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Striving For A Goal? Beware of Progress Bias

Striving For A Goal? Beware of Progress Bias

Trying to lose weight or save money? Don’t set yourself up for failure by falling victim to “progress bias,” new research warns.

According to the new research, people tend to overestimate their progress towards a goal and underestimate setbacks. That may have led to the title of the study: “The Progress Bias in Goal Pursuit: When One Step Forward Seems Larger than One Step Back.”

“Our studies provide strong evidence of a progress bias when consumers pursue goals,” researchers Margaret C. Campbell of the University of Colorado and Caleb Warren of Texas A&M University write in the study, published in the Journal of Consumer Research.

“Consumers tend to think that ‘good’ behaviors impact goal pursuit more than equivalent ‘bad’ behaviors. This can make consumers think that they are doing fine when they really aren’t.”

Across seven studies, the researchers found evidence for the progress bias — the belief that the positive has more impact than the negative — when people pursued goals such as saving money, losing weight, or winning a game.

The researchers found that people tend to believe they will succeed in achieving their goals. This belief leads them to give more weight to behaviors consistent with their beliefs.

For example, if you are on a diet, you are likely to think that not eating a donut makes a bigger difference than eating a donut, the researchers noted. Or you might think that saving $100 will get you closer to your goal of saving $100,000 for retirement than spending $100 will take you away from reaching your goal of saving $100,000.

“People feel that they can stop working toward a goal before they really should,” the researchers said.

“This is consistent with findings that exercise programs often do not lead to weight loss because people tend to think they can eat more if they exercise more. We think the progress bias helps explain why consumers often have a hard time achieving difficult long-term goals, such as managing their weight or saving for retirement.”

Source: University of Chicago Press Journals

Striving For A Goal? Beware of Progress Bias

Janice Wood

Janice Wood is a long-time writer and editor who began working at a daily newspaper before graduating from college. She has worked at a variety of newspapers, magazines and websites, covering everything from aviation to finance to healthcare.

APA Reference
Wood, J. (2018). Striving For A Goal? Beware of Progress Bias. Psych Central. Retrieved on November 24, 2020, from
Scientifically Reviewed
Last updated: 8 Aug 2018 (Originally: 8 Mar 2015)
Last reviewed: By a member of our scientific advisory board on 8 Aug 2018
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