Date of Award

Spring 1-1-2013

Document Type

Dissertation

Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)

First Advisor

John G. Lynch

Second Advisor

Margaret C. Campbell

Third Advisor

Yacheng Sun

Fourth Advisor

Lawrence E. Williams

Fifth Advisor

Gal Zauberman

Abstract

Any consumer behavior can be understood as a process of pursuing a goal. Since many consumer goals require one to complete multiple steps along the way, it has been an interesting topic for both marketers and consumers how to maintain motivation level throughout the process of goal pursuit. Despite the importance of the topic and the increasing amount of research, findings are diverse and sometimes look contradictory. In my two-essay dissertation, I distinguish different types of goals and propose two separate theoretical frameworks on goal proximity and its consequences (e.g., perception of spare time, inter-temporal choice, goal persistence, etc.). In my first essay, I examine a complex goal that consists of multiple distinct steps. Using an experimental approach, I show that in pursuing complex goals, people generate subgoals and shift their reference to the subgoals so that proximity to a subgoal changes perception of spare time and in turn influences inter-temporal choices. In my second essay, I study relatively simple goals involving repeating the same activity or very similar activities. I propose a mathematical model called a ‘Similarity-Proximity model’ from which previous diverse findings in goal pursuit literature can be deduced. I show both mathematically and experimentally that in pursuing relatively simple goals, people become satiated and project their expected hedonic utility to the other task as a function of similarity, and thus both proximity to a goal and similarity of interruption affect goal persistence. I supplement the existing literature on goal pursuit by demonstrating that causal psychological mechanisms by which goal progress affects goal persistence are entirely different depending on the nature of goal. In complex multistage goals, the key variable that dictates willingness to be interrupted is subgoal proximity. In simple, repetitive, goals, the key variables are satiation from repetition and similarity between the focal activity and some interruption.

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