person’s attributes changed on re-test to include elements of the self when the participant had been with the former significant person.

Michael Kraus

Michael Kraus

Transference occurs even when a target person possesses an attribute incompatible with the significant other’s characteristics, found University of Illinois’s Michael W. Kraus with Berkeley’s Chen, Victoria A. Lee, and Laura D. Straus.

Participants demonstrated transference in biased memories and judgments about a person they perceived as similar to a former significant other.

This effect was manipulated to elicit positive impressions even when the target was from an ethnic out-group, suggesting ways to reduce stigma and discrimination by evoking positive transference from past experiences to present actors.

Baum and Anderson observed that participants’ transient mood was more positive when the target of their transference resembled their own significant other and occupied a similar role to the original person.

These findings suggest that transference in the workplace can be problematic when employees react to one another as they responded to others from the past, introducing unconscious emotional elements to work situations.

-*How do you manage transference reactions in work and social situations?

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The Attractiveness Bias: “Cheerleader Effect”, Positive Attributions, and “Distinctive Accuracy”

Edward Vul

Edward Vul

Want to be seen as more attractive?  Be part of a group.

Individuals were rated as more attractive when they were observed in a group rather than alone, reported University of California, San Diego’s Drew Walker and Edward Vul.

This occurs because the brain’s perceptual system computes a statistical summary representation – “an ensemble,” and is biased toward perceiving the ensemble average as attractive, they wrote.

Individuals are perceived as more similar to the average group face, and this average face is more attractive than group members’ individual faces, thanks to a perceptual bias called the ”cheerleader effect.

Individuals who are judged attractive are also ascribed positive characteristics including good health, good genes, intelligence, and success as a result of attribution bias.

Michael Cunningham

Michael Cunningham

There’s consensus across cultures and genders on ratings of physical attractiveness, found University of Louisville’s Michael R. Cunningham, Anita P. Barbee, Perri B. Druen, who collaborated with Alan R. Roberts of Indiana University and Chung Yuan Christian University’s Cheng-Huan Wu.

Features rated as most attractive for women include: 

  • High cheekbones and forehead,
  • Fuller lips,
  • Large, clear eyes,
  • Shorter jaw,
  • Narrower chin.
Alan Roberts

Alan Roberts

Women’s weight wasn’t as relevant to attractiveness as a waist-to-hips ratio of 7:10 and Body Mass Index (BMI) of 20.85.

Preferred characteristics for men were a large jaw and brow, prominent cheekbones, and broad chin, with a waist-to-hips ratio for men is 9:10 and about 12 percent body fat.
Smooth skin, shiny hair, and facial symmetry were rated as attractive for both women and men.

Genevieve Lorenzo

Genevieve Lorenzo

Physical attractiveness focuses observers’ attention on attractive individuals, and enables more accurate assessments of personality traits based on brief interactions, according to University of British Columbia’s Genevieve Lorenzo and Jeremy Biesanz with Lauren Human of University of California, San Francisco.

Jeremy Biesanz

Jeremy Biesanz

Observers more accurately identified personality traits of physically attractive people  and these ratings were more similar to attractive people’s self-reported personality traits (“distinctive accuracy”).

Lauren Human

Lauren Human

These volunteers showed a positive bias toward attractive people and accurately identified the relative ordering of attractive participants’ Big Five personality traits (extraversion, conscientiousness, agreeableness, openness to experience, and emotional stability ⁄ neuroticism).

Nicholas Rule

Nicholas Rule

In addition, raters accurately evaluated CEOs’ competence, dominance, likability, maturity and trustworthiness by viewing photographs of the executives’ faces in a study by University of Toronto’s Nicholas Rule and Nalini Ambady, then of Tufts.

Nalini Ambady

Nalini Ambady

Thirty volunteers assessed CEOs’ “leadership success” based on appearance alone, and these rating were significantly related to profitability of the organizations the CEOs led.

John Graham

John Graham

CEOs and non-executives compete in an unconscious “corporate beauty contest,” and those viewed as attractive are assigned positive attributions, asserted John Graham, Campbell Harvey and Manju Puri of Duke.

Photos of more than 100 white male chief executive officers of large and small companies were paired with with photos of non-executives with similar facial features, hairstyles and clothing.

Campbell Harvey

Campbell Harvey

Nearly 2,000 participants assessed photos and rated CEOs as competent and attractive more frequently than non-executives.
However, volunteers were less likely to rate CEOs as likeable and trustworthy.

Those rated as “competent” earned more money, but in this study, CEO appearance wasn’t associated with company profitability.

Elaine Wong

Elaine Wong

Specific facial structures, not just attributed personality traits, were associated with superior business results, according to University of Wisconsin’s Elaine Wong and Michael P. Haselhuhn working with Margaret E. Ormiston of London Business School.

Firms that achieved superior financial results tended to have male CEOs with wider faces relative to facial height, particularly among organizations with “cognitively simple leadership teams.”

Margaret Ormiston

Margaret Ormiston

Evolutionary biology suggests that facial structure may be perceived as possessing trustworthy leadership skills, leading to attributions of competence, and igniting loyalty to follow.

-*What positive bias do you observe toward attractive individuals in the workplace? 

-*How do you harness the positive bias toward attractive individuals?

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Ask for What You Want: You Have More Influence Than You Think

Most people underestimate the likelihood that requests for help will be granted, particularly after experiencing previous refusals, according to Stanford’s Daniel Newark and Francis Flynn with Vanessa Lake Bohns of University of Waterloo.

