Dynamic Analyses of Goal-Directed Behaviour
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Goal setting research has consistently shown that high specific goals lead to increases in performance; however, the effects of unattainable goals on performance have been inconsistent, and the roles of both time and feedback on persistence have been neglected in laboratory studies. Behavioural explanations that have been provided for the processes by which goals and feedback affect behaviour have focused to a large extent on direct contact with contingencies and, as such, have had difficulty in accounting for complex human behaviour. The purpose of this thesis was to examine the effect of unattainable goals on behaviour, and in so doing, contribute to current behaviour analytic accounts of goal setting and feedback. Five studies were conducted in order to investigate the effect of goal level on performance, persistence, and feedback-solicitation. Study 1 replicated prior research demonstrating that high goals lead to higher levels of performance. Study 2 examined the effect of feedback on performance and persistence. Feedback enhanced performance, but did not significantly affect persistence. In order to examine whether or not participants would choose to seek feedback, the task was modified for Study 3 such that participants were presented with the option to choose feedback. Results showed that feedback seeking reduced in the presence of an unattainable goal. For Study 4, goal sessions were lengthened in order to investigate further the effect of an unattainable goal on persistence over time. Individual-level analyses revealed that a greater number of participants who exhibited low levels of performance during baseline demonstrated a decreasing trend in performance during the goal conditions. Study 5 investigated the effect of a series of unattainable goals on performance, persistence, and feedback seeking in the longest work sessions utilised in the series of studies. Persistence reduced in a group who received an initial extremely unattainable goal, while participants persisted in a group who received an initial marginally unattainable goal. The implications of these findings are considered and discussed in terms of current behavioural accounts of goal setting.
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