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The end motivates the means: Focusing on superordinate goals to motivate goal pursuit.

Author Bettina HOECHLI
Director of thesis Prof. Claude Messner, Universität Bern, Departement Betriebswirtschaftslehre, Institut für Marketing und Unternehmensführung, Abteilung Consumer Behavior
Co-director of thesis Prof. Lorenz Götte
Summary of thesis

Achieving goals is typically seen as a success and as something positive. Contrary to this perspective, we argue that goal achievement can be, as Oscar Wild has put it, a “tragedy”. The reason why achieving goals can be negative is that goal achievement signals people that they have done what is necessary and that they can stop pursuing that particular goal. This tendency to relax one’s efforts is unproblematic if people have really achieved the goal they aspire to. However, many goals require continued effort over long periods of time. In addition, a goal is often only one of many steps (i.e., a subordinate goal) that contribute to what people ultimately aspire to (i.e., a superordinate goal). Thus, achieving a subordinate goal (e.g., “exercising once a week”) will increase the tendency to relax one’s efforts and may deter people from pursuing and achieving what they really want (e.g., the aspired superordinate goal of “being healthy”).

My research project will test the idea that focusing on superordinate goals can prevent people from goal disengagement and maintain their motivation to pursue subordinate goals. Specifically, we propose that superordinate goals (e.g., “being healthy”) often do not have a clear end-state and are therefore difficult to fully achieve. That is, when people focus on a superordinate (vs. subordinate) goal, they are unlikely to fully achieve their goal. As a consequence, they will experience a discrepancy between their current situation and their goal. Because of this discrepancy, they will not infer that they have done “enough” and should continue to pursue their superordinate goal.

To address these questions, I will carry out various experiments in the contexts of healthy eating, exercising, sustainable behavior and moral behavior. I want to explore whether sustaining goal-discrepancy (vs. no goal-discrepancy) by focusing on superordinate goals moderates the extent to which people continue working (vs. stop working) towards a goal after a previous success in the direction of the same goal.

Administrative delay for the defence