Home All APS Part 2: Goals, Perceptions, and a Challenge to Broaden and Build

APS Part 2: Goals, Perceptions, and a Challenge to Broaden and Build

written by Shannon Polly and Genevieve Douglass 15 June 2011
Goals and targets

Shannon Polly, MAPP '09, is a corporate communications trainer, facilitator, and coach in Washington, D.C. and the founder of a boutique consulting firm, Shannon Polly & Associates, where she applies positive psychology to leadership development. Shannon created workshops on Positive Management and Change Management, and she has facilitated resilience training for the U.S. Army. Full bio. Shannon's solo articles are here and her articles with Louisa Jewell are here.

Genevieve Douglass, MAPP '10, consults on organizational behavior topics including motivation, goal-setting, information sharing, and well-being. She also works on research at Columbia and Fordham Universities, studying how people find and develop callings, experience stress in negotiation, and regulate their attention and emotions. Full bio. Genna's solo articles are here.

Articles written by Shannon and Genevieve together are here.

The 23rd Annual American Psychological Science convention (www.psychologicalscience.org) took place May 25-29th in Washington, DC. The theme was Convergence: Connecting Levels of Analysis in Psychological Science. Over 3,500 attendees spent their Memorial Day weekend learning about new developments in Psychological Science. In her introductory remarks, the President of the APS Mahzarin Banaji said that she attended the first conference 23 years ago when it included wine and cheese in a parking lot and now they convened over 3,500 attendees in the largest ballroom in Washington, DC. This is part 2 of 2. Part 1 can be found here.

Dr. Harmon-Jones

Dr. Harmon-Jones

A Challenge to Broaden and Build?

Dr. Eddie Harmon-Jones presented a workshop for the Society for the Study of Motivation called The Effects of Pre-goal vs. Post-goal Positive Affect on Attentional Narrowing vs. Broadening. Dr. Harmon-Jones’ recent studies with Dr. Philip Gable suggest that possibly the Broaden and Build research led by Dr. Barbara Fredrickson has been painting with too broad a brush. Perhaps not all positive affective states broaden attention. His research suggested that approach motivation altered attentional spans. Their study discovered:

  • Positive affect low in approach motivation broadens attention
  • Positive affect high in approach motivation narrows attention

The current experiments manipulated pre-goal (high approach) and post-goal (low approach) positive states by giving participants the opportunity to win money on a game. Results revealed that pre-goal positive affect caused a narrowing of attention, whereas post-goal positive affect caused a broadening of attention.

Approach positive affects might be particularly important in finding food and mating, but might be problematic in over-eating, infidelity, and drug use.

The qualification Harmon-Jones made was that these studies primarily used pictures to generate positive affect. It is possible that the pictures, rather than the affective states created by them, may have led the subjects to focus on the details of the picture thus causing a narrowing of attentional scope. In addition, no study has tried to examine both low and high approach-motivated positive affect within the same individual in the same study. But it is an important distinction and this research shows that “Broaden and Build” is moderated by our goals.

Motivation Influences Sensory Perception

Goals and targets

Goals and targets

Shana Cole from New York University co-chaired a symposium entitled When, How, and Why Motivation Influences Sensory Perception that explored motivated perception— systematically biased perceptual experiences produced in part by active motivations, needs, and goals. The speakers demonstrated ways that the outer world is experienced through people’s inner states.

For example, Cole proposed that visual perception is biased in accordance with the dynamic self-regulatory process, showing evidence that visual representations of the environment are a function of physiological energy levels and active goal states. Thus objects that are capable of satisfying goals are seen as physically closer than those that are not. When potential to act is low, distances are exaggerated, so a target is seen as further away when the perceiver is low in resources.

In two studies, perceivers’ chronic physiological resources interacted with active goals to bias distance perception. Biased perceptions of the environment serve a regulatory function, readying participants physiologically for action. Cole’s preliminary evidence showed that motivated visual perception produces temporary changes in the physiological state of the perceiver as measured by their systolic blood pressure—a process called motivated mobilization. What was the most fascinating was that of three targets, the middle target (not the one furthest or the one closest) was the one that created optimal functioning in the subject. When people were mentally fatigued, it didn’t affect their physical capabilities but it affected their perception of energy, and so they didn’t go as far during the experiment.

Dr. Latham

Dr. Latham

More insights from Goal Setting Theory

Gary Latham, best known for his work with Edwin Locke on Goal Theory, gave his James McKeen Cattel Fellow Award Address, in which he described how Goal Theory came about.

He sums up Goal Setting Theory by saying, “a specific high goal leads to way higher performance than an easy goal, no goal, or an abstract goal such as urging people to do their best. A specific high goal leads to high performance. Given that you have goal commitment, the higher the goal, the higher the performance.”

A few more take-aways from Goal Setting Theory:

  • Monetary incentives affect behavior to the extent that they lead to the setting of and the commitment to a specific high goal.
  • Assigning someone a goal will work equally as well as including them in setting the goal, as long as you give them the underlying rationale.
  • If you are a novice at something, then it is better to try to come up with strategies than to set a specific goal or to “do your best.” Latham gives golf as an example. If you are bad at golf, then set a strategy goal such as “learn how to use putter by July” rather than a performance goal of achieving a specific number of strokes.

Situational Interview

Latham also gave a quick overview of the situational job interviewing technique that he devised. He describes a simple recipe. Pose a situation that involves a dilemma. He gives the example that you’re crossing the street downtown, it’s busy, you’ve reached the middle of the street, and your elderly parent requests your help crossing the street, and, at the same time, your $3 million winning lottery ticket blows out of your hand in the opposite direction. What do you do?

