Nature and mechanisms of loss of motivation
Nature and mechanisms of loss of motivation.
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Loss of motivation refers either to the weakening of a motive q or to the loss of energy and persistence with which some subordinate goal p is planned for and pursued in view of q. Although interrelated, such aspects can be kept distinct, and the present work focuses on the loss of strength of the subordinate goal. An analysis is provided of such mental attitudes as subjective frustration, negative expectation, disappointment, and discouragement so as to clarify their respective roles in favoring loss of motivation. The necessary cognitive conditions for the occurrence of loss of motivation are singled out; namely, goal p should be an intention, and a disappointment should occur in regard to the instrumental relationship between p and q , p's attainability, or p's convenience. Both advantages and limits of the model are discussed. (PsycINFO Database Record (c) 2013 APA, all rights reserved)(journal abstract)
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Loss of motivation refers either to the weakening of a motive q or to the loss of energy and persistence with which some subordinate goal p is planned for and pursued in view of q. Although interrelated, such aspects can be kept distinct, and the present work focuses on the loss of strength of the subordinate goal. An analysis is provided of such mental attitudes as subjective frustration, negative expectation, disappointment, and discouragement so as to clarify their respective roles in favoring loss of motivation. The necessary cognitive conditions for the occurrence of loss of motivation are singled out; namely, goal p should be an intention, and a disappointment should occur in regard to the instrumental relationship between p and q, p's attainability, or p's convenience. Both advantages and limits of the model are discussed.
This article analyzes loss of motivation and its relationships with a rich family of phenomena—such as frustration, negative expectation, disappointment, and discouragement—that show some kinship with it. We assume that an understanding of these relationships will help identify the conditions under which loss of motivation can occur and the crucial steps in the process.
The goal-directed quality of behavior, its hierarchical organization, and its persistence are now widely acknowledged in the relevant literature (e.g., Austin & Vancouver, 1996; Deci & Ryan, 1991; Ford, 1992;Frese & Sabini, 1985; Gollwitzer, 1993; Hollenbeck & Klein, 1987; Locke & Latham, 1990; Pervin, 1989). A person's activities receive organization and direction by the frameworks of his or her goal structures. A special property of human behavior is the persistence of goal structures for long periods of time, even in spite of lack of reinforcement. Persistence is allowed by a number of crucial factors, such as the ability to mentally simulate events and actions (Hayes-Roth & Hayes-Roth, 1979; Taylor & Pham, 1995) and to postpone goal satisfaction (Mischel, 1995), the ability to organize goals into hierarchies of subgoals (Anderson, 1993; Carver & Scheier, 1981; Castelfranchi & Parisi, 1980; Martin & Tesser, 1989; Powers, 1973; Vallacher & Wegner, 1987), and the ability to set internal standards of behavior and to find satisfaction in meeting those standards independent of external rewards (Bandura, 1991).
Therefore, the problem of why and under what conditions a goal is “dropped” deserves special attention. This problem has been more or less directly addressed in several domains. Expectancy-value theories (Ajzen & Fishbein, 1980; Atkinson, 1964; Edwards, 1954; Mitchell & Biglan, 1971; Rotter, 1982) actually address the core factors or general laws of motivation. One can easily understand that changes in the perceived probability of success or in the value attributed to the goal will heavily affect the strength of motivation. However, such models of motivation, as Kuhl (1984) would put it, are mainly concerned with the principles guiding goal selection rather than goal achievement, that is, with those mechanisms and processes that influence the choice of a certain goal and action rather than those that favor or secure its actual pursuit, in spite of possible difficulties; thus, for instance, such aspects as disappointment and discouragement and their respective roles in the “demotivation” process are not so explicitly addressed.
