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

18 Pages Posted: 1 Feb 2015  

Margaret C. Campbell

University of Colorado at Boulder

Caleb Warren

Texas A&M University - Department of Marketing

Date Written: January 30, 2015

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.

Suggested Citation

Campbell, Margaret C. and Warren, Caleb, The Progress Bias in Goal Pursuit: When One Step Forward Seems Larger than One Step Back (January 30, 2015). Journal of Consumer Research, Vol. 41, February 2015; Mays Business School Research Paper No. 2015-15. Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=2558106

Margaret Campbell

University of Colorado at Boulder ( email )

Leeds School of Business
419 UCB
Boulder, CO 80309
United States

Caleb Warren (Contact Author)

Texas A&M University - Department of Marketing ( email )

430 Wehner
College Station, TX 77843-4218
United States

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