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PSYC 471 Lecture Notes - Anagram, Self-Control, Design Of Experiments

Course Code
PSYC 471
Richard Koestner

of 4
PSYC 471
Lecture # 1
People feel that there are things they could and want to do but that for some reason they can't
push themselves to do. There is some sort of deficit or lack in drive, energy or focus and this
resonates for many people. (I could be better basketball player if I had only done more than i
When people think of motivation they think of drive, energy and focus.
In our own lives, if we are lacking energy, drive and focus and if we want more
motivation the thing we do is set a goal. If you wish to be a better tennis player or
swimmer and if you've thought about motivation then what you will probably do is
set a goal.
Researchers have noticed that there are three things when you set a goal = Universal action
1) Attention: You begin focusing your attention on things related to your goal.
2) Effort: You start trying to exert effort.
3) Persistence: You work at persistence.
Interesting thing about NY resolutions is that we actually track our progress on NY resolution.
Because it's an important goal and because it's a new years resolution (as
apposed to an everyday goal) many of us are aware of the fact that we failed. The
next year you set the same resolutions and fail again!
[3 most common NY resolution: a) lose weight b) stop smoking c) exercise]
About 50% of americans make resolutions and they each make 2/3 of them.
(There are some people who don't set goals because they know will fail and then feel bad
about themselves.)
There is research showing that when we fail at goals our self esteem does take a
hit, our affect can become more negative.
But if we make progress on our goals we often feel good about ourselves.
So there is some risk or opportunity in setting goals, one of the pathways to
influence your level of well being is by making progress on goals.
Saying goodbye to people: suggested resolution by his wife
Vicarious goals = where people in your life that you are close to suggest goals
for you, or you might have goals for other people.
Research Study by Norcross:
Question = how long do people last before they fail?
Recruited people between Christmas and New Years
Asked them what their resolutions were and to make certain ratings about their
Followed people at different time periods.
What percentage of people say that they failed?
2 interesting things about the descriptive data:
1) the remarkable amount of people failing with the first week (a
quarter of the people) Maybe people didn't think through those
resolution and they hadn't committed to it.
2) If you can last a month, the failure rate diminishes. (but at 2 years
90% of people failed)
2 points: the initial failure rate is higher than might be expected but there also seems to be
something where if people could last for a month then the rate at which they fail slows down.
Research by Marlatt:
Found rates and times of failure were very similar
In this study also asked people why did they fail?
There were 4 reasons frequently endorsed.
[Teacher suggests that research focuses in on self control capacity, he suggests that most of
us who fail at important goals and resolutions, if we try to understand what happens we have
to look at self control or will power.]
But a lot of the times people don't really know the reasons as to why they failed.
We tend to fail at our goals but there was no clear idea about how to explain this.
Baumeister & Heatherton (1996)
They developed a theory of self control in which they try to understand why we
succeed and why we fail at self control.
They suggest that we are all creatures of habit and tend to do things repetitively
without knowing why we do them.
Self control involves inhibiting or over-riding some behavior.
1) Standards:
If you are going to effectively exercise self control in any domain (student, athlete, social life)
the first thing you need is standards. Need some abstract or implicit sense of what you are
striving for, what the ideal is. Most often standards are operationalized in terms of personal
goals. It is thus very unlikely that he would say that we would be functioning effectively in a
domain if we have no standards. He would say that the standards have to be specific and
clear so that if we have ambiguous standards its very hard to exercise self control and pursue
those standards in a reliable way.
Another problem is that you may have conflicting goals and standards. When you have 4/5
goals you begin to notice and worry whether the goals will work together or be in conflict with
each other.
2) Monitoring:
Have to monitor your behavior in relation to those goals. Its not enough to just write down
your goal or think about your goal, you actually have to assess with some degree of accuracy
whether your striving is getting you closer to that goal or not. If you have a non-specific
ambiguous goal it will be impossible to monitor since there is no clear standard. (if you say
you will study more and harder, how do you know if you are really studying harder or not?)
3) Strength
It is critical that you have self control capacity to pursue your goals and monitor your behavior.
He makes the argument that self control strength/capacity is a limited resource, we only have
so much of it and we use this resource in all different domains and it will quite often happen
that we've used it up in one area and we can't draw on it for something that is very important
and we care about. And very few of us actually recognize that self control is a very limited
resource and we have to conserve it and be careful about how and when we use it.
Baumeister does carefully designed experiments where he demonstrates that self control is a
limited resource.
EXP: ask one half of P's to exercise self control (watch funny movie and asked to
suppress laughing)
In the control setting they watch movie without suppressing any emotions.
Then they are told that there is this other experiment and ask if they are willing to
do it and it is totally unrelated.
In this other experiment they are asked to do another task that is totally different but
requires self control where they might have to work on difficult anagram puzzles or
exert strength on a hand grip.
He found that when you exert self control on one task you will be less bale to exert
self control on a subsequent task even if it seems as if it is totally different; even if it
is not academic or not physically challenging.
Argument: we have a limited amount of self control strength and we have to draw from
this same pool for all our different activities.
Show resolutions and review the model just presented and discuss which factors might help
us reach our goals and resolutions and which things might interfere.
Why did she fail at the first 2 goals? what can be problematic?
Ambiguous, non-specific goals
Many can be in conflict with each other (if you do more school work it will be harder
to do volunteer work and write home more often).
Too many goals
* The assumption is we have a limited amount of self control strength and if you have five
goals and working at all of them at the same time, you are likely going to fail at all of them.
Specificity? not very specific
Getting over B/F: not talking about him? not tracking him on facebook? ....
Not be so neurotic: Research now shows that you want to frame your goal as
something you are approaching in a positive way rather than something you are
It's easier to exercise self control as you are moving towards something and there
are so many different ways that you can avoid it that it is less clear how you would
actually do it.
Thus approach goals are better than avoidance goals .
He is acknowledging likely failure in the way he is writing (attempt)
A lot of research suggests you need to have a sense of self-efficacy, a sense of
confidence and readiness about the goals you are setting.
You are very likely to fail if you can't even state that you will keep up with readings
and you have to put the 'attempt' in, then it is very likely the person has low self-
Conflicting & lack of specificity.
5 things that organizational psychologists say we need to think about when we are setting
goals = SMA(A)RT
ACHIEVABLE: something that is actually under your control.
REALISTIC: Capability, readiness and confidence. One study by Norcross where
they looked at when people put together their NY resolution. Some people start