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Effects of proximity and specificity of goals on performance

Jobe, Leslie D. (1984) Effects of proximity and specificity of goals on performance. PhD thesis, Murdoch University.

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Although the finding that specific, difficult goals result in improved performance has been extensively documented, goal specificity, independent of goal difficulty, has received little attention. Similarly, whilst studies have shown that goal proximity - operationalised as the pacing or conversion of a terminal goal into proximal subgoals - significantly influence self-regulation as well as productive behaviour, the effects of goal proximity per se, have not been systematically investigated.

The confounding of these two variables, goal specificity and goal proximity with goal difficulty is central to the issues examined in this thesis. A series of controlled experiments were conducted which systematically investigated the effects of proximal subgoals and goal specificity on performance of a novel coding task, not unlike the WAIS digit - symbol test.

Two noteworthy findings were replicated: a positive linear relationship between goal proximity and output confirmed proximity as an important and systematically related moderator Goal specificity however, was found to be In addition, analyses of work rate of performance. unrelated to performance. across the task indicated that whereas a more proximal focus resulted in maintained or improved rates of output, a less proximal focus was associated with mid-task performance decrement.

These findings which implicate goal proximity as an hitherto overlooked "third variable", also implicate a set of conditions under which goal effects will not obtain and thus allow a number of seemingly discrepant findings within the literature to be reintegrated. The apparent importance of adopting a proximal focus when engaging in productive behaviour, without necessarily having a specific (sub)goal, also serves to question the adequacy of current explanations of goal setting effectiveness, at least in the context of short term productivity, task setting, and with reference to the type of task and instructions used.

Item Type: Thesis (PhD)
Murdoch Affiliation(s): School of Social Inquiry
Notes: Note to the author: If you would like to make your thesis openly available on Murdoch University Library's Research Repository, please contact: Thank you.
Supervisor(s): Birnbrauer, Jay
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