The model of action phases (Heckhausen & Gollwitzer, 1987) proposes a clear distinction between themotivational (or predecision) phase, consisting of deliberating wishes and setting preferences up to the point of transforming a mere wish into an intention, with the implied decision and commitment to fulfill it, and thevolitional (both preaction and action) phase, which implies planning (preaction) and actually pursuing (action) the intended goal. The thought contents and cognitive functioning typical of each phase are quite different. The motivational phase is characterized by a “deliberative” mind-set whose features are open-mindedness with regard to processing available information and the impartial and accurate analysis of the desirability and feasibility of the various wishes under examination. Conversely, the volitional phase, starting when the decision has been made and the intention has already been formed, is characterized by an “implemental” mind-set whose features are closed-mindedness toward the relevant information, with a special orientation toward implementation information, and a partial and self-serving analysis of desirability and feasibility issues. In any case, such a distinction in orientation between the motivational and the volitional phase, however important under many respects, risks undervaluing or neglecting the possibility of loss of motivation after an intention has been formed or even in the course of pursuit: Once the “Rubicon” of decision has been passed, it seems that little room is left for afterthought, change of mind, and goal dropping. In fact, the domain of implementation intentions (e.g., Gollwitzer & Brandstätter, 1997) is mainly concerned with the effectiveness of goal pursuit rather than with goal disengagement and loss of motivation, although the latter can still play some role in the process, as far as conflicts are concerned (for instance, interruption of goal pursuit may be caused by a conflict between various means of pursuit).
Energy models of motivation are recently looking up again (e.g., Baumeister, Bratslavsky, Muraven, & Tice, 1998). Here, too, the problems of willpower and persistence in goal pursuit are addressed. In particular, proneness to give up pursuit is considered as far as it is a consequence of ego depletion, which is traced back to any prior exercise of volition, even in unrelated spheres of pursuit. In fact, a prior exercise of volition is supposed to cause a temporary reduction in an individual's capacity to engage in subsequent acts of volition, which imply some persistence in goal-directed activity in spite of fatigue or difficulties. Thus, loss ofmotivation and intention dropping are here viewed under a particular perspective that, though worth exploring, is extrinsic to such aspects as the specific nature of the intended goal, its instrumentality for higher order goals, and the individual's expectations, which conversely are among the main concerns of the present work.
Various theories of depression, such as learned helplessness (Abramson, Seligman, & Teasdale, 1978)—or better its revised version, hopelessness depression (Abramson, Metalsky, & Alloy, 1989)—as well as other cognitive theories such as Beck's (1987) and G. W. Brown and Harris's (1978), are of course relevant to loss of motivation. All of these theories stress to different degrees the causal role played in depression by hopelessness, which implies both negative expectations about the occurrence of the desired outcome and helplessness about changing the likelihood of its occurrence. Hopelessness, in fact, is assumed to lead to motivational deficits, a typical symptom of depression. As shown later, hopelessness, and in particular its implied component of helplessness, is a crucial factor in our treatment of discouragement. But, in our view, the latter is not exactly the same as hopelessness. More important, though very similar to loss of motivation, discouragement does not necessarily imply it: There can occur loss of motivation without discouragement, as well as discouragement without loss of motivation (see later discussion). Also, Brehm's theory of motivation(Brehm & Self, 1989; Brehm, Wright, Solomon, Silka, & Greenberg, 1983; Wright & Brehm, 1989), concerned as it is with the intensity of motivation and the factors determining the mobilization of energy and the degree of effort exerted in pursuit, is particularly relevant to the relationship between discouragement and loss ofmotivation, although the focus of such studies is mainly on either the amount of motivational arousal or the various degrees of task engagement (depending on such factors as the perceived difficulty of the task) rather than on task disengagement and its eliciting conditions.
Other approaches mainly address individual differences in motivation. Achievement motivation studies (e.g.,Atkinson, 1957; McClelland, Atkinson, Clark, & Lowell, 1953) have distinguished two classical individual motivational tendencies: need for achievement and fear of failure. The latter appears likely to favor loss ofmotivation and goal disengagement, through such implications as lack of persistence, negative emotions, actual failure or poor performance, and attributional biases (Birney, Burdick, & Teevan, 1969; Heckhausen, 1975). Recent studies in the same domain (e.g., Elliot & Church, 1997; Elliot & Sheldon, 1997) have linked the general motivational disposition of fear of failure to more specific avoidance goals and stressed the mediating role of perceived competence between avoidance goals and such outcome measures as satisfaction with progress and enjoyableness of pursuit.
