J. Thürmer, Michael Scheier and Charles Carver

On the mechanics of goal striving: Experimental evidence of coasting and shifting.

Motivation Science

Carver and Scheier’s (1990) account of goal striving predicts that unexpectedly fast goal progress leads to reduced effort at that goal (coasting) and to shifting focus toward other goals (shifting). Although these hypotheses are key to this goal-striving account, empirical evidence of coasting and shifting is scarce. Here we demonstrate coasting and shifting in two experiments: Participants performed a lexical decision task and were promised a bonus if they delivered a specific number of correct responses (accuracy goal) and a specific number of fast responses (speed goal). After half of the trials, participants received (randomly allocated) feedback on their progress regarding the two goals, in which progress toward one goal was either above or below the target. In line with hypotheses, better-than-needed progress toward one goal led to (a) reduced subsequent progress toward that goal (as reflected in lower goal-related performance; coasting) and (b) a shift of resources toward the alternative goal (as reflected in higher goal-related performance on the alternative goal; shifting). Experiment 1 further demonstrated that positive feedback led to positive affect, and Experiment 2 demonstrated the causal role of affect in coasting and shifting. The implications of the present findings for future research on goal striving are discussed.