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Predictors of Goal Progress Avoidance

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Predictors of Goal Progress Avoidance
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Cui, Colleen
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Goal progress information helps people achieve their goals. Despite its benefits, people may avoid this information. For example, students who want to earn a good grade in a class may delay or even avoid viewing their scores on exams and assignments. They avoid information even though keeping up with their progress would help them understand their performance and allow them to adjust actions accordingly. In this study, 207 participants completed a series of surveys to measure their personality, social support, and perceived control over performance in math, and then completed a 12-question math test. They were randomly assigned to either an obligation or no-obligation condition. In the obligation condition, if a participant chose to check their answer, then they needed to type a short response describing how they felt about their math skills and what they planned to do to improve. In the no-obligation condition, if a participant chose to check their answer, then they could do so without any stipulations. We offered them the opportunity to check their answers after each question. Participants avoided checking their answers more when they reported less social support. They also avoided more when doing so required an obligation, compared to when there was no obligation. Higher perceived control attenuated this effect of obligation on avoidance. ( en )
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Awarded Bachelor of Science, magna cum laude, on May 8, 2018. Major: Psychology. Emphasis/Concentration: Behavioral and Cognitive Neuroscience
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College or School: College of Liberal Arts and Sciences
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Advisor: Gregory Webster. Advisor Department or School: Psychology

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University of Florida
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University of Florida
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Copyright Colleen Cui. Permission granted to the University of Florida to digitize, archive and distribute this item for non-profit research and educational purposes. Any reuse of this item in excess of fair use or other copyright exemptions requires permission of the copyright holder.

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Running Head: PREDICTORS OF GOAL PROGRESS AVOIDANCE 1 Predictors of Goal Progress Avoidance Colleen Cui University of Florida

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PREDICTORS OF GOAL PROGRESS AVOIDANCE 2 Predictors of Goal Progress Avoidance Goal progress information helps people achieve their goals. Despite its benefits, people may avoid this information. For example, students who want to earn a good grade in a class may delay or even avoid viewing their scores on exams and assignments. They avoid information even though keeping up with their progress would help them understand their performance and allow them to adjust actions accordingly. Studies have shown that when information might demand undesired action, people tend to avoid the information. One reason sex workers and clients do not ge t tested for AIDS is if the test comes out positive, they would have to change their behaviors (Varga, 2001). O ne reason women delay visiting the doctor about a suspicious breast lump is that they might have to get a mastectomy (Ajekigbe, 1991). People also avoid feedback more when it could obligate highly undesirable behavior compared with mildly undesirable behavior, showing that obligation indeed affects this avoidance for health related information ( Howell & Shepperd, 201 3 ). However, it is unc ertain whether obligation would also lead to avoidance with information regarding goal progress. In one study, the primary self reported reason for not monitoring goal progress was the potential for necessary undesired actions; however, in another study, t he more participants thought monitoring their weight loss progress would require an undesired action, the more they weighed themselves (Chang, Webb, & Benn, 2017). These conflicting results might be explained by potential moderators such as personality, emotional resources, and perceived control. Indeed, research indicates that Big Five personality factors have strong influences on behavior. Neuroticism and conscientiousness had consistent negative and positiv e correlations, respectively, with goal setting motivation, expectancy motivation, and self efficacy motivation in a meta analysis (Judge & Ilies, 2002).

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PREDICTORS OF GOAL PROGRESS AVOIDANCE 3 Conscientiousness is also a consistent positive predictor of academic performance (Chamorro Premuzic & Furnham, 2003). Other research indicates that the availability of emotional resources negatively relates to general information avoidance, and that those who had fewer emotional coping resources such as social support reported a greater tendency to avoid information (Ho well Crosier, Shepperd, 2014; Sweeny, Melnyk, Miller, Shepperd, 2010). Studies have also shown that feedback seeking and that people who perceive more control are more open to potentia lly negative feedback ( Trope et al., 2003). In goal progress related avoidance, a previous study did not indicate that perceived control over goal attainment was a strongly endorsed predictor but it is worth examining again (Chang, Webb, & Benn, 2017). The purpose of the present research is to deepen our understanding of what contributes to goal progress information avoidance. We expect that having a potential obligation would lead to less progress monitoring overall; but that the effect of obligation wi ll be weaker among those with higher levels of perceived control over goal attainment, social support, and conscientiousness, and among those with lower levels of neuroticism : H1: The presence of an obligation will lead to more goal progress information avoidance. H2: Perceived control moderates the relationship between obligation and progress avoidance. Higher levels of perceived control will lessen the effects of obligation.