The relationship between individual differences in goal orientation and both task disengagement and depression has been explored via other approaches. For instance, Dykman (1998) has found that “validation seeking” people, as compared with “growth seeking” people, show greater fear of failure and task disengagement when facing difficulties or obstacles. Dykman's work borrows from Dweck's model of implicit theories of intelligence (e.g., Dweck & Leggett, 1988; Hong, Chiu, & Dweck, 1995), in which “entity theorists” (those who believe intelligence is a fixed entity) are compared with “incremental theorists” (who believe intelligence is liable to change and increase). Such implicit views of intelligence favor different goal orientations in achievement situations (the goal of documenting one's intelligence versus that of developing one's skills and knowledge), which allow one to predict individual differences in disposition to avoid challenging situations and disengage from challenging pursuits.
However important, individual differences in either general motivational dispositions or avoidance versus achievement goals do not exhaust the problem of the causes or eliciting conditions of loss of motivation and goal termination. As we view them, individual tendencies can favor or aggravate loss of motivation rather than elicit or determine it.
In the following, we first try to circumscribe the notion of loss of motivation. We focus on just one aspect of it, namely the loss of persistence or strength with which a certain goal is wanted, planned for, or pursued in view of some superordinate motive; moreover, we distinguish such a form of goal termination from general goal termination, which in our view is a wider phenomenon. Then we look at a number of implied or related phenomena such as frustration, negative expectation, disappointment, and discouragement, trying to identify their respective relationships with loss of motivation. This will allow a more explicit and analytical view of loss of motivation and of the general conditions under which it can occur. Finally, we point to both the advantages and limits of our model and also try to convert some of our speculations into testable hypotheses.
Loss of Motivation: Restricting an Intuitive Notion
In common usage, being “motivated” to do something implies, more or less tacitly, an instrumental relationship between at least two goals, p and q. I am motivated to achieve p (either to realize or to maintain it) in view of q. Goal q is the “motive” for p.
The notion of motivation traditionally implies two distinct (albeit interrelated) meanings. On the one hand, it means that some motive (q) exists for p. Suppose p is “studying”; if one asks a student why he or she is motivated to study, the student can answer by providing his or her motive q: “because I want to achieve a good education,” “because I want to make Dad happy,” “because I want to increase my chances to find a job,” and so on.
On the other hand, motivation refers to the strength and persistence with which p is wanted, planned for, and pursued. For instance, if one compares a “very motivated” student with a less motivated student, one finds that the former is highly committed to studying, does not become discouraged by failure or obstacles, and does not give up trying to achieve p.
Needless to say, the two meanings are closely related to each other, in that the second often depends on the first. That is, the existence as well as the degree of importance of the motive q affects the persistence and strength of the subordinate p and its pursuit. If q is dropped or its importance decreases, p can be dropped too, or its strength decreases accordingly. Often, when one refers to a lack or loss of motivation, one implies the absence or reduction of both meanings. For instance, the lack of loss of motivation that is considered typical of depression implies both the lack or weakness of motives that a depressive mood is likely to favor, so that one finds little interest and value in anything, and the lack of energy and persistence with which subordinate goals are planned for and pursued in view of such weak motives. In fact, because no q is found to be valuable and enjoyable, where is one to find the energy and persistence for the means (p) for it? Nothing is worth doing; everything is heavy and discouraging. What was easily motivating in the past becomes either uninteresting and unvalued or slow and laborious (Layne, Merry, Christian, & Ginn, 1982).
However, there are cases in which the motive q (including its degree of importance) is maintained as such, and still the strength and persistence of its means p can suffer some setback, up to the point that p is dropped while q is still there. It is precisely on these kinds of processes that we focus our attention. While maintaining the motive level fixed, we attempt to see what happens at the lower level, that of the means p.
