Goal origin: effects of initial goal origin and shifts in origin on behavioral and subjective responses

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Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University

Many previous studies have examined the effects of goal attributes on subsequent behavior and performance, with consistently positive findings. However, there are few studies of goal processes, i.e., how reactions to goal origin and subsequent shifts in goal origin are exhibited in behavioral and subjective domains. The present research viewed reactions to goal origins (self-set or assigned) and to shifts in goal origin within a theory of personal control/psychological reactance. In addition, two individual difference constructs, locus of control and Type A Behavior Pattern, were measured to study their relationships with the dependent variables.

A laboratory experiment was conducted to examine several hypotheses drawn from the psychological reactance literature concerning the joint effects of Initial Goal Origin and subsequent Shifted Goal Origin on subjective and behavioral responses. The subjective responses included task and performance satisfaction, goal acceptance, preferences for increasing employee self-control in the workplace, and preferred method of goal-setting. Behavioral measures included two different operational definitions of performance: quantity and goal attainment.

The analyses revealed weak support for the hypotheses. The manipulation check composite revealed that the groups perceived the manipulations along the Initial Goal Origin dimension. There were statistically significant differences for goal acceptance, with the two shift groups displaying a crossover pattern between trial blocks. Simple interaction effect analyses conducted at each level of the Shifted Goal Origin factor revealed a statistically significant interaction between Initial Goal Origin and Trial Blocks for the Shift level only. Goal attainment scores revealed an apparently practical, yet statistically nonsignificant, effect for the three-way interaction of the manipulated factors over trial blocks. Moreover, the pattern of correlations between goals and performance reversed in the predicted direction over trial blocks for the two shift groups. However, there were no significant differences for the factors on the raw performance, satisfaction, or preference variables. The individual difference variables did not make a significant contribution to the prediction of the dependent variables after the effects of group membership were statistically controlled.

The results are discussed in terms of the limitations of the method used, the weak support for the framework which guided the research, and implications for further research and implementation of goal-setting systems in organizations.