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PREDICTORS OF GOAL PROGRESS AVOIDANCE 4 H3: Perceived social support moderates the relationship between obligation and progress avoidance. Higher levels of perceived social support lessen the effects of obligation. H4: Conscientiousness moderates the relationship between obligation and progress avoidance. Higher levels of conscientiousness will lessen the effects of obliga tion. H5: Neuroticism moderates the relationship between obligation and progress avoidance. Lower levels of neuroticism will lessen the effects of obligation. Method Participants Undergraduate students at the University of Florida enrolled in an Introduction to Psychology course completed a Qualtrics survey to participate in the study and fulfill requirements for the ir course. We excluded participants who se data was deemed unsuitable by research assistants C ommon reasons were clicking random answers and finishing way too quickly After excluding 8 unsuitable responses we used data from 207 participants (143 female and 64 male) Participants were 6 4 % W hite, 1 3 % Hispanic/Latino, 11% B lack, 7% Asian, 2% Pacific Islander, and 3% Mixed Race. Procedure P articipants completed a series of surveys to measure their personality, emotional resources, and perceived control over performance in math, and then completed a 12 question math test The questions were from the Canadian Math Competition, which used in a past study to measure math performance (Shih et al. 1999). Participants were told that the results were important for our research and asked to try their best to answer each math questi on correctly. An

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PREDICTORS OF GOAL PROGRESS AVOIDANCE 5 answered correctly as a way for them to monitor progress. P articipants were randomly assigned to either an obligation or no obligation co ndition. In the obligation condition, if a participant cho se to check their answer, then they needed to type a short response describing how they fe lt about their math skills and what they plan ned to do to improve. In the no obligation condition, if a par ticipant chose to check their answer, then they c ould do so without any stipulations. Typing a response can be tedious and time consuming, so we expected that the obligation would cause more people to avoid checking their answers. A t the end of the study everyone was debriefed about the true purpose of the experiment. Due to a miscommunication, most of the participants were told they would have 45 minutes to complete both the surveys and math, but some were told that after they finished the surveys, they would have 30 minutes to complete the math. We examined this timing difference as part of our analysis to see if it made a difference. Measures Means, SD s, and reliability coefficients for all measures described below appear in Table 1. Big Five p ersonality t raits. The Big Five Inventory ( John & Srivastava, 1999 ) is a 44 item surve y that assesses levels of five broad personality factors : o penness to experience (e.g., Va lues artistic, aesthetic experiences conscientiousness extraversion agreeableness Has

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PREDICTORS OF GOAL PROGRESS AVOIDANCE 6 a forgiving neuroticism ). Social s upport. The Multidimensional Scale of Perceived Social Support (MSPSS ; Zimet, Dahlem, Zimet & Farley, 1988 ) is a 12 item survey that measures perceptions of support from three sources: fam ily (e I get the emotional help and support I need from my family. friends and significant other (e.g., Perceived c ontrol. The short form of t he Attitudes Towards Mathematics Inventory (ATMI ; Lim & Chapman 2012 ) is a 19 item survey that measure s attitudes and confidence towards math It makes me nervous to even think about having to do a mathematics problem There are strong relationships between these attitudes and achievement and students who think highly of their abilitie s have more perceived control of their desired outcome. Information a voidance. W e summed the n umber of times each participant chose not to check their answer and calculated a proportion by dividing this number by the total number of questions completed. We used the proportion of avoidance instead of the total count of avoidance since the study was timed and some participants did not finish all the math. For example, a participant who attempted 5 times and avoided 3 times is counted differently than a participant who also avoided 3 times but attempted 12 questions.

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PREDICTORS OF GOAL PROGRESS AVOIDANCE 7 Table 1 Descriptive statistics for predictors Variable M SD 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 1. Openness 3.50 0.57 .75 2. Conscientiousness 3.71 0.59 .80 .08 3. Extraversion 3.29 0.83 .90 .13 .09 4. Agreeableness 3.86 0.58 .79 .18* .29* .21* 5. Neuroticism 2.94 0.76 .85 .00 .21* .25* .38* 6. MSPSS 5.86 1.03 .94 .12 .10 .31* .24* .26* 7. ATMI 4.35 1.39 .75 .01 .18* .15* .15* .11 .02 8. Avoidance 0.33 0.36 .03 .05 .07 .07 .15* .16* .16* Note p < .05 Results To test our hypotheses, we ran two step multiple regressions with main effects entered in Step 1 and interactions in Step 2 (i.e., each individual difference interacting with obligation ) Perceived Control A higher ATMI score mean s more positive attitudes and higher confidence towards math. ATMI negatively predicted the amount of avoidance and h aving an obligation positively predicted the amount of avoidance. A significant interaction ( partial correlation or r p = .1 7; Table 2; Figure 1 ) showed that obligation led to more avoi dance, but simple effect tests showed that the effect was stronger for those who were less confident in math ( r p = 54 ) compared to those who were more confident in math ( r p = .33). This supports the hypothesis that having a n obligation leads to more goal progress avoidance overall and that the effect is stronger among those with lower levels of confidence towards the task or perceived control.

