Academic journal article Social Behavior and Personality: an international journal

Better Possible Self or Better Other? Gender Affects Who Is More Inspirational

Academic journal article Social Behavior and Personality: an international journal

Better Possible Self or Better Other? Gender Affects Who Is More Inspirational

Article excerpt

What motivates people to pursue their goals? Personal dreams and aspirations are important in motivating self-improvement (Nagengast & Marsh, 2012). People need a standard by which to evaluate their current state and to motivate themselves to move up to a better state. People, therefore, consciously or unconsciously form their own ideal standards. They compare their current state to these ideal standards and make an effort to achieve the ideal, or to reduce the discrepancy between the current state and the ideal (Carver & Scheier, 2012).

There are two types of comparison standard that people use to set goals: their own aspirations or an external standard-such as a better other. People often set and activate goals independently, driven by internal standards (Klimstra, 2012). On the other hand, social influence, such as motivation from successful others, can also activate an individual's goals (Schokker et al., 2010). For example, other people who do better at school or who are more physically fit can motivate an individual to study or work out harder (see e.g., Buunk, Peiró, & Griffioen, 2007). Out of these two types of comparison standard, is it more inspiring to think of a better possible self or to think of a better other?

The focus in the majority of studies on goal pursuit and self-regulation has been on either the independent effect of a better other (see e.g., Schokker et al., 2010) or a possible best self (e.g., Peters, Flink, Boersma, & Linton, 2010), and there has been relatively little research conducted in which the influence of the two types of standards on goal pursuit has been compared. In the current research, we compared the influence of thoughts about a better possible self and thoughts about a better other on individuals' goal-directed behavior, and investigated how gender affects the influence of the two types of comparison standard. As gender affects the extent to which people focus on themselves is related the extent to which other people focus on themselves, we expected that women and men would differ in how they reacted to goal activation by the prospect of achieving a better possible self or by the example of a better other.

Theoretical Background

Comparison Standards and Motivation

When there is a discrepancy between the desired end state and the actual state, people experience a tension, which motivates them to pursue the desired end state (Dijksterhuis, Chartrand, & Aarts, 2007). In testing of theories of level of aspiration (Koo & Fishbach, 2010) it has been shown that people need to have high standards that they are striving to reach in order to enhance their performance. In social cognitive theory it is also suggested that there is a regulation system whereby people create discrepancies by proactively setting themselves challenging standards and then reactively trying to reduce the discrepancies (Fitzsimons, Chartrand, & Fitzsimons, 2008). In other words, creating discrepancies by setting oneself a high standard can be an intentional and motivational process in goal pursuit.

A discrepancy is perceived when a comparison standard becomes salient as one's desired state. A comparison standard can be formed by the representation of one's better possible self or ideal self. In self-discrepancy theory (Baumeister, 2010) the notion of possible self or ideal self is defined as an idealized version of oneself that has been created by oneself. Findings in several studies have shown that activating a successful possible self can increase an individual's motivation and effort by facilitating access to behaviors that are instrumental to achieving the goal (Peters et al., 2010). For example, Vasquez and Buehler (2007) found that among a group of students, those who imagined themselves performing successfully in the future showed a stronger intention to work hard for their goals compared to those who did not imagine performing successfully.

In research on self-discrepancy the role of possible self in motivating goal-directed behavior has been emphasized, and in studies of social comparison, researchers have reported on the impact of comparison to other people on an individual's motivation and performance. …

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