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A well-supported view of goal pursuit states that committing to a specific plan for a goal will increase one's odds of success (Gollwitzer, 1999). The present work sought to reveal an exception to that rule. First, it was predicted that specific plans could cause a person to cease noticing alternative opportunities for attainment. Second, it was predicted that that effect could hinder a person's ability to capitalize on an alternative, even when it is the only means for achieving success. The results from three studies tended to support the predictions. In a pilot study, participants who made a plan for a goal expressed little interest in an alternative means of attaining it. In Study 1, it was predicted that a plan would cause a decrease in attention to alternatives during early stages of information processing. That prediction was not supported, due potentially to a flaw in the methods used. In Study 2, participants who made a plan were significantly less likely to capitalize on an alternative means, even when it was the only opportunity to fulfill the goal. That counterproductive effect of plans was mediated by an inability to recognize the usefulness of the vital alternative option. Together, the results suggest a trade-off in plan making. While plans may make people more committed to taking action, they may also cause people to be less flexible in their pursuit of the goal. Thus, plan making is only sometimes helpful. When successful goal pursuit requires an ability to switch flexibly among alternative means for attaining the goal, specific plans can be detrimental to success.
A Dissertation submitted to the Department of Psychology in partial fulfillment of the requirements for the degree of Doctor of Philosophy.
Includes bibliographical references.
Roy F. Baumeister, Professor Directing Dissertation; Alfred R. Mele, University Representative; K. Anders Ericsson, Committee Member; Michael P. Kaschak, Committee Member; Jon K. Maner, Committee Member.
Florida State University
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