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Pers Soc Psychol Bull. 2008 Nov;34(11):1556-69. doi: 10.1177/0146167208322618. Epub 2008 Jul 28.

Eyes on the prize or nose to the grindstone? The effects of level of goal evaluation on mood and motivation.

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University of Illinois-Chicago, IL, USA.


These studies tested the hypothesis that evaluating goal feedback in terms of a primary, longer term goal can be risky for future motivation. Study 1 was a 2 x 2 experiment in which framing level (primary goal/subgoal) and feedback valence (success/failure) were manipulated for participants during a verbal skills task. In the primary goal failure condition, there was increased negative mood and decreased positive mood and expectancy for subsequent trials, even while controlling for goal difficulty and importance. Study 2 was an 8-week study throughout which participants were asked to evaluate their progress regarding a primary goal (class grade goal) or subgoal (weekly study hours goal), and success or failure varied naturally. When progress was lacking, participants in the primary goal condition experienced the largest decreases in mood and expectancy. These results suggest that it is optimal to evaluate goal progress at the lower, subgoal level, particularly after failure feedback.

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