The reasons for this choice are quite simple. First, to identify the basic mechanisms and processes underlying complex phenomena, it is necessary to let just one “thing” vary at a time. Second, given the typical hierarchical organization of goals, we assume that what happens at the superordinate level of motive qshould be quite similar to what happens at the level of p. More precisely, we are suggesting a recursive model of loss of motivation. In fact, we assume that analyzing why q has been dropped or has lost its importance implies considering some superordinate motive r, in view of which q is (seen as) a means.
Loss of Motivation and Intrinsic Motivation
Such a view of (loss of) motivation in terms of means–end relations between goals, however, neglects the issue of intrinsic motivation, which refers to performing an activity for itself (i.e., for the pleasure and satisfaction implied by such activity, independent of any external reward; e.g., Deci, 1975; Deci & Ryan, 1985; Lepper, Greene, & Nisbett, 1973). Actually, one could be motivated to achieve p simply “for its own sake.” For instance, the student in our previous example could provide an answer of the type “I study just because I like it” to our question.
According to our model, intrinsic motivation could be viewed under either of the following perspectives. First, one might assume that, when intrinsic motivation is at stake, p coincides with q, in that there is no other reason for wanting and pursuing p but p itself. In other words, p would be a terminal goal in the agent's mind (i.e., an end in itself). Second, it might be argued that when one is motivated to engage in a given activity simply for the satisfaction it provides, an instrumental relationship still exists between two goals: Going back to the example, p would be “studying,” whereas q would be “experiencing a certain kind of pleasure” (that related to learning new materials). Under this perspective, our instrumental model of loss of motivation would also apply to intrinsically motivated behavior.
Anyway, we do not lean toward the latter position, in that we assume that some terminal goals—of both the low-level type (e.g., eating chocolate) and the high-level type (e.g., survival, knowledge, attachment, and so on)—do in fact exist. Actually, we view the distinction between instrumental and terminal goals as a sensible and psychologically convincing one.
Therefore, we are left with the problem of understanding why and how loss of motivation can occur with regard to terminal goals. In other words, why does a certain motive weaken or disappear if it is a terminal one, that is, if the cause cannot reside in its instrumentality for some superordinate motive?
In this regard, a couple of points need to be specified. First, as we argue later, loss of motivation does not coincide with (or is not implied by) any goal termination. Second, we must confess that we harbor some doubt, if not about the existence, at least about the salience of loss of motivation with regard to true terminal goals. We believe that, when loss of motivation is at stake, some instrumentality is often (if not always) concealed under the seeming “terminality” of a given goal. Suppose that I go to college “for the pleasure I experience while surpassing myself in my studies”—which is considered a form of intrinsic motivation (seeVallerand, 1997, p. 285)—but after some time I no longer find studying so satisfying and motivating. What has happened? A number of possibilities can apply, two of which seem quite plausible: Either some failure has occurred (I have not been able to “surpass” myself), or studying has been superseded by some other interest (e.g., sports) in which I can equally (or better) be successful. In both cases, according to such explanations, studying is not an end in itself, in that it is not performed for its own sake. In fact, an instrumental relationship is implied between studying and surpassing oneself. In the former case, the goal has been found to be ineffective or insufficient with regard to its superordinate goal. In the latter case, studying has been found to be replaceable by some other (easier, or more entertaining, and hence instrumental to some other side goal) goal.
This is just to say that true terminal goals (and intrinsically motivated activities) are not so numerous as they might appear at first sight, as well as to cast some doubt on the applicability of loss of motivation to such goals. In a sense, this is in line with what is typically claimed within the intrinsic–extrinsic motivationapproach; that is, people's intrinsic motivation is undermined when it is no longer intrinsic, in that an external reward is provided for some activity that was originally viewed as interesting in itself. This is quite understandable if one assumes that it is the instrumental relationship between goals that creates the conditions for the occurrence of loss of motivation.
However, we do not want to go so far as to rule out the possibility that terminal goals are affected by loss ofmotivation. A depressive mood, for instance, is likely to weaken the value (or interest, or importance, or whatever) of any goal, either terminal or instrumental.
