the effect of a specific versus nonspecific subconscious goal
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The Effect of a Specific Versus Nonspecific Subconscious Goal. Gary P. Latham University of Toronto Ronald F. Piccolo University of Central Florida. Subconscious Priming. Priming Temporary subconscious activation of an individual’s mental representations

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the effect of a specific versus nonspecific subconscious goal

The Effect of a Specific Versus Nonspecific Subconscious Goal

Gary P. Latham

University of Toronto

Ronald F. Piccolo

University of Central Florida

subconscious priming
Subconscious Priming
  • Priming
    • Temporary subconscious activation of an individual’s mental representations
      • Researchers interested in priming examine the effect of this activation on various psychological phenomena
  • How can we prime the subconscious?
    • Word Scramble
    • Sentence Completion
    • Storytelling (Reflection)
    • Images
subconscious priming1
Subconscious Priming
  • Programmatic research has emerged to examine the effects of subconscious goals or intention on behaviors
    • Prime Senior Citizens → Speed of walking/Memory (Bargh)
    • Health → Food choice (Fishbach et al.)
    • Achievement → Brainstorming (Stajkovich, Locke, & Blair)
    • Accuracy; Speed → Performance (Stajkovich et al.)
    • Achievement → Creativity (Shantz & Latham)
    • Significance → Effort, Performance (Grant)
  • Primed goals consume minimal cognitive resources and allow additional cognitive activity to take place outside of awareness.
some limitations of existing research
Some Limitations of Existing Research
  • Most studies conducted in an lab setting
  • Dependent variables are of modest practical relevance
  • Research has been largely atheoretical
  • Studies are a risk for experimenter or demand bias
the current study call center
The Current Study (Call Center)
  • A Field Experiment
    • Practically Relevant Dependent Variable: Pledged Donations
  • Professional Sample
    • University Call Center Employees seeking pledged donations
  • Participants had No Contact with Researchers
    • Minimize Experimenter Bias
  • Measured Number of Dials
    • Minimize Demand Effects
  • Theoretical-derived Experimental Conditions
    • Task Specific (Goal Setting Theory; Locke & Latham)
    • Achievement Motivation (McClelland)
method
Method
  • 52 participants at a University Call Center
    • 7.13 months of experience
  • 7 were excluded due to attrition
  • Assessment of Performance Pre- and Post-Intro of Prime
    • Time 1 = Two weeks before introduction of priming material
    • Time 2= At the end of the first experimental week
    • Time 3 = Two weeks later (priming material still in place)
  • Three conditions (two experimental; one control)
    • Task Specific Goal, n=15
    • General Achievement Goal, n=16
    • No Goal Control, n=14
call center study
Call Center Study

Head Set “Job-specific”

Race “Achievement”

procedure analysis
Procedure & Analysis
  • Callers
    • Were randomly assigned to one of three conditions
    • Drew names from a shared University alumni database
    • Sat in cubicles out of direct view of callers in other conditions.
  • Wilcoxon Signed-Rank Test
    • Examines differences between measures collected before and after an experimental manipulation
      • Appropriate for data collected from small sample sizes
    • We compared scores on performance metrics for each participant across Times 1 and 2.
    • Ignoring the signs, we ranked the differences from smallest to largest in each condition; then summed the ranks associated with positive (Time 2>Time 1) and negative (Time 1 > Time 2) differences.
    • The smaller of the two group sums is the Wilcoxon test statistic, which is then converted to a Z-statistic that approximates a normal distribution.
wilcoxon signed rank test time 1 vs time 2
Wilcoxon Signed-Rank Test, Time 1 vs. Time 2

Note. †p < .10. * p < .05 (two-tailed).

