Academic journal article Cognitie, Creier, Comportament

Methodological Dimensions in the Investigation of Personal Goals

Academic journal article Cognitie, Creier, Comportament

Methodological Dimensions in the Investigation of Personal Goals

Article excerpt


An ecological approach of personal goals has flourished in the last decades. Research studies gradually take goal structures and processes out of confined and controlled laboratory settings and try to analyze them in the real-life milieu of individuals. The present review critically investigates theoretical and methodological approaches on the appraisal of personal goals. Based on this analysis, implications for research on personal goals are discussed and recommendations for future studies are detailed.

KEYWORDS: personal goals, methodology, assessment, development

Methodological approaches in the investigation of personal goals encompass a high array of techniques (Baltes & Freund, 2003; Cantor & Blanton, 1996; Cox & Klinger, 2004; Elliot & Friedman, 2007; Emmons, 2003; Freund, 2006; Little, 2007; Riediger, 2007; Salmela-Aro & Nurmi, 2004). They have been mainly developed around the assumption that personal goals are set apart from other goal structures by their increased perceived importance or value for the individual (Austin & Vancouver, 1996). While there is high acceptance of the fact that personal goals are best captured by predominantly idiographic methods, there is less agreement about how these methods can extract information that best discriminates among individuals and more often categories of individuals (Roberts, O'Donnell, & Robins, 2004).

When research is focused on exploring individual patterns of personally relevant and subjectively defined goals, a multidimensional approach is appropriate, but the multitude of meanings in formulating each goal, can make their analysis and interpretation somewhat difficult. This is one of the main reasons why mainstream psychological research has often shunned an idiographic analysis of goals, and rather focused on developing normative approaches to investigate goal structures and processes. Hence, the present article critically analyzes multidimensional approaches in the analysis of personal goals, from both a theoretical and a methodological perspective.


1.1. Theory

Normative approaches in the study of personal goals rely on developmental requirements specific for a certain age-group. Dwelling on the theoretical approach of human development advanced by Erikson (1968), a series of psychologists like Havighurst (1972), Hagestadt and Neugarten, (1985), Dreher and Oerter (1986), have continued to map age-graded societal driven goals, which individuals pursue on a normative basis.

Developmental tasks refer to developmental differences in cultural norms, expectations, rules, and activity patterns. They offer: (a) information about accessible and desired age-specific goals; (b) models for reaching these goals; and (c) normative standards and time-frames for performing the necessary behaviors for achieving these goals (Nurmi, 1991). Developmental tasks are inherently linked to normative life-events, like starting college or getting a first job. They orient the individual toward the future and provide socio-cultural landmarks for an individual's life-span development.

Methodological approaches which chart personal goal contents through developmental tasks are guided by the assumption that all individuals pursue a standard set of normative goals contents, and their pursuit is nuanced qualitatively and quantitatively. From a procedural perspective, participants are provided with a list of goals reflecting representative developmental tasks for their age group. They then have to select and / or appraise these tasks in terms of personal relevance, level of achievement emotional valence and so on. This approach controls the content dimension of personal goals, as individuals choose and assess them from a given pool of developmental tasks. Hence, both comparisons between individuals and indexes for statistical reliability can be computed more easily. …

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