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The Progress Bias in Goal Pursuit: When One Step Forward Seems Larger than One Step Back

Margaret C. Campbell and Caleb Warren

Journal of Consumer Research, 2015, vol. 41, issue 5, 1316 - 1331

Abstract: Consumers often pursue goals (e.g., losing weight) where the chance of attaining the goal increases with some behaviors (e.g., exercise) but decreases with others (e.g., eating). Although goal monitoring is known to be a critical step in self-control for successful goal pursuit, little research investigates whether consumers accurately monitor goal progress. Seven experiments demonstrate that consumers tend to show a progress bias in goal monitoring, perceiving that goal-consistent behaviors (e.g., saving $45) help progress more than goal-inconsistent behaviors of the equivalent size (e.g., spending $45) hurt it. Expectations of goal attainment moderate the progress bias; reducing the expectation that the goal will be reached reduces the tendency to perceive goal-consistent behaviors to have a larger impact on goal progress than equivalent goal-inconsistent behaviors. A study on exercise and eating shows that although the progress bias can increase initial goal persistence, it can also lead to premature goal release due to poor calibration of overall progress.

Date: 2015
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