Can motto-goals outperform learning and performance goals? Influence of goal setting on performance and affect in a complex problem solving task

  • Miriam Sophia Rohe (Author)
    Heidelberg University
  • Joachim Funke (Author)
    Heidelberg University
  • Maja Storch (Author)
    Institute for Self-management and Motivation, University of Zurich
  • Julia Weber (Author)
    Institute for Self-management and Motivation, University of Zurich

Identifiers (Article)


In this paper, we bring together research on complex problem solving with that on motivational psychology about goal setting. Complex problems require motivational effort because of their inherent difficulties. Goal Setting Theory has shown with simple tasks that high, specific performance goals lead to better performance outcome than do-your-best goals. However, in complex tasks, learning goals have proven more effective than performance goals. Based on the Zurich Resource Model, so-called motto-goals (e.g., “I breathe happiness”) should activate a person’s resources through positive affect. It was found that motto-goals are effective with unpleasant duties. Therefore, we tested the hypothesis that motto-goals outperform learning and performance goals in the case of complex problems. A total of N = 123 subject participated in the experiment. In dependence of their goal condition, subjects developed a personal motto, learning, or performance goal. This goal was adapted for the computer-simulated complex scenario Tailorshop, where subjects worked as managers in a small fictional company. Other than expected, there was no main effect of goal condition for the management performance. An unexpected gender effect revealed better performance for men than women, pointing to a potential stereotype threat. As hypothesized, motto goals led to higher positive and lower negative affect than the other two goal types. Even though positive affect decreased and negative affect increased in all three groups during Tailorshop completion, participants with motto goals reported the lowest rates of negative affect. Exploratory analyses investigated the role of affect in complex problem solving via mediational analyses and the influence of goal type on perceived goal attainment.



Supplementary Content

Type, method or approach
Original empirical work
problem solving, goal setting, affect, performance, Tailorshop