So, as already mentioned, we choose to limit our treatment of loss of motivation to instrumental goals. A further restriction of our analysis is that we are concerned with the explicit and possibly conscious aspects of the demotivation process and its eliciting conditions. Thus, at this point, implicit or unconscious motives and processes are beyond the scope of our work.
Loss of Motivation and Goal Termination
Loss of motivation implies goal termination. An agent loses his or her motivation with respect to a certain goal p when p is no longer a goal. Or, considering the process rather than its end point, one can say that loss of motivation refers to the decrease in probability of p remaining as a goal.
However, a goal can be terminated independent of loss of motivation. Simon (1967, p. 32) suggested four possible bases for goal termination: aspiration achievement, when the goal has been totally achieved;satisficing, when the goal, even though not totally realized, has been achieved “well enough” (this implies a notion of a “scalable” goal, i.e., a goal that can be achieved to a greater or lesser extent; in fact, a number of goals are scalable, e.g., eating chocolate, having suitors, or being good at tennis, rather than being of the all-or-nothing kind); impatience, when a certain amount of time has been consumed in trying to achieve the goal; and discouragement, when a certain number of attempts at achieving the goal have been made without success.
When a goal is dropped just because it has been (either substantially or completely) achieved, one would not speak of loss of motivation. For a loss of motivation to occur, some goal should be dropped without being achieved. So, considering the possible reasons for goal termination proposed by Simon (1967), only the last two seem to be relevant to loss of motivation. However, we see them as insufficient bases for loss ofmotivation and try to identify other possible mechanisms and eliciting conditions.
As already observed, a goal p can be dropped as a consequence of q's dropping. The most simple reason forq's termination is its realization (other possible reasons would imply taking into account q's instrumental relationship with other superordinate goals). Suppose Mary has the goal p of losing weight just in view of the goal q of finding a boyfriend. If she happens to meet a potential boyfriend who finds her attractive (in spite of her weight), p is likely to be dropped because q is (going to be) satisfied (and terminated). One might say that Mary has lost her motivation to pursue p. But, for the sake of clarity, because we choose to restrict our notion of loss of motivation to the level of means p, we would rather say that Mary has lost her motive or that she has no (longer) motive to pursue p. If p is a condition for q, but q is already true (or is going to become so) independent of p's pursuit, p is not activated, or its activation is inhibited.
On the other hand, p can be dropped while goal q is still there (i.e., it is not yet achieved). Suppose again Mary has the goal p of losing weight just in view of the goal q of finding a boyfriend. Suppose her brother tells her that her problem is not weight but rather her lack of social skills, especially when dealing with potential partners (because, say, she is too shy). If Mary is persuaded by her brother's hypothesis, p is likely to be dropped and (in this case) substituted by some other goal (say, improving her social skills) that she regards now as more useful for q. In this case, one would say that a loss of motivation relative to p has occurred.
In other words, both “having no motive” and “losing one's motivation” imply an instrumental relationship between at least two goals, of which one (q) is the motive for the other (p). But whereas in the former case pis dropped simply because q is dropped, in the latter case p is dropped while q is still present in the agent's mind. Loss of motivation presupposes the persistence of the motive q. Having outlined these basic distinctions, we now move to such mental attitudes and mechanisms as frustration, negative expectation, disappointment, and discouragement that appear related to loss of motivation, so as to specify under what conditions and how they can produce or favor it.
A typical consequence of goal unattainment is loss of motivation about that goal. If I have goal p of studying (in view of motive q of passing an exam) and I am not achieving the required preparation, p is likely to be dropped.
However, not all kinds of unattainment are likely to induce goal disengagement. For example, one should subjectively experience such unattainment (i.e., believe it). If I do not realize that I am not achieving my goalp, no loss of motivation will occur. Here in fact we are dealing with organisms endowed with cognitive regulatory mechanisms, acting on the basis of their mental states: their goals, beliefs, and discrepant assumptions. For such organisms, a goal is achieved or not achieved depending on representations rather than on actual facts. If my goal is p, and I obtain not p but I do not assume it, there will be no subjective unattainment (i.e., no belief–goal discrepancy). Moreover, given my goal p, I may erroneously assume −p; a subjective unattainment does not necessarily imply an objective one.
