A General Architecture for Modeling the Dynamics of Goal-Directed Motivation and Decision-Making

Timothy Ballard, Andrew Neal, Simon Farrell, Erin Lloyd, Jonathan Lim, Andrew Heathcote

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Abstract

We present a unified model of the dynamics of goal-directed motivation and decision-making. The model-referred to as the GOAL architecture-provides a quantitative framework for integrating theories of goal pursuit and for relating their predictions to different types of data. The GOAL architecture proposes that motivation changes over time according to three gradients that capture the effects of the distance to the goal (i.e., the progress remaining), the time to the deadline, and the rate of progress required to achieve the goal. This enables the integration and comparison of six theoretical perspectives that make different predictions about how these dynamics unfold when pursuing approach and avoidance goals. Hierarchical Bayesian modeling was used to analyze data from three experiments which manipulate distance to goal, time to deadline, and goal type (approach vs. avoidance), and data from the naturalistic context of professional basketball. The results show that people rely on the distance and rate gradients, and to a lesser degree the time gradient, when making resource allocation decisions during goal pursuit, although the relative influence of the gradients depends on the goal type. We also demonstrate how the GOAL architecture can be used to answer questions about the influence of goal importance. Our findings suggest that goal pursuit unfolds in a complex manner that cannot be accounted for by any one previous theoretical perspective, but that is well-characterized by our unified framework. This research highlights the importance of theoretical integration for understanding motivation and decision-making during goal pursuit.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)146-174
Number of pages29
JournalPsychological Review
Volume129
Issue number1
DOIs
Publication statusPublished - 27 Sep 2021

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