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August 21, 2019   |   Ithaca, NY

Opinion

Newsmaker: Professor researches goals’ impact on well-being

Goal-making has a major role in how people perceive their progress, whether that be in their work, relationships or life in general.

Leigh Ann Vaughn, professor in the Department of Psychology, recently presented her research on growth and security goals at the Annual Convention of the Society of Personality and Social Psychology. Her research focused on the ways people view their experiences after making and accomplishing different kinds of goals. From her pool of 1,602 respondents, Vaughn and her research team compiled research on goals of security and growth and how they impact people’s well-being.

Opinion Editor Meredith Burke spoke with Vaughn about the difference between different types of goals, how each affects an individual and why this line of research is important to her.

This interview has been edited for length and clarity.

Meredith Burke: For our readers, could you give a brief overview of your presentation and its goals?

Leigh Ann Vaughn: The goal of the presentation is to understand how people view their goals, specifically how they view experiences they’ve had pursuing different kinds of goals. I’m especially interested in goals that are about growing in some way and that are about being secure, … maintaining the good things you have and making sure you don’t lose them.

MB: Could you give a specific example of what a growth goals versus a security goal would look like?

LV: One of the things my research team in psychology and I have been looking at for years is the difference between hopes and duties. Hopes are very often growth goals, and when people are talking about their hopes and aspirations, … they focus a lot on work, but they also focus a lot on leisure. But the biggest thing they focus on is good stuff. … A duty is an example of a security goal. In our research on duties over the years, we’ve found that when people are talking about their duties they’re often talking about social relationships, … but it’s more about how to manage social relationships that are challenging in some way.

MB: Were there any findings of what goals were more effective or which had a more positive impact?

LV: What we were looking to do was to see whether people would describe these kinds of goals differently. The ways we were asking them to think about describing them pertained to some fundamental psychological needs. One is really wanting to do what you’re doing, another is feeling confident about what you’re doing and another is feeling close and connected to other people. The reason why those needs are really important is that, ultimately, they predict subjective well-being.They predict how well you’ll perform at things in the long run. … We found that people when they’re looking back at experiences of growth goalsthey basically say that their support of all three of these needs is higher than when they were pursuing security goals.

MB: What do you hope this research will accomplish?

LV: I have many, many goals for this research. Besides just answering some questions my research team and I were curious about, this new theory that we have bridges two very big theories of goals and motivations in psychology. … We’re little guys. We’re Ithaca Collegewe’re not a big institution. We’re little guys, and we’re knitting together these huge, huge areas of research. What we’re doing is just laying down the groundwork for more and more people to see connections between these two big theories. … These theories have been connected to how to regain your love for a sport, of your job, of school, of how you view your life as a whole, how you prefer to work on tasks. There’s been a lot of ways these two big theories that we’re connecting have been applied, and we’re hoping to get more and bigger applications of these theories.

MB: Any final thoughts?

LV: I always go back to “Why is this important?” And the big important thing for me is how can people feel happy and satisfied in their lives and in what they’re doing. And sometimes focusing on security is absolutely the best answer … but other times focusing on growth is the right answer and I’m really interested in how all of that works.