Event Abstract

Are S.M.A.R.T goals really smart? The psychological effects of goal-setting in a learning task

  • 1 Department of Psychological Science, School of Health and Human Sciences, Southern Cross University, Australia

Aim: Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Realistic, Time-bound (SMART) goals are commonly used in educational settings as a strategy to optimise learning. However, research and theory suggest that such goals may not benefit, and could even be detrimental to, learning. Based primarily on goal-setting theory, this study investigated the effects of different goal types on a wordlist learning task. Method: 56 university students (45% male), average age 28 years (SD = 10.9) were randomly assigned to different goal conditions: specific (e.g. remember 10 words), ‘do your best’, process (e.g. memorise and repeat the words) and ‘open’ goals (e.g. see how many words you can remember). The total number of words recalled across four wordlist learning trials (Wechsler Memory Scale-3rd Ed) was computed as the index of immediate memory performance and one week later. The Intrinsic Motivation Inventory (IMI) was used to assess perceived competence, effort/importance and pressure/tension. The Positive and Negative Affect Schedule (PANAS) was used to assess participants’ state affect. Results: Repeated measures analysis of covariance (ANCOVA), with age as covariate, indicated no main effects of goal type on performance. Goal type groups did not differ on PANAS, perceived performance and confidence ratings but there was a significant effect of goal type on perceived challenge. Participants with specific goals found their goals less challenging than participants with do-your-best goals in the second trial (p = .040). A significant effect of goal type was also noted for perceived pressure/tension subscale scores. Participants with specific goals experienced less pressure/tension than participants with process goals (p = .021). Preliminary findings also suggested a significant difference among goal types in their recall accuracy a week later. Participants with open goals (M = 4.85) recalled significantly more words than participants with specific goals (M = 3.10, p = .020). Conclusion: Findings suggest that setting specific goals elicited less challenge and pressure. Although such conditions may appear optimal in learning, goal-setting theory recommended a goal to be both specific and challenging for one to achieve the best performance. Thus, participants with specific goals may have performed poorly in their subsequent recall due to participants viewing specific goals as not adequately challenging. Additionally, findings suggest that there may be potential benefit in setting open goals in learning situations.

Keywords: Goal-setting theory, Educational learning, SMART Goals, Open goals, memory recall

Conference: 15th Annual Psychology Honours Research Conference , Coffs Harbour, Australia, 4 Oct - 5 Oct, 2018.

Presentation Type: Research

Topic: Abstract for 15th Annual Psychology Honours Research Conference

Citation: Chan M, Swann C and Donnelly JF (2019). Are S.M.A.R.T goals really smart? The psychological effects of goal-setting in a learning task. Front. Psychol. Conference Abstract: 15th Annual Psychology Honours Research Conference . doi: 10.3389/conf.fpsyg.2018.74.00020

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Received: 18 Sep 2018; Published Online: 27 Sep 2019.

* Correspondence: Miss. Mun Yu Chan, Department of Psychological Science, School of Health and Human Sciences, Southern Cross University, Coffs Harbour, Australia, m.chan.30@student.scu.edu.au