conclusions
Conclusions
  • Participants with Task Specific (p<.05) and Achievement Goals (p<.10) improved significantly
    • Upon using the fact sheet with the task specific or achivement photograph, callers earned more pledge
  • Participants with No Goal did not significantly improve
  • It appears: The Effect of the Task Specific Goal lasted longer than the Achievement Goal (Significant Drop for Achievement Goal from Time 2 to Time 3).
post hoc test of awareness
Post hoc Test of Awareness
  • Consistent with Bargh et al. (1996), we conducted a study to assess awareness of the subconscious prime.
  • 113 undergraduate students were asked to examine material used in the University’s fundraising effort.
  • Participants were randomly assigned to one of three conditions, asked to evaluate the fact sheets, and completed an awareness funnel debriefing questionnaire
    • What’s the purpose of the fact sheet?
    • Do you notice anything unusual?
    • Do you suspect that the purpose of the experiment be different than was explained?
    • Are you familiar with the expression “subconscious priming?”
awareness
Awareness
  • The purpose of the fact sheet:
    • “provide useful information”
    • “show examples of program accomplishment”
    • “help sell the college”
    • “help raise funds”
    • “report success to potential donors”
  • Nine of 36 participants in race condition noted that the photo was unrelated to the University or to fundraising.
  • Of 119, only 15 expressed familiarity with subconscious priming (5 of which offered an incorrect description).
  • Conclusion: Participants were not aware of the intent of the subconscious goal
limitations
Limitations
  • Low Power
    • Small Sample Sizes in Each Condition
    • Design is Subject to Participant Attrition
  • Demand Effects
    • Existence of Study inspires better performance
  • Control in the Call Center
    • Potential for other motivators (e.g., social facilitation) in the work environment – monetary incentives
    • Variability in the flow of calls to alumni; nature of alumni dataset
an experimental examination of subconsciously primed goals

An Experimental Examination of Subconsciously Primed Goals

Gary P. Latham

University of Toronto

Ronald F. Piccolo

University of Central Florida

does prime tap subconscious motives
Does Prime tap Subconscious Motives?
  • Two hypotheses drive third experiment:
    • Primed Goal for Achievement (e.g., “Race Photo”) leads to significantly higher number of achievement related words than task-specific or no-goal prime.
      • McClellan’s Power-Achievement Theory
    • Primed Task-Specific Goal leads to significantly higher number of words associated with (a) work and (b) money than general achievement or no-goal prime.
      • Locke & Latham’s Goal Setting Theory
methods procedure analysis
Methods, Procedure, Analysis
  • 165 Undergraduate students participate for extra credit in general management course
  • The two photos from Study 1 were used you as stimuli in Thematic Apperception Test (TAT), a projective measure of subconscious motives meant to assess underlying state psychological motives.
  • Participants were randomly assigned to one of three conditions:
    • Task-specific (i.e., “Headset”), n=67
    • General Achievement (i.e., “Race”), n=44
    • No Goal Control, n=54
thematic apperception test
Thematic Apperception Test

This is a test of imagination, one form of intelligence.

Here is a picture; please look at it carefully. Your task is to make up as dramatic a story as you can for it. In the space below and on the following page, tell what has led up to the event shown in the picture, describe what is happening at the moment, what the characters are feeling and thinking; and then give the outcome. Write your thoughts as they come to your mind. Any questions?

You will have approximately 7 minutes to devote to this picture.

thematic apperception test results
Thematic Apperception Test Results

F(162)=43.00*

F(162)=22.59*

F(162)=16.52*

Linguistic Inquiry Word Count (LIWC; Pennebaker et al., 2001)

overall conclusions
Overall Conclusions
  • Consistent with goal setting, a task-specific prime encouraged attention to achievement, money, and work
    • No Goal acted similarly as Conscious Goal
  • Matrix Prime (e.g., word search) is effective at:
    • Concealing purpose of study
    • True intention of this experiment
  • Task-specific prime seemed to last longer that General “Do Your Best”
future studies
Future Studies
  • Additional Professional Settings
  • Larger Samples
  • Alternative Outcomes
    • Service, Efficiency, Productivity ($$)
    • Engagement, Turnover, Teamwork
    • Others?
  • Longer Time Frame
  • Additional Priming Devices
    • Matrix configuration vs. task or general achievement
  • Consider Additional Mediators
    • Self Set Goals; State Affect
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