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PREDICTORS OF GOAL PROGRESS AVOIDANCE 8 Table 2 Predicting avoidance with Attitudes Towards Math and Obligation. Model or variable b t p r p Step 1 ATMI 0 .04 2.92 .00 .20 Obligation 0 .38 9. 30 .00 .5 5 Step 2 ATMI 0 .04 2.9 4 .00 .20 Obligation 0 .38 9.4 5 .00 .55 ATMI x Obligation 0 .07 2.42 .00 .1 7 Figure 1 Interaction between ATMI and obligation on proportion of feedback avoided. Social Support A higher score of MSPSS meant more perceived social support from family, friends, and significant other s MSPSS negatively predicted amount of avoidance ( r p = .1 6 ) and o bligation 0 0.1 0.2 0.3 0.4 0.5 0.6 0.7 0.8 0.9 1 -1 SD ATMI +1 SD ATMI Proportion of Avoidance Obligation Absent Obligation Present

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PREDICTORS OF GOAL PROGRESS AVOIDANCE 9 positively predicted amount of avoidance ( r p =.5 4 ). There was no interaction. Although we predicted that there would be one this result still confirms that both social support and obligation influence the degree to which people avoid goal progress information Table 3 Predicting avoidance with Support and Obligation Model or variable b t p r p Step 1 MSPSS 0 .0 5 2.2 9 .02 .1 6 Obligation 0 .3 8 9.09 .00 .5 4 Step 2 MSPSS 0 .0 5 2.3 2 .02 .16 Obligation 0 .3 8 9.0 8 .00 .5 4 MSPSS x Obligation 0 .0 3 0 .71 .4 8 .05 Personality We found no significant results for any of the five factor personality items None of the personality factors predicted avoidance n or did they interact with other predictor s. Timing Some participants thought they had 45 minutes total for the surveys and math while others thought they had unlimited time for the surveys and 30 minutes for the mat h. Thus, w e ran multi step regressions to control for the possible difference in perception of timing and test for possible interactions Re running analyses while controlling for timing yielded no effect s except i n one interaction between timing and ATM I ( r p = .16 ; Figure 2 ) This reveal ed that people who were

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PREDICTORS OF GOAL PROGRESS AVOIDANCE 10 high in ATMI level avoided more when they thought they had 30 minutes for math but avoided less when they thought they had 45 minutes total. However, timing did not affect the ATMI and obligation interaction Figure 2 Interaction between timing and ATMI on proportion of feedback avoided. Testing for Independence We ran a simultaneous regression with all predictors controlling for timing Results show MSPSS ( r p = .16) obligation ( r p = .54) and ATMI ( r p = .20) all had independent effect s on avoidance. 0 0.1 0.2 0.3 0.4 0.5 0.6 0.7 0.8 0.9 1 -1 SD ATMI +1 SD ATMI Proportion of Avoidance Survey, then 30 minute math 45 minute survey and math

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PREDICTORS OF GOAL PROGRESS AVOIDANCE 11 Table 4 Predicting independent effects of avoidance Model or variable b t p r p Step 1 MSPSS 0 .0 5 2.26 .0 3 .1 6 Obligation 0 .3 8 9.10 .00 .5 4 ATMI 0 .04 2.8 7 .0 1 20 Timing 0 .01 0 .2 5 .8 1 .0 2 Discussion This study sought to answer the question of how different factors can predict information avoidance on a goal related task. We examined the effect of obligation among other predictors: confidence in math, social support, and personality. Our results suppor t the existing literature concerning the effects of obligation on avoidance of information (Howell & Shepperd, 2013). In addition, they contribute to a different context goal progress related information. This information can be relevant for those trying to achieve a goal, and especially relevant for students in an academic setting. Th is study shows that social support is an important factor in avoidance. We believe that having social support helps people cope with negative information, so it makes the prospect of potential negative information less threatening. People often need others to help them deal with feelings of stress or inadequacy. Th is study also shows how control and obligation interact as tw o predictors of avoidance Having higher perceived confidence over an outcome o r result attenuates effect of obligation on avoidance. This finding suggests that finding ways to feel in control can mitigate the aversion to finding out information that can obligate an undesired action. Future studies might look for interventions or other ways to help people feel more in control, even when the situation is out of

