Date of Graduation

Summer 2017


Master of Science in Psychology



Committee Chair

Thomas Kane


goal setting, goal hierarchies, goal reporting, memory, self-regulation, goal specificity, goal commitment, working memory

Subject Categories

Industrial and Organizational Psychology


Goal setting theory assumes that goals that drive self-regulation exist in ‘goal structures’ and that asking participants to report their goals draws from these pre-existing structures. This study tested this assumption of pre-existing goals against the notion that goals are generated by goal-setters at the time they are requested to report their goals. A model of working memory was used to differentiate between goals existing in memory or goals generated on the spot. Participants were 211 students from a large Midwestern public university, randomly assigned to one of two groups. The experimental group participants reported their career goals while also performing a working memory distraction task, while those in the control group reported their goals undistracted. Students in both groups shortly re-reported their goals (undistracted) by constructing a career ‘goal structure.’ The proportion of goals matching between reporting times, over total goals reported, could be used to infer whether goals were generated on demand or were drawn from pre-existing structures. After appropriate controls, the distracted group reported a significantly lower ratio of matching goals. No significant interaction effects were found for the secondary hypotheses that goal commitment and specificity were relevant to goal reporting. These results provide evidence that reported goals are not solely extracted from pre-existing mental structures.


© Nikolas M. Pate

Open Access