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Joyce Ehrlinger | Social Cognition Lab JOYCE EHRLINGER | SOCIAL COGNITION LAB

Perceptions of Progress, Self-Efficacy and Goal-Directed Behavior:

I am also fascinated with understanding the consequences of over and underconfidence for goal commitment, goal-directed behavior, and achievement. My research has grown to include understanding the factors that inspire or impede confidence in one’s progress toward goals. People might evaluate their progress by focusing on what they have left to accomplish or by focusing on what they have already achieved. With my students and Richard Eibach, I have shown that the focus one adopts has important consequences for perceptions of progress toward personal (Conlon*, Ehrlinger, Eibach, Crescioni*, Alquist*, Gerend, & Dutton, 2011) and group-based (Eibach & Ehrlinger, 2006; Eibach & Ehrlinger, 2010) goals. In particular, our work suggests that, relative to a beginning point or where one has started, current levels of goal progress can seem very impressive. However, relative to where one wants to be, current progress might seem insufficient. To examine how adopted reference points shape perceptions of progress toward an important goal, we conducted a 12-week community weight loss program through which we tracked participants’ perceptions of progress, commitment to their goals, and actual goal achievement in the form of weight lost each week. Participants were randomly assigned to a no focus control or one of two experimental groups in which their focus was directed either toward what they still needed to achieve to reach their goal (goal focus) or toward what they had already achieved (accomplishment focus). We expected that focus on one’s weight loss goal would lead participants to view their goal progress as insufficient, compared to the other conditions, and inspire greater motivation and goal-directed behavior. Indeed, goal-focused participants reported higher levels of commitment to their goal than their control and accomplishment-focused peers. Further, goal focused participants lost significantly more weight than those in the other groups, suggesting that the focus one adopts has important consequences on goal achievement (Conlon* et al, 2011).

More recently, my fascination with the self-threat that comes from fixed theories of attributes and my interest in goal-directed behavior led me to develop a measure of people’s beliefs regarding malleability in their weight (Ehrlinger, Burnette, & Orvidas, & Park, Under Review). In a set of three studies, I demonstrated that people who view weight as malleable report higher feelings of self-efficacy regarding nutritious eating than those with more fixed views of weight. Both when theories of weight were measured and, in a second study, when they were experimentally manipulated, people with more malleable views of weight ate less of a high fat, high-calorie snack in taste-test task than those with more fixed weight. A third study demonstrated that this effect of implicit theories of weight on eating behavior was mediated by the benefit that a malleable view had on participants feelings of self-efficacy.

Maximizing and commitment: Finally, I have explored the consequences of pursuing a specific goal — the goal to maximize in one’s decisions. Past research suggests that individuals who seek to maximize, or select the best option, show less satisfaction with their choices than those who satisfice or select the first “good enough” option. My work suggests that this difference in choice satisfaction stems, in part, from a difference in willingness to commit to one’s choices. Maximizers report a stronger preference than satisficers to delay commitment and retain the possibility to change their mind (Sparks*, Ehrlinger, & Eibach, 2011). Further, this reticence to commit has important consequences for choice satisfaction. Satisficers show evidence of classic dissonance reduction after making a choice by rating the chosen option more positively and alternatives less positively. In contrast, maximizers do not show this classic pattern in their ratings. This work provides valuable insight how maximizing impacts satisfaction and subjective well-being.

Related Papers

*denote current or former graduate student co-authors

Conlon*, K. E., Ehrlinger, J., Eibach, R. P., Crescioni*, A. W., Alquist*, J. L., Gerend, M. A., & Dutton, G. R. (2011). Keeping one’s eyes on the prize: The longitudinal benefits of accomplishment focus on progress toward a weight loss goal. Journal of Experimental Social Psychology. 47, 853-855. doi:10.1016/j.jesp.2011.02.005. [pdf]

Eibach, R. P. & Ehrlinger, J. (2006). “Keep your eyes on the prize”: Reference points and group differences in assessing progress towards equality. Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin, 32, 66-77. doi:10.1177/0146167205279585. [pdf]

Eibach, R. P., & Ehrlinger, J. (2010). Reference points in men’s and women’s judgments of progress towards gender equality. Sex Roles, 63(11), 882-893. doi:10.1007/s11199-010-9846-7. [pdf]

Crescioni*, A. W., Ehrlinger, J., Alquist*, J. L., Conlon*, K. E., Baumeister, R. F., & Dutton, G. R. (2011). High trait self-control predicts positive health behaviors and success in weight loss. Journal of Health Psychology, 16(5), 750-759. doi:10.1177/1359105310390247. [pdf]

Ehrlinger, J., Burnette, J. L., Park*, J., Harrold*, M. L., Orvidas*, K., (2016). Guilty pleasures: Fixed beliefs about weight predict consumption of high calorie, high fat foods. Manuscript under Review. Washington State University. [pdf] [Supp. Material] [OSF]

Sparks*, E. A., Ehrlinger, J., & Eibach, R. P. (2012). Failing to commit: Maximizers avoid commitment in a way that contributes to reduced satisfaction. Personality and Individual Differences, 52, 72-77. doi:10.1016/j.paid.2011.09.002. [pdf]

Ehrlinger, J. & Eibach, R. P. (2011) Focalism and the failure to foresee unintended consequences. Basic and Applied Social Psychology. 33, 59-68. doi:10.1080/01973533.2010.539955. [pdf]

Ehrlinger, J., Plant, E. A., Eibach, R. P., Columb*, C. J., Goplen*, J. L., Kunstman*, J. W., & Butz*, D. A. (2011) How exposure to the Confederate flag affects willingness to vote for Barack Obama. Political Psychology, 32(1), 131-146. doi:10.1111/j.1467-9221.2010.00797.x. [pdf]

Sparks*, E. A., & Ehrlinger, J. (2012). Psychological contributors to the failure to anticipate unintended consequences. Compass: Social and Personality Psychology, 6(5), 417-427. doi:10.1111/j.1751-9004.2012.00435.x. [pdf]

Eibach, R. P., Libby, L. K., & Ehrlinger, J. (2012). Unrecognized changes in the self contribute to exaggerated judgments of external decline. Basic and Applied Social Psychology, 34(3), 193-203. doi:10.1080/01973533.2012.674416. [pdf]

Eibach, R. P., Libby, L. K., & Ehrlinger, J. (2009). Priming family values: How being a parent affects moral evaluations of harmless but offensive acts. Journal of Experimental Social Psychology, 45(5), 1160-1163. doi:10.1016/j.jesp.2009.06.017. [pdf]