Influence of Self-Image on How We Attain Goals

A new study suggests that people may be influenced by whether they view themselves as more or less of an independent type, and whether they generally try to be ambitious or maintain the status quo.

It is information that not only could help individuals set goals they may reasonably hope to achieve, but it also could guide marketers in matching a product to a particular audience, according to the study, published in the Journal of Consumer Research.

For the study, lead author Haiyang Yang, Ph.D., of the Johns Hopkins Carey Business School and his two co-authors examined two kinds of “self-construal” — ways in which people view themselves — as well as two types of goals a person can set.

Someone with an “independent” self-construal sees himself as distinct from others, while a person with an “interdependent” view aims to fit into the social structure and maintain harmonious relations with others, Yang said.

Goals were identified as those of “attainment” or “maintenance.” Attainment goals seek to reach a desired state, such as losing weight or adding to a savings account. Maintenance goals maintain the status quo, by keeping weight or savings accounts at their current levels.

Through six experiments involving more than 2,000 people in the United States and China, the researchers found that those with a predominantly independent self-construal tend to be motivated more by goals of attainment and the accompanying potential for advancement and distinction.

However, the more interdependent, or social, individuals tend to be motivated by maintenance goals that emphasize stability and continuity.

“In one of our studies, we observed people’s real-life body weight goal pursuit behaviors — that is, losing vs. maintaining body weight — over a period of 13 months,” Yang said. “We found that people who had fewer social ties, and hence were more independent, were more likely to set the goal of reducing body weight.

“Further, after people set their weight-management goals, the more independent individuals were more motivated, as measured by the amount of the money they were willing to bet on their success, to pursue weight-loss goals as opposed to weight-maintenance goals.”

Appeals to a person’s sense of independence or interdependence can influence how goals are set, and eventually met, he noted.

The study suggests that companies should consider these findings when marketing products and services internationally, with an eye to whether the national culture leans toward independence or interdependence.

The researchers add that consumers can practice the same kind of leverage on themselves by matching their goals to their self-construal, increasing the motivation to bring their actions to successful conclusions.

Source: Johns Hopkins University
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