01 July 2009

The impact of making intentions public

Fascinating paper by Peter Gollwitzer and team on the impact on completion of a goal of making one's intentions public. Experiments with students who were required (or not) to state their career intentions publicly (e.g. becoming a lawyer or a psychologist) found that those who were highly committed to their goals were less likely to do activities leading to those goals (e.g. looking at relevant case studies) if they had made their intentions public (there was no significant effect for those who were not strongly committed to a goal). Gollwitzer suggests that 'giving social reality' to an intention also gives a false sense of completion, and so reduces activities to achieve the goal.

How then do we achieve things, given that we often make our intentions public? Indeed public commitment to a goal underlies StikK and other, more traditional, campaigns and services aimed at behaviour change (e.g. AA, slimming clubs and gyms). But of course, they don't always work, and the commercial services might well collapse if every member who made the initial commitment and joined then persisted and continued to use them.

Gollwitzer thinks the pressure to conform to others' expectations spurs us on and that making our public intentions specific e.g. 'I will achieve x by x point' should enhance that effect by giving a measure by which can be seen to achieve or fail. Certainly StikK uses this technique. And he suggests keeping up motivation by some subtle phrasing of goals to fix them as steps to an overall goal rather than the goal itself. Frankly some of that seems just a little too subtle.

But interesting to know of the role of social reality in the complex of influences that lead us to achieve things (or not).

[Via Boing Boing]

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