Thus, our first basic condition for predicting loss of motivation from goal unattainment is the following: If goal unattainment is to imply loss of motivation, the unattainment should be subjective: a subjective unattainment is a discrepant assumption (i.e., the coexistence in the individual's mind of the belief −p and the goal p, or vice versa).
However, not all subjective unattainment is likely to induce loss of motivation. A mere belief–goal discrepancy is, so to say, physiological for goal-regulated systems. It is their very “engine” in that they act precisely because they record a discrepancy between goals and beliefs about the world (e.g., Miller, Galanter, & Pribram, 1960). For example, before starting to study, and also in the process of studying, I am aware that I have not (yet) achieved the required preparation, but of course this is not enough for inducing loss ofmotivation and disengagement from the goal. In other words, an unachieved goal is not necessarily a frustrated one. Under what conditions does it become frustrated?
To identify such conditions, it is necessary to consider the role of time in the goal representation. A system endowed with goals also has a more or less explicit “schedule” for their fulfillment. When one has a goal, one embeds in its representation the time in or by which one wants the desired state to be attained. This time is not necessarily a precise moment: It may be a more or less extensive time span or may even include the “eventually” of logic (i.e., an undefined “sooner or later”). If the discrepancy between beliefs and goals is to coincide with a frustration (or better, a frustrating assumption, because we are dealing with subjective frustration), the time represented in the goal must coincide with that represented in the belief (Miceli & Castelfranchi, 1997). Therefore, a discrepant assumption becomes a frustrating assumption when the time specification of the goal coincides with that of the belief. Consider the following trivial example: I have the goal of having a baby. Suppose I am pursuing it, and the goal is still unachieved. When will it become frustrated? It depends on the “deadline” I have put on it. The same holds in the case of studying for the exam: My goal is frustrated (rather than simply not yet attained) when I believe that I am not achieving the required preparation within the established time.
Of course, the time specifications of some goals can depend more on the individual's choice, whereas those of other goals present more rigid constraints (i.e., they can be achieved only within a precise time span; otherwise, they are frustrated). In terms typical of the planning and scheduling domain, this implies that goals may have either soft deadlines (which depend on the agent's choice, or at least the agent knows there are further opportunities to achieve the goal) or hard deadlines (which do not depend on the agent's will). So, in the case of soft deadlines, the time specification assigned to p is not necessarily definitive.
This amounts to saying that a frustrated goal is not necessarily frustrated “forever.” A previously frustrated goal can later become active again and even be pursued, which implies some process of goal suspension and subsequent reactivation. However, the goal's “return” implies that it must be assigned a new time specification: The state p that I previously wanted to be true at Time 1 becomes a state p that I want to be true at a later time. Thus, we have come up with another basic condition for predicting loss of motivationfrom goal unattainment: If (subjective) goal unattainment is to imply loss of motivation, the unattainment should be a (subjective) frustration, that is, a belief–goal discrepancy in which the time specification of the goal coincides with that of the belief.
But this is still not enough. Not all frustrated goals (from here on, frustration refers to subjective frustration, unless otherwise specified) are conducive to a loss of motivation. Suppose I have the goal p that John calls me (in view, say, of goal q that John asks me for a date), but I do nothing to make p occur, and p is frustrated (i.e., I do not receive John's phone call within the established time). This kind of frustration has nothing to say about loss of motivation. Loss of motivation about what, indeed? Conversely, if I were trying to favor in some way p's realization, and my attempts were frustrated, in that case frustration could induce my loss of motivation with regard to p and, eventually, p's dropping.
