The Small-Area Hypothesis: Effects of Progress Monitoring on Goal Adherence
This article examines a small-area hypothesis: individuals striving toward a goal end state exhibit greater motivation when their attention is directed to whichever is smaller in size—their accumulated or remaining progress. The result is that, at the beginning of goal pursuit, directing attention to accumulated progress increases goal adherence relative to directing attention to remaining progress (e.g., 20% completed is more impactful than 80% remaining). However, with closeness to the goal, directing attention to accumulated progress lessens goal adherence relative to directing attention to remaining progress (e.g., 20% remaining is more impactful than 80% completed; studies 1–2). The focus on small areas increases motivation by creating an illusion of fast progress (study 3). Therefore, when individuals wish to prolong goal pursuit and avoid reaching the goal’s end state, they slow down goal adherence when their attention is directed to small areas (study 4).
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