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Aspiration Level Adaptation: An Empirical Exploration


  • Theresa K. Lant

    (Department of Management/Organizational Behavior, Stern School of Business, New York University, 90 Trinity Place, New York, New York 10006)


Organizations have been modeled as goal directed systems which use simple decision rules to adapt behavior in response to performance feedback. This paper examines the formation of organizational goals, or aspiration levels, over time in groups of individuals representing top management teams of simulated organizations. The analysis compares the empirical validity of an adaptive attainment discrepancy model with models derived from rational and adaptive expectations theories. The results suggest that the attainment discrepancy model, which is based on a simple decision rule of adjustment to performance feedback, provides the most robust description of aspiration formation. They are also informative with regard to the application of expectation models to aspiration formation: There is a great deal of similarity between these results and those of prior studies on expectation formation. In addition, the study finds that there tends to be an optimistic bias in aspiration formation, that adaptation is not consistently incremental, and that adaptive learning may, over time, lead to behavioral outcomes that are consistent with rationality.

Suggested Citation

  • Theresa K. Lant, 1992. "Aspiration Level Adaptation: An Empirical Exploration," Management Science, INFORMS, vol. 38(5), pages 623-644, May.
  • Handle: RePEc:inm:ormnsc:v:38:y:1992:i:5:p:623-644

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