Perceived difficulty, energization, and the magnitude of goal valence

Jack W. Brehm, Rex A. Wright, Sheldon Solomon, Linda Silka, Jeff Greenberg

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

155 Scopus citations

Abstract

This paper examines the proposition that the mobilization of energy and consequent magnitude of valence of a potential outcome (e.g., goal) is a function of what the individual perceives can and must be done in order to attain or avoid the outcome. An outcome that is difficult to attain or avoid requires a relatively high level of energization and will be relatively attractive, if positive, or unpleasant, if negative. Outcomes that are easy or impossible to attain or avoid require little or no energization and will be relatively low in attractiveness, if positive, or low in unpleasantness, if negative. This formulation was supported by four experiments that demonstrated (a) attractiveness of a goal is a nonmonotonic function of perceived difficulty of attaining it; (b) unpleasantness of a potential negative outcome is a nonmonotonic function of perceived difficulty of avoiding it; (c) the nonmonotonic effect of perceived difficulty on goal attractiveness disappears once instrumental behavior has been completed; and (d) the nonmonotonic effect of perceived difficulty on unpleasantness of a potential negative outcome occurs in immediate but not distant anticipation of initiating instrumental behavior. Alternative explanations, theoretical problems, and implications are discussed.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)21-48
Number of pages28
JournalJournal of Experimental Social Psychology
Volume19
Issue number1
DOIs
StatePublished - Jan 1983
Externally publishedYes

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Social Psychology
  • Sociology and Political Science

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