Francis Flynn

Help-seekers were more likely to believe that a previous refusal would be followed by another refusal to a similar request. 
However, help-seekers underestimated the compliance rate of potential helpers who previously refused assistance.
This suggests that most people agree with a subsequent request, often to reduce discomfort of rejecting others’ overtures for help.

Vanessa Bohns

Vanessa Bohns

Participants estimated they would need to ask 10 people to have three agree to lend their mobile phones for brief calls.
In fact, these volunteers had to ask only six people for help before it was given, 40% fewer than expected.
Most people have a pessimistic bias about the likelihood that others will provide assistance, they concluded.

Volunteers requested two favors of strangers:  Complete a brief survey and take a letter to a nearby post office.
Help seekers predicted that people who refused the first request to complete the survey would be less likely to take the letter to the post office.

More people agreed to the second request than to the first request, showing that after people refused a request, they were more likely to agree the second time.
Requesters tended to “anchor” on the first refusal, and hesitated to make a second request.
However, this finding suggests that requesters have a greater chance of success after initial refusal, so it’s advisable to muster resilience and persistence.

Requesters and help-seekers analyzed requests using different criteria:  Requesters focused on the magnitude of the “ask,” whereas potential helpers receiving the request considered the inconvenience costs of saying “yes” compare with the interpersonal and self-image costs of saying “no.”

Requesters benefit from expanding the pool of those they ask, not just those who reliably and consistently agree.
These individuals are typically overburdened by requests, and those who are more selective in their assistance are underutilized and may be willing to assist.

Potential helpers underestimated help-seekers’ discomfort and embarrassment in asking for assistance, in previous studies by the team.
This may result in less willingness to help underutilized formal support programs.
The most effective way to increase help-seeking is to encourage helpers to focus on reducing help-seekers’ subjective discomfort in asking rather than advocating the practical benefits of asking for help.

Mahdi Roghanizad

Mahdi Roghanizad

Bohns extended this focus on the impact of interpersonal discomfort in deciding whether to commit an unethical act in research with University of Waterloo colleagues Mahdi Roghanizad and Amy Xu.

People who observed the unethical act but didn’t participate (“instigators”) underestimated their influence over those who committed the asocial acts.

Volunteers enlisted people they didn’t know to tell a small untruth or to commit a small act of vandalism after predicting the ease of enlisting others in these acts.
In related investigations, online participants responded to hypothetical vignettes about buying alcohol for children, and taking office supplies home for personal use.

Bystanders underestimated their impact on others when they suggested engaging in unethical acts.
Further, interpersonal discomfort caused participants to commit the asocial act to avoid conflict.

These results suggest that most people inaccurately estimate their influence, particularly in situations that can evoke interpersonal discomfort.
At the same time, Bohns and Flynn reported that employees’ systematically underestimate their influence over others in the workplace.
Most employees expect their efforts to be futile.

This pessimistic bias can limit employees’ willingness to:

  • Lead business transformation initiatives,
  • Recognize personal contributions to others’ performance issues,
  • Voice concerns about unethical workplace practices.

This underestimation bias may be mitigated by variations in:

  • Comparative judgments,
  • Objectifying an influence target,
  • Actual degree of personal influence compared to perceived influence,
  • Means of influence, ranging across incentives, suggestions, reinforcements, punishments,
  • Organizational culture. 

These findings suggest the benefit of asking for what you want, even after rejection and that you have more influence over others than you expect.

-*How do you assess your likelihood of getting what you want when you ask?

-*How likely are others to influence you by evoking social discomfort to increase your compliance?

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How Accurate are Personality Judgments Based on Physical Appearance?

Appearance, including facial expression, posture, and clothing provide visual communications to observers.
-*But how accurate are inferences made from these clues?

Laura Naumann

Laura Naumann

Simine Vazire

Simine Vazire

Sonoma State University’s Laura Naumann, with Simine Vazire then of Washington University in St. Louis, University of Cambridge’s Peter Rentfrow, and Samuel Gosling of University of Texas at Austin investigated by asking volunteers to rate 10 personality traits, including Openness to Experience, Conscientiousness Extraversion, Agreeableness, Neuroticism.
These Big Five personality traits
, proposed by Paul Costa and Robert McCrae of the U.S. National Institutes of Health, were evaluated in addition to likability, self-esteem, loneliness, religiosity, and political orientation for people pictured full-body photographs.

Samuel Gosling

Samuel Gosling

Peter Jason Rentfrow

These measures were compared with ratings by the photographed person and people acquainted with these individuals.

Observers’ judgments were accurate when they rated extraversion, self-esteem, and religiosity among people photographed in a “standardized” pose, and were correct for additional personality traits when judging photographs in spontaneous poses and facial expressions.

Paul Costa

This suggests that candid photographs provide more accurate cues to some personality characteristics than planned poses.

Robert McCrae

Robert McCrae

Clothing style, a static cue, provided less information to raters, resulting in less accurate judgments of personality characteristics.
In contrast,
 facial expression and posture are dynamic cues that enabled observers to make more accurate judgments.

John Irving

John Irving

These findings confirmed that observers make accurate inferences about some personality characteristics based on visual cues.
Novelist John Irving’s narrator, John Wheelwright, in A Prayer for Owen Meany, explained this finding as common sense: “Things often are as they appear. First impressions matter.

-*How accurate are your judgments of personality traits for people you don’t already know?
-*How accurate are other people’s inferences about your personality traits?

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©Kathryn Welds