Human Motivation & Affective Neuroscience Lab
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Causes and consequences of matches and mismatches between implicit motives and explicit goals

Although implicit motives predict biological, behavioral, and even societal phenomena (such as economic growth), they do not overlap substantially with people's consciously held views of themselves, their self-attributed motivations, and the personal goals they intentionally pursue in their daily lives (for an overview, see Schultheiss, 2008, and Schultheiss & Brunstein, 2010). The lack of correlation between implicit and explicit motives has been observed consistently in research studies for over 50 years and has been confirmed for the three domains of motivation (power, achievement, affiliation) by a recent meta-analysis (Köllner & Schultheiss, in preparation). The lack of convergence between implicit and explicit motives can also lead to trouble. For instance, Joachim Brunstein, Oliver Schultheiss, and colleagues found that people experience emotional well-being in their daily lives only to the extent that they can realize personal goals that match their implicit motives (e.g., a power-motivated person achieving the goal of getting elected president of a student organization). When people pursue goals that do not match their implicit motives or, even worse, run counter to them (e.g., an affiliation-motivated person pursuing a power goal such as becoming more assertive), progress towards the goal fails to bring them satisfaction and can even lead to decreased emotional well-being (Brunstein, Lautenschlager, Nawroth, Poehlmann, & Schultheiss, 1995; Brunstein, Graessmann, & Schultheiss, 1998). Research at the HuMAN Lab has recently replicated and extended these findings by showing that people who successfully enact motive-congruent goals suffer virtually no depressive symptoms and show low stress hormone levels, whereas individuals who make little progress towards motive-congruent goals and individuals who pursue motive-incongruent goals have high levels of depressive symptoms and stress hormone levels (Schultheiss, Jones, Davis, & Kley, 2008; Wirth, Welsh, & Schultheiss, 2006).

One reason why people are prone to choose goals that do not match their motives is that at the time of the decision, people are often in a situation that is very different from what they would encounter during goal pursuit. They therefore may not realize what committing to a particular goal would entail at an affective and motivational level. When research participants are given an opportunity to experientially 'pull' a future goal into the present by vividly imagining its pursuit, they can gauge from their affective responses whether it would fit their implicit needs and, if it does, are much more likely to commit to the goal and intelligently pursue it. Without the opportunity to 'pre-experience' the goal, on the other hand, participants' goal commitment and pursuit is independent of their implicit motives (Schultheiss, 2001; Schultheiss & Brunstein, 1999, 2002).

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