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PREDICTORS OF GOAL PROGRESS AVOIDANCE 12 their control. Researchers in a past study did not find that perceived control over goal attainment had any effect on goal progress avoidance, so our conflicting result warrants more research in this area (Chang, Webb, & Benn, 2017). We did not find any personality impa ct s on the extent to which people avoided their goal progress information. This is surprising, considering the research on conscientiousness and its relation to goal setting, motivation, and academic performance. The timing effect on ATMI scores is an int eresting result. People high in ATMI level avoided more when they thought they had 30 minutes for math but avoided less when they thought they had 45 minutes for both surveys and math We speculate this could be due to the perception of time allotted. 45 minutes sounds longer than 30 minutes, even though the actual timing of sessions were quite similar since the 45 minute constraint included the time needed to fill out the individual differences surveys Therefore, p articipants may have the perception that with more time, they could work more carefully and check their answers without worrying about time running out. This could be a significant factor only for those high in ATMI because since they had more confidence i n their math skills, they would find checking answers to be more meaningful than those low in ATMI, who might have figure d their answers would be incorrect regardless of time allotted. More research is needed to understand the relationship between perceive d control and perceived time. In addition, t here could also be a contemplation effect in play Having more time to contemplate whether to receive information can reduce avoidance ( Howell & Shepperd, 2013). We do not know if our results would generalize to other goals and tasks unrelated to mathematics. We also do not know if age would affect the frequency or type of goal information

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PREDICTORS OF GOAL PROGRESS AVOIDANCE 13 that is avoided since people at different stages of life prioritize different issues. These are both more research areas to consider. Monitoring progress is beneficial for goal setting and academic success, but if this information is avoided, then there can be various ramifications, such as last minute panic regarding assignments or g rades. to help people face the information they need.

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PREDICTORS OF GOAL PROGRESS AVOIDANCE 14 References Ajekigbe A. T. (1991). Fear of mastectomy: The most common factor responsible for late presentation of carcinoma of the breast in Nigeria. Clinical Oncology 3 78 80. Chamorro Premuzic, T. and Furnham, A. (2003), Personality traits and academic examination perfo rmance. European Journal of Personality 17 237 250. Chang, B. P. I., Webb, T. L., Benn, Y. (2017). Why d o p eople a ct l ike the p roverbial o strich? Investigating the r easons t hat p eople p rovide for n ot m onitoring t heir g oal p rogress. F rontiers in Psychology 8 152. Howell, J. L., Crosier, B. S., Shepperd, J. A. (2014). Does lacking threat management resources increase information avoidance? A multi sample, multi method investigation. Journal of Research in Personality 50 102 109. Howell, J. L., Shepperd, J. A. (201 3 ). Behavioral Obligation and Information Avoidance. Annals of Behavioral Medicine, 40, 258 263 Howell, J. L., Shepperd, J. A. (2013). Reducing Health Information Avoidance Through Contemplation. Psychological Science, 24 1696 1703. John, O. P., & Srivastava, S. (1999). The Big Five trait taxonomy: History, measurement, and theoretical perspectives. Handbook of personality: Theory and research. 2. 102 138. Judge, T. A. and Ilies, R. (2002). Relationship of Personality to Performance M otivation: A Meta Analytic Review. Journal of Applied Psychology 87 797 807. Lim, S. Y. & Chapman, E. (2013). Development of a short form of the attitudes towards mathematics inventory. Educational Studies in Mathematics 82 145 164. Shih, M., Pittinsky T. L., & Ambady, N. (1999). Stereotype susceptibility: Identity salience and shifts in quantitative performance. Psychological Science, 10, 80 83.

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PREDICTORS OF GOAL PROGRESS AVOIDANCE 15 Sweeny, K., Melnyk, D., Miller, W., Shepperd, J. A. (2010). Information Avoidance: Who, What, When, and Why Review of General Psychology 14 340 353. Trope, Y., Gervey, B., & Bolger, N. (2003). The role of perceived control in overcoming defensive self evaluation. Journal of Experimental Social Psychology, 39 407 419. Varga AIDS Care 13 351 365. Zimet, G.D., Dahlem, N.W., Zimet, S.G. & Farley, G.K. (1988). The Multidimensional Scale of Perceived Social Support. Journal of Personality Assessment 52 30 41.