Goals Versus Intentions
The previous example implies an important distinction: that between mere goals and intentions. The fundamental mental object known as goal or “regulatory state” is actually a complex family including wishes, desires, needs, and intentions. In particular, intention is a special kind of goal, one that shows a closer relationship with behavior. Intentions are precisely those goals that mediate the relationship between attitudes and behavior (Ajzen, 1985; Fishbein & Ajzen, 1975). In fact, not any goal is chosen for being pursued. Not any discrepant assumption induces the organism to try to reduce the belief–goal discrepancy. In a world where resources are bounded, an agent has to choose which goals to pursue (see Bell & Huang, 1997;Castelfranchi, 1996; Haddadi & Sundermeyer, 1996). Such a choice depends on a variety of criteria, including the perceived importance of the goals, their assumed feasibility, and the amount of resources required to accomplish them.
The notion of intention implies the following defining properties, which make it a very special kind of goal: it is conscious, consistent with both the agent's beliefs about its possible achievement and his or her otherintentions, chosen (i.e., implying a decision to pursue it), and planned for. Thus, an intention is always about some action or plan. The decision to pursue the goal implies the agent's commitment to it. Intention and commitment are then closely tied to each other and give rise to the problem of the degree of commitment implied by an intention, or the conditions under which an intention can be dropped (e.g., Cohen & Levesque, 1990).
Thus, it is not mere goal frustration but the frustration of some intention p that has something to say about loss of motivation. And this is our third condition: If a frustration is to imply loss of motivation, the frustrated goal should be an intention.
At this point, a terminological—as well as conceptual—clarification is required. In fact, one might wonder why we should classify an intention as a kind of goal while we are at the same time stressing the special nature ofintentions—namely, their conscious and volitional component—which conversely is missing in our basic notion of goal. Moreover, because we are dealing with loss of motivation, which, according to our model, applies only to intentions, why not address intentions from the beginning and do without “goals” and their ambiguous or vague implications?
Our answer is that an abstract and general notion of goal is needed because it is quite useful for a general theory of purposive behavior and for catching some important properties that are common to different motivational attitudes. For example, hierarchical means–end relationships hold between wishes, desires, orintentions; conflicts can hold between any kind of goal; and, as we have just observed, frustration is common to both goals and intentions. One would not like to have unrelated models of conflict or frustration when applied to these different motivational attitudes. In fact, why postulate so many independent “primitives” rather than trying to see what is shared by such motivational attitudes and how each of them can be “decomposed” into simpler ingredients?
More specifically, in our account of loss of motivation, we need this abstract notion of goal for at least two reasons. First, a good (i.e., dynamic) model of goal processing presupposes some entity that is processed step by step and is subject to some transformation, with the possibility not only of generating a new unrelated entity but also going back in the process (to previous stages) while preserving some specific content (i.e., the goal state). This, as shown later, is exactly the case for intentions, which can go back to their previous state of simple goals. Second, as we show later in our treatment of disappointment, a general notion of goal is necessary for a unified view of this mental attitude. In fact, disappointment can simply concern some expectation (goal plus prediction). It does not necessarily require intentions, but it also applies to them. Relating disappointment to goals allows for a general treatment of disappointment, whereas focusing on its relation with intentions permits one to see how disappointment can imply loss of motivation. Let us now retrace our line of reasoning and look at the relationship between frustrated intentions and loss ofmotivation.
Frustrated Intentions and Loss of Motivation
We have just stated that for a frustration to imply loss of motivation, the frustrated goal should be anintention. But it is not necessary that an intention is actually pursued [ 1 ] (and failed) to favor a loss ofmotivation. In fact, contrary to common usage (e.g., J. S. Brown, 1961; Cofer & Appley, 1964; Dollard, Doob, Miller, Mowrer, & Sears, 1939), we do not restrict goal (and intention) frustration to pursued (and failed) goals; rather, we view it as a wider phenomenon including “privation” (Marx, 1956; Maslow, 1943;Miceli & Castelfranchi, 1997), that is, the simple fact that the goal (or intention) is unrequited. So, considering mere goals, a goal can be frustrated (or achieved) without being pursued: I have the goal that John calls me tomorrow, I do not pursue it, and still, if tomorrow John does not call me, my goal is frustrated.