Dr. Banaji

Dr. Banaji

Then, create a 5-point Likert scale by determining what choice would indicate a great fit for the job (a 5 on the scale), a poor fit (a 1 on the scale), or in between (a 3 on the scale). Get answers to these from a group of hiring managers or supervisory people who know the job position well, and gain a consensus. Voila: a metric for hiring. Latham makes the point that intentions or goals predict behavior. If you know a person’s intention, you’ve got a high likelihood of knowing their behavior.

Latham will be giving this talk again in July at the upcoming IPPA World Congress in Philadelphia, PA.

Wikipedia Initiative

In her introductory remarks, the President of the APS, Mahzarin Banaji, announced that APS will be starting a Wikipedia Initiative. Wikipedia is the third most frequently visited website and the US version is visited 13 million times per day. But representation of psychological science on the site is uneven. APS will provide an easy way to access entries so that scholars can update, correct, or add content to the site. Dr. Banaji said the core value of the APS is giving away of psychology to the public “because the public’s interest is our interest. Ask yourself tomorrow ‘Have I edited a wiki entry today’?” Perhaps the researchers and readers of PPND can do the same.


Fredrickson, B. L., & Brannigan, C. (2005). Positive emotions broaden the scope of attention and thought-action repertoires. Cognition and Emotion,19, 313–332.

Gable, P.A. & Harmon-Jones, E. (2010). The effect of low versus high approach-motivated positive affect on memory for peripherally versus centrally presented information. American Psychological Association, 10(4), 599-603.

Gable, P. A., & Harmon-Jones, E. (2008a). Approach-motivated positive affect reduces breadth of attention. Psychological Science, 19, 476–482.

Gable, P. A., & Harmon-Jones, E. (2008b). Relative left frontal activation to appetitive stimuli: Considering the role of individual differences. Psychophysiology, 45, 275–278.

Latham, G. P., Saari, L. M., Pursell, E. D., & Campion, M. A. (1980). The situational interview. Journal of Applied Psychology, 65 (4), 422-427.

Locke, E. A., & Latham, G. P. 2002. Building a practically useful theory of goal setting and task motivation: A 35-year odyssey. American Psychologist, 57 (9), 705-717.

Defining targets differently courtesy of HikingArtist.com

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Morgan 15 June 2011 - 12:08 pm

A Challenge to Broaden and Build: I’m still in the learning process, but doesn’t Harmon-Jones’ experiment sort of ignore the studies done on intrinsic motivation? Studying a game that offers money as reward and relies on the carrot and stick mentality that’s been shown to provide worse results seems like it would skew his findings. I realize what’s here is just a summary, but that’s what struck me.

Wikipedia: This is great. A lot of my initial explorations into Positive Psychology have come from reading about Maslow, Csikszentmihalyi, Seligman, flow, the hierarchy of needs et cetera on Wikipedia. I am of course delving into the books on the topic in order to further and broaden my understanding, but there’s a lot of good information there that provides a guide as to where to look first.

Jeremy McCarthy 15 June 2011 - 3:38 pm

I agree with Morgan’s comments on Wikipedia. When I started my blog I actually went out of my way to try not to use Wikipedia as a source. But again and again I found that Wikipedia was a place where I could quickly find detailed information on just about anyone and anything. I now feel like Wikipedia has been such an invaluable asset to the research I do on my blog that I actually put a link on my site to solicit donations for Wikipedia.

I would definitely promote the Wikipedia initiative that they are looking to do around psychology subjects and would try and spread the word out as much as possible.

Shannon Polly 15 June 2011 - 7:47 pm

Good point, Morgan. It would be interesting to try Harmon-Jones’ experiments with an intrinsic goal and an extrinsic goal and see if attention was still narrowed.

And thanks, Jeremy, for promoting Wikipedia. I will try to get more information about the link that makes it easier to edit entries on the site as I’m sure many who read PPND could find things to correct and to add.

Harry 16 June 2011 - 2:45 am

Great insights. Love it.

Kathryn Britton 17 June 2011 - 10:49 am

I agree RE Wikipedia, I love the open source approach. Daniel Pink has a very funny passage about 7 minutes into his RSA media video where he imagines presenting to his economics professor a new business model. People all over the world, who already have busy jobs, will donate their time for free! And then the product will be given away for free! It’s gonna be huge!

Good idea to mobilize the psychology community to enhance the quality of the information available around the world about the field.


Todd Kashdan 17 June 2011 - 11:43 am

What would be great is if someone updated the wikipedia page for positive psychology so it reads less like an advertisement for a few scientists and authors and more of an even-handed review of the best of the best science. I could imagine a simple plan where on a listserv we each select a topic/idea/research program and create the initial template on the wikipedia page. Right now, based on the history and discussion section only a handful of people have written the entire page with an occasional person plugging their own stuff (which makes sense because perhaps nobody else would otherwise but then other people need to decide whether its of paramount importance to be on the primary page).

Shannon and Genevieve, nice even-handed discussion of a few APS topics.
I encourage people to go to http://psychologicalscience.org/ and watch some of the talks themselves. In particular, people should watch the interview with Banaji. Great stuff.


Shannon Polly 18 June 2011 - 3:28 pm

Thank you Harry, Kathryn and Todd for the comments and insights!

And thanks, Todd, for the link to APS. When I went there before the videos weren’t up.

Fantastic ideas about how to contribute to the wiki page and what topics to cover. The page does seem quite long as it is so the idea of branching off to other pages makes sense. Anyone feel inspired to take the lead on adding to it? (I’m still waiting to hear back about how APS is making it easier to update pages.)


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