«A DISSERTATION SUBMITTED TO THE DEPARTMENT OF PSYCHOLOGY AND THE COMMITTEE ON GRADUATE STUDIES OF STANFORD UNIVERSITY IN PARTIAL FULFILLMENT OF THE ...»
THE MAIEUTICS OF GOAL ARTICULATION:
MOTIVATING THE CHOICES
OF HIGHEST IMPORT
SUBMITTED TO THE DEPARTMENT OF PSYCHOLOGY
AND THE COMMITTEE ON GRADUATE STUDIES
OF STANFORD UNIVERSITY
IN PARTIAL FULFILLMENT OF THE REQUIREMENTS
FOR THE DEGREE OF
DOCTOR OF PHILOSOPHYPaul Whitmore March, 2000 i © Copyright by Paul Whitmore 2000 All Rights Reserved ii Abstract Research into the consequences of goal-setting clearly demonstrates the positive impact that goals exert upon performance. These findings have become so broadly disseminated as to have become common knowledge.
Nevertheless, people frequently fail to set the goals that would help them to achieve their own desired ends. This dissertation explores possible explanations for this failure. One source of insight springs from considering the dynamic construction of the 'self', which traces back to William James' seminal work. The dynamics of identity construal hold open both a promise and a threat. As a domain increases in importance to the self, it simultaneously becomes more daunting. This conflict is analogous to certain failures to promote or preserve self-interest which have been analyzed from the perspective of behavioral decision making.
Building on this theoretical framework, three experiments empirically test the hypothesis that techniques for increasing self-resources can illuminate the paradoxical failure of people to formulate explicit goals for themselves in the domains they most value. Experiment I demonstrates that people do in fact articulate more explicit goals for relatively lower-priority value domains.
This robust phenomenon is labeled the Delmore Effect. Experiment II explores a connection between goal-setting theory and Steele's paradigm of self-affirmation. The final experiment underscores the manner in which selfrelevant affirmations can transform the clarity and explicitness of highpriority goals.
The three experiments demonstrate the delicate balance required to avoid triggering dissonance effects, since it appears possible that overly direct attempts to affirm the self's most valued domain can exacerbate the failure to articulate relevant goals. Affirming related domains, which do not overtly confront the most important domain, appears to be the experimental technique which enables people to overcome the Delmore Effect.
iv Acknowledgements Spinoza wrote that to love a being is to desire its continuation, which allowed him to claim that even a rock expresses self-love. In precisely that sense, I have loved my apprenticeship at Stanford. I am also deeply grateful to all who have watched over my education here, even as they mused at the complex form of my own amor fati.
I would not be in graduate school were it not for the wise and patient support of my family. In particular, it was my mother's direct advice that I should first get a Ph.D., and only then return to the perplexing query of where to go with my life. My grandmother, Alyce Buckman, never stinted with her love and support. When I doubted myself, as I drove with her to find Thomas Hart Benton's studio in Kansas, she rolled out a support net that enabled me to return to the high wire tensions of academia: "Oh, Pauli, if the academic world doesn't work for you, you would make a wonderful cab driver." My grandfather's support gave me my first opportunity to train my jesuitical mind, and he has always encouraged me to aim high, to develop my unique writing talent, and to never cease to strive. My sister Amanda is exactly right in her belief that she deserves first authorship on this dissertation. Our conversations about life goals has always been carried out in the supportive atmosphere of love that accounts for so much of what I have been able to accomplish.
I have been lavished with an inexhaustible fund of guidance from friends.
Sheena Iyengar (nee Sethi) has been a shadow advisor to me, helping me to make my way even before I arrived at Stanford. Allan Collins has also been a generous and loving mentor. It was his genial advice that I go West while still a young man, and study intrinsic motivation with Mark Lepper.
Much of my inspiration has come from peers who were also true friends.
Nick Cassimatis exemplified the rugged scientist intent on scaling mountains of theoretical import. Rehan Khan, from the moment of our first acquaintance, outstripped my stereotype of a true prince: His careful attention v to details invariably comes across as authentic consideration. His capacity to share in my own particular sense of humor meant that in all my years at Stanford I have never once needed to doubt my own sanity. Neil Mayle, John Klein, and Philip Greenspun all clocked time exhorting me to cross the finish line. Steven Solomon's manly vigor and affection leapt across the continent in a single bound. Without his tolerant goading, this work would have remained inchoate. My big sib, Tony Bastardi, also continues to fulfill his avuncular role with bemused interest. Tea Spitzbarth vigilantly read multiple drafts, and continually reminded me to "connect — always connect."
I also owe a great debt to the research assistants who helped me. The psychology department creates so many rewarding opportunities to collaborate with undergraduates that it would be impossible for me to personally thank each one. Todd and Jennifer Beyerlein were so pleasant to work with, and so enjoyed working with one another, that they decided to marry shortly after helping me complete Experiments I and II. Valerie Purdie instructed me in the intricacies of catching students in their dorms, which turned the longitudinal Experiment III from a theoretical possibility into the study presented here.
The intellectual environment within the Stanford Psychology Department could not have been better. Two faculty with whom I never had a chance to collaborate nevertheless opened their lab meetings to me, which contributed tremendously to my education. Lee Ross's passionate attention to the consequences of ideas shaped my own assessment of what psychology can be.
And in my first two years here, Tuesday afternoons with Amos Tversky exposed me to his unique capacity to combine rigor with delight. His example, deliberate and always playful, exemplified a life lived in complete freedom.
