Empowering People through Behavioral Science

Purpose in Goal Pursuit

In exploring the human experience of purpose, the NPP project has identified several core themes that are particularly significant, and which provide a useful framework for organizing our activities.  This page displays the content from this website tagged for one of those themes: Purpose in Goal Pursuit.

The Purpose in Goal Pursuit theme focuses our attention on the situational or contextual factors that might influence people’s motivation to set, pursue, and accomplish their significant short- and long-term goals. How do such external influences (e.g., physical environment, social forces, peers) compare to and work with internal influences (e.g., self-control, moral identity, personal beliefs) in inspiring and facilitating the achievement of purpose? See below for content related to our emerging insights.

 

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Purpose in Goal Pursuit
Purpose & Well-Being
Purpose Across the Lifespan
USING AUTHENTICITY TO INCREASE PURPOSE AND BELONGING AMONG UNDER-REPRESENTED MINORITY STUDENTS

Principal Investigator: Jenessa Shapiro,  Associate Professor of Psychology and Management, University of California at Los Angeles

Adjustment to college is difficult. As a result, many interventions, including student orientation efforts, aim to make this transition smoother to protect students’ grades, satisfaction with college, and retention. This is particularly important for under-represented racial/ethnic minority students. Under-representation leads students to worry about being seen through the lens of negative stereotypes about their group and to question their sense of fit and belonging in academic settings, which in turn undermines academic interest and performance, a phenomenon called stereotype threat. We propose that stereotype threat will also lead to a reduced sense of purpose: If you feel as though you do not belong in a particular context, it is difficult to derive a sense of purpose or meaningfulness from this context. We further propose that an authenticity intervention—an intervention that individuates students and celebrates their unique cultural backgrounds—will undermine multiple forms of stereotype threats, increase students’ feelings of purpose, and in turn increase well-being, satisfaction with the university, grades, and feelings of academic fit/belonging.

Purpose in Goal Pursuit
Practical Tools for Purpose
IT’S TEDIOUS BUT IT MATTERS: CAN PURPOSE PROMOTE THE GRIT REQUIRED TO BUILD MATH AND SCIENCE SKILLS?

Principal Investigator: David S. Yeager, Assistant Professor of Developmental Psychology, University of Texas at Austin

One roadblock to math and science achievement is the tedium of mastering foundational skills.  A common approach to removing this barrier is to change the educational environment so that it makes connections to intrinsic interests (e.g., “you can use Algebra to understand baseball statistics”).  Yet such approaches are limited because foundational schoolwork is often unavoidably tedious and uninteresting. The present research proposes that a purpose—a self-relevant goal that is seen as having positive consequences beyond the self—can create in learners a mindset in which tedious skill-building tasks are re-construed as relevant for accomplishing higher-order goals.  When viewing such tasks through the lens of a prosocial purpose, learners may exhibit greater grit—or persistence on these tasks even in the face of appealing alternatives—and may ultimately acquire more skills and perform at higher levels over time.

This project is funded by a subaward from the New Paths to Purpose project, as a result of our 2012 Request for Proposals

Purpose in Goal Pursuit
EMULATING SELF-CONTROL

Principal Investigator: Yaacov Trope, Professor of Psychology, New York University

The proposed research seeks to investigate how observing and emulating others affects  an indispensable resource for the pursuit of purpose--self-control. Self-control is, perhaps more than any other behavioral phenomenon, what enables people to adhere to their chosen purposes when faced with distracting temptations. But self-control does not occur in a social vacuum. People can learn self-control from their own experience, but they can also learn from observing others. More and more, our learning environments have shifted to include distant and remote others (e.g., people of different cultural backgrounds than us, located in other parts of the world, people who came before us, etc.). The proposed research therefore aims to explore how a model’s proximity vs. distance impacts what is learned from the model and how that in turn influences the self-control behaviors of the observer.

This project is funded by a subaward from the New Paths to Purpose project, as a result of our 2012 Request for Proposals

Purpose in Goal Pursuit
Practical Tools for Purpose
KEEPING PEOPLE MOTIVATED: USING TECHNOLOGY TO ENGAGE AND MOTIVATE

Principal Investigator: Dilip SomanCorus Chair in Communication Strategy and Professor of Marketing, University of Toronto Rotman School of Management

One manifestation of the concept of purpose is the motivation that individuals need to accomplish goals in their lives. In many undertakings, motivation is typically high at the beginning of the process (the “start-up enthusiasm”) and at the end (the “light at the end of the tunnel” effects) but there is a long and seemingly arduous middle phase that people don't navigate very well. The “middle slump” happens because of the perception of lack of progress, and a focus on the concrete details that need to be done rather than the abstract desirable outcome. We aim to develop and test a theoretically-informed framework to better understand the “middle slump” phenomena, and to develop a catalogue of interventions to help users navigate the middle slump. We further plan to create and test several smartphone apps that help people stay motivated.

This project is funded by a subaward from the New Paths to Purpose project, as a result of our 2012 Request for Proposals

Purpose in Goal Pursuit
RESOLVING THE “URGENT-IMPORTANT” CONFLICT TO PROMOTE PURPOSEFUL GOAL PURSUIT

Principal Investigator: Benjamin A. ConverseAssistant Professor of Public Policy and Psychology, University of Virginia Frank Batten School of Leadership and Public Policy

Too many people are familiar with the routine of deferring their most cherished, important goals to confront the daily barrage of urgent demands. Why do so many otherwise accomplished people fail to pursue what is most important to them, and what can they do to change this? A team of researchers with connections to psychology, public policy, public health, and medicine will investigate this conflict between urgent and important goals. Their aims are to conceptualize and document the conflict; to understand the social and self-regulatory mechanisms that determine its resolution; and to identify simple changes people can make to help them achieve their preferred balance of important, purposeful goal pursuit. They will pursue these aims by conducting survey research; by documenting the experience of Cancer survivors, who often report a changed perspective that helps them deal with these conflicts in daily life; and by conducting behavioral experiments in the lab and field to determine conditions that promote the pursuit of important goals.

This project is funded by a subaward from the New Paths to Purpose project, as a result of our 2012 Request for Proposals

Purpose in Goal Pursuit
OPTIMAL MOTIVATION

Principal Investigator: Ayelet Fishbach, Jeffrey Breakenridge Keller Professor of Behavioral Science and Marketing

Motivation is needed not only to begin, but also to progress toward and ultimately achieve the vast majority of desirable life outcomes. Too often, however, we tend to view such motivation as a mysterious, unpredictable force that acts upon us, rather than as a manageable power we can align with our will. This research therefore aims to explore four domains in which individuals can potentially control situational factors to more reliably evoke their motivation to fulfill their chosen purposes: progress feedback; regulation of attention to the experiential vs. instrumental value of intermediate goals; management of the logistical (e.g., coordination) and relationship (e.g., gratitude) demands involved in joint efforts; and avoidance of tempting distractions through the exercise of self-control.

This project is a foundational agenda for the New Paths to Purpose Project

 
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