Academic journal article Journal of Managerial Issues

Antecedents of Discrepancy Production in an Achievement Setting

Academic journal article Journal of Managerial Issues

Antecedents of Discrepancy Production in an Achievement Setting

Article excerpt

Within the work motivation literature, it has generally been accepted that personal goals or standards for performance play an important role in the self-regulation of behavior (Bandura, 1986, 1991; Campion and Lord, 1982; Donovan, 2001; Johnson et al., 2006; Kanfer, 1990; Locke and Latham, 1990, 2002, 2006; Magjuka et al., 1994). Within Bandura's Social Cognitive Theory (1) (SCT; Bandura, 1986, 1991), one of the more widely accepted models of self-regulation, there are two proposed mechanisms responsible for the regulation of performance via personal goals: discrepancy production and discrepancy reduction. Discrepancy production (alternatively termed "positive discrepancy creation" by Phillips, Hollenbeck, and Ilgen (1996)) refers to the process by which individuals set challenging goals that exceed previous levels of performance, thereby creating a discrepancy between current performance and performance goals in an attempt to motivate themselves toward higher levels of performance.

According to SCT, the process of discrepancy production is thought to be a relatively common occurrence for valued tasks because people tend to seek self-satisfaction by progressively improving task performance, which is accomplished through the elevation of performance standards (i.e., goals) to levels that exceed past performance. However, while individuals are motivated to reach higher levels of performance, Bandura (1986, 1991) also recognizes that individuals are simultaneously motivated to achieve a sense of self-satisfaction by reaching or exceeding their performance goals. Discrepancy reduction is the process by which the individual monitors goal-performance discrepancy information and works toward ultimately reducing this discrepancy through a variety of mechanisms (e.g., increasing effort, engaging in goal revision) in order to achieve a positive self-evaluation. These two mechanisms--discrepancy production and discrepancy reduction--regulate performance such that self-regulation is characterized by alternating cycles of discrepancy production and reduction.

The purpose of the present study is to examine factors that are associated with the likelihood that individuals engage in discrepancy production. Although a large amount of research has been dedicated to examining factors that influence the absolute level of performance goals individuals establish for themselves (e.g., Breland and Donovan, 2005; Davis et al., 2007; Diefendorff, 2004; Donovan and Hafsteinsson, 2006; Phillips and Gully, 1997; Stajkovic et al., 2006), little research has been directed at determining what factors influence an individual's tendency to establish goals that surpass past performance. That is, while past research has examined the absolute magnitude of the goals that individuals set, little research has examined the level of these goals relative to past performance. The present study sought to provide a closer look at several variables which may influence this discrepancy production process.

Prevalence of Discrepancy Production

Research conducted to assess the prevalence of discrepancy production among individuals in achievement settings has been conducted for over 70 years. Early research devoted to assessing the prevalence of discrepancy production (e.g., Festinger, 1942) identified a tendency among individuals to raise their levels of aspiration following the attainment of a previously established level of aspiration. In summarizing this early literature, Lewin et al. concluded that "nearly all individuals of western culture, when first exposed to a level of aspiration situation, give initially a level of aspiration which is above the previous performance score, and under most conditions tend to keep the goal discrepancy positive" (1944: 357). Research conducted since this review has provided further evidence that discrepancy production is a common occurrence in achievement settings. Campion and Lord (1982) found that individuals consistently set performance goals above their previous performance levels, while Bandura and Cerwone (1986) found that the majority of individuals who were told that they achieved their performance goal raised this goal for an upcoming performance episode. …

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