Divergent Effects of Distance Versus Velocity Disturbances on Emotional Experiences During Goal Pursuit

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Disturbances are factors outside of a person’s control that influence goal progress. Although disturbances are typically included in theoretical accounts of goal pursuit, relatively little empirical research has explicitly considered the effects of disturbances on the goal-striving process. We address this gap in the literature by examining the effects that disturbances have on the emotional experience of goal pursuit. More importantly, we differentiate between distance disturbances (changes to the amount of progress made) and velocity disturbances (changes to the rate of progress made). We conducted 2 experiments (N = 62 and N = 134) in which participants completed work simulation tasks to earn a $5.00 reward. Partway through the experiment participants’ progress was inhibited by either a distance disturbance or a velocity disturbance. Importantly, the distance and velocity disturbances were equated in terms of their influence on the likelihood of obtaining the cash prize. In both studies the introduction of a disturbance decreased enthusiasm and increased frustration. However, over time the effects of distance and velocity disturbances on enthusiasm and frustration diverged. Specifically, the velocity disturbance had a more enduring effect on these emotions, relative to the distance disturbance. Downstream, in Study 1 enthusiasm positively predicted goal commitment. In Study 2 enthusiasm positively predicted goal commitment, effort, and task performance. Likewise, in Study 2 frustration negatively predicted goal commitment and task performance. Therefore, relative to distance disturbances, velocity disturbances appear to be more disruptive to goal pursuit. We discuss theoretical implications and practical implications for managing employee motivation.

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