My own committee deserves my deepest gratitude. My chair, Jim March, has spoken volumes through his compassionate and open-minded actions. I continue to learn from his example. Phil Zimbardo and Bob Zajonc both vi helped me to refine and clarify my research. Claude Steele's influence is evident throughout, and his personal example of vigilance combined with calm grace in the pursuit of the right formulation inspired me.
Finally, my advisor, Mark Lepper, deserves my most lasting gratitude.
Throughout the tangents and epicycles of my wandering attention, he has been genuinely supportive and demonstratively interested in helping me articulate the wellspring of my curiosity. At every turn, he has literally tutored me in the intricacies of careful research that matters. One of my most important long-term goals, to learn from an engaged scientist who cared deeply about the complexities of human motivation, was only realized through his abiding generosity.
vii Table of Contents
Chapter I: Defining Goals
Explicit versus Tacit Goals
Performance versus Mastery Orientation
How Do Goals Influence Performance Outcomes?
Cognitive and Motivational Processes
Difficult versus "Do-your-best" Goals
Complex versus Simple Tasks
Temporal Range of Goals
Goals Seen through the Lens of Prospect Theory
Chapter II: How do People Conceive of Goals?
What People Claim as Obstacles to Making More Explicit Plans................26 The Role of Participant Choice In Goal Research
Basic Paradox: People Often Fail to Assign Themselves Difficult Goals..32 Analogies from Behavioral Decision-Making
The Prisoner's Dilemma
Chapter III: Goal-choice and the Dynamically Constituted Self
Chapter IV: Experiment I
Chapter V: Experiment II
Chapter VI: Experiment III
Chap VII: Conclusion
Appendices Appendix A: The Goal Inventory Questionnaire (GIQ)
Appendix B: Complete List of Manipulations in Experiment III...........105
Figure 1 "Do Your Best" Goals Mapped as a Curve of Diminishing Returns.
Figure 2 S-Curve of Prospect Theory, Applied to Goal-Setting.
Figure 3 Goal counts (± SE) for Participants who Did Not Write an Initial Family Affirmation Essay.
Figure 4 Percentage of Participants who Chose a Particular Domain as their Top Priority Goal.
Figure 5 Cumulative Percentage of Participants who Selected a Domain as One of their Top Four Rankings.
Figure 6 Goal counts (± SE) for Participants who Wrote an Initial Family Affirmation Essay in Experiment I, Contrasted with the Control Condition Means.
Figure 7. Goal Counts (± SE) for Participants who Wrote a Selfaffirmation Essay in Experiment II.
Control Condition from Experiment I Included for Purposes of Comparison.
Figure 8 Goal Counts (± SE) for Participants who Wrote a Selfaffirmation Essay in Experiment III. Control Condition from Experiment I Included for Purposes of Comparison.
Figure 9. Goal Counts (+SE) for Participants who Wrote a Selfaffirmation Essay in Experiment III, Split by Relevance of the Manipulation.
Appendix A: Sample Goal Inventory Questionnaire (GIQ).
Appendix B: Complete list of self-affirmations administered in Experiment III.
Talented individuals often use their gifts to create prodigious distractions.
The gifts lavished upon each human being suffice to achieve miracles, if
those talents are well-directed. Picasso (Gilot, 1964) said of himself:
"Everybody has the same energy potential. The average person wastes his in a dozen little ways. I bring mine to bear on one thing only: my painting, and everything else is sacrificed to it -- you and everyone else, myself included."
(p. 346) If we are not all inchoate Picassos, we still must choose how to channel our energies. This choice, terrific in its power, inspired Thoreau (1854) to write the great American self-help book, Walden Pond, which began
with the following observation:
I know of no more encouraging fact than the unquestionable ability of man to elevate his life by a conscious endeavor. It is something to be able to paint a particular picture, or to carve a statue, and so to make a few objects beautiful; but it is far more glorious to carve and paint the very atmosphere and medium through which we look, which morally we can do. To affect the quality of the day, that is the highest of arts. Every man is tasked to make his life, even in its details, worthy of the contemplation of his most elevated and critical hour. (1854/1980, p. 1) If the power within each soul is terrific, it surely can also feel terrifying.
Every story of deliberate self-transformation might easily be contrasted with a poignant account of squandered talent. While each such biography would reveal unique obstacles, the interest here is directed toward trying to discern factors that would assist individuals to take the very steps they themselves would claim as being in their own self-interest.
One inspiration for this research program springs from an exposure to the life of the poetic prodigy, Delmore Schwartz. His first collection of stories, In Dreams Begin Responsibilities (1938), was greeted as a herald of a fresh approach to literature. Notwithstanding its nuanced irony, the title story eerily anticipated Delmore's own life. A young man wanders into a theater, and watches his own family life unfold as it flickers on the silent movie screen. Though he sees the pain unleashed about him, his clear awareness contributes only to a refined observation of miseries that cannot be altered.
And indeed, the catastrophic failure of Delmore's talent, and the prodigal energy he devoted to his own undoing, makes a story as fascinating as his early fiction. His wanderings can almost be compressed to an epigram, found
in an editorial gloss on his posthumous works:
This volume contains nothing on James Joyce. Two short pieces could have been included, but the editors thought them too perfunctory, too hastily journalistic to represent adequately Delmore's vast knowledge of the work of his chief literary hero. A likely guess would be that an extended essay or book on Joyce was one of Delmore's long entertained projects and that he never accomplished the project precisely because he thought of it as crucial. (emphasis added; Dike & Zucker, 1970, p. xiii) Delmore's failure was due not simply to neglect. Instead, the daunting task he hoped to achieve apparently contributed to his failure to begin its execution. Such a lapse is familiar to all who have observed the all-toohuman tendency to channel one's energy into tasks utterly incapable of advancing one's avowed aims.