Tag Archives: Jens Forster

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.
Like Sheena Iyengar and Mark Lepper’s finding that “more choice is not always better”, too much choice can derail last steps toward a goal.

Peter Gollwitzer

Peter Gollwitzer

These stages of goal pursuit can be 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 much less frequently for the loyalty program.

These results show a clear 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.

Besides proximity to a goal, motivation 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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Reframing Non-Comparable Choices to Make Them Simpler, More Satisfying

Life’s most baffling decisions are among non-comparable choices: “apples-to-oranges” comparisons.

Eunice Kim

Eunice Kim

University of Toronto’s Eunice Kim Cho collaborated with Uzma Khan of Stanford and Yale’s Ravi Dhar to investigate whether non-comparable choices may be made easier and more satisfying by changing their “level of representation,” or decision context.

Uzma Khan

Uzma Khan

Cho and team drew on Construal Level Theory (CLT) discussed by NYU’s Yaacov Trope, Nira Liberman of Tel Aviv University and Cheryl Wakslak, now of USC, to differentiate decisions construed as concrete, specific, contextualized, and personal from more abstract, distant options based on future time, remote space, social distance, and hypothetical probability.

Ravi Dhar

Ravi Dhar

Trope and team reported that these differing construals can determine people’s predictions, decisions, and behavior.

Yaacov Trope

Yaacov Trope

Kim’s team offered volunteers a gift card and asked half of the participants to choose between comparable choices (different types of chess sets or different types of consumer electronics).

Nira Liberman

Nira Liberman

The remaining subjects chose between non-comparable options (chess set vs. cheese sampler or consumer electronic device vs. event tickets), and all  participants chose between these options for themselves (specific context) or for an acquaintance (abstract context).

Cheryl Wakslak

Cheryl Wakslak

When people chose for themselves, at the more personal, specific construal level, they found it easier to select between more similar choices, the two chess sets, but not the dissimilar choice of chess set vs. cheese platter.

In contrast, when participants chose a gift for a more socially-distant person, an acquaintance, they found it easier to select between dissimilar items.
Kim and team concluded that it’s easier to make dissimilar choices when the options are represented at a higher level of abstraction to enable “big picture thinking.”

Marketers use this principle to position dissimilar choices more abstractly, like “level of enjoyment” rather than focusing on specific specific product features, to help consumers make decisions more quickly.

Decision-making ease is crucial because it is associated with greater satisfaction with the decision.
When taking a decision is complex and stressful, many people doubt the decision and feel less content.

Jens Forster

Jens Forster

Liberman and Jens Forster, now of University of Amsterdam, demonstrated that complex, non-comparable, or confusing choices are associated with lower decision satisfaction and greater likelihood of choosing the previously rejected option in a subsequent decision.

Individuals can consider more abstract, “big-picture” criteria when deciding between differing options, such as equal expenditures on a a material possession or an experience, to increase ease and speed of decision-making.

The next post considers which type of purchase – material or experiential – most people find more satisfying.

-*How do you make decisions when the choices are not directly comparable?

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