Also, an intention can be frustrated without being actually pursued. If goal p is chosen for pursuit and some planning is being done for it, p is already an intention: namely, what Bratman would call a “future-directedintention” rather than an “intentional action” (e.g., Bratman, 1987). Consider again my intention p to study. Suppose I am not yet pursuing p (that is, I have not started to study) but I have decided to do so, and have started my planning for it (looking for the books I should read and the classes to attend, scheduling my future weeks so as to reserve some time for studying, and so on), but in so doing I come to realize that I will not achieve the required preparation in time. This is already a frustrating assumption. A frustrating assumption, according to the definition previously suggested, is simply a belief–goal discrepancy in which the time specification of the goal coincides with that of the belief. Nothing is said about the time at which the frustrating assumption is made. That time does not necessarily coincide with the time specification assigned to p. I can now believe that in 4 weeks I will not achieve the required preparation. So, intention p is frustrated, and that frustration can induce my disengagement from it (i.e., I drop p).
Of course, a frustrated intention can also be a pursued (and failed) one, which is the more apparent case. A typical consequence of frustrated pursuit is disengagement from striving (e.g., Klinger, 1995; Scheier & Carver, 1988). But actual pursuit is not strictly necessary.
We can now summarize the eliciting conditions for loss of motivation identified so far: (subjective) frustration of an intention p, either pursued or not yet pursued in view of a persisting motive q. However, an intention, when frustrated, is not always abandoned. As pointed out by Klinger (1975), frustration is even likely to induce an “invigoration” phase in which greater effort is put forth in view of goal attainment. In addition, frustration is likely to temporarily increase the value of the failed goal (Brehm, 1972). Not surprisingly, as already observed, a frustrated goal can receive a new time specification, become active again, be chosen among other possible goals, and be pursued. For instance, in the case of the exam, I can “resume” myintention p at the next session. In this regard, my expectations about the future course of the events play a crucial role.
Expectations are complex mental attitudes consisting of both goals and predictions (i.e., beliefs about the future). In fact, whereas a pure prediction of p is simply the belief that p is (more or less) likely to occur (within a certain time), an expectation of p is a prediction of p combined with the goal p (positive expectation) or not p (negative expectation): I foresee a certain event and I have the goal that it occurs or does not occur.
Negative expectations closely resemble frustrations. If, as we assume, goal frustration does not necessarily imply goal pursuit, one can consider a negative expectation as a subtype of frustration. Actually, a negative expectation was already implied in our previous example: If I now believe that in 4 weeks (my deadline) I will not achieve p (the required preparation), this is a case of negative expectation.
Thus, frustrations can be either verified or unverified. A frustration is verified if the time at which it occurs coincides with (or follows) the time specification assigned to p. A frustration is unverified if the time at which it occurs precedes the time specification assigned to p (Miceli & Castelfranchi, 1997). A negative expectation is simply an unverified frustration.
Expectations play a crucial role in the decisional phase, in that they influence intention formation and maintenance. Broadly speaking, to become (or remain) an intention, a goal should be viewed as (a) attainable and (b) convenient; that is, the benefits gained through its satisfaction (realization of some superordinate goal, as well as positive side effects of p's realization) should be viewed as greater than the costs of its choice (including renunciation of other possible goals) and pursuit (both resources to be spent and negative side effects of p's realization).
From the preceding, one might infer that negative expectations about p's attainability or convenience induce loss of motivation with regard to p. However, such a conclusion does not apply to all circumstances. A number of restrictions are needed. For example, it should be taken into account that whereas a verified frustration represents the highest degree of certainty (in that it is an actual frustration), a negative expectation can show varying degrees of certainty (the more certain it is, the more it will resemble an actual frustration, “as if” it had already occurred).
When an expectation about p's unattainability is certain, it is by itself sufficient to induce loss of motivationabout intention p and, eventually, p's dropping. But when the expectation of unattainability is not absolutely certain, convenience can also play an important role in the process. In particular, the more convenient p is considered, the more probable it is that p is translated into, or maintained as, an intention. In this case, one is likely to apply a rule of the kind “There is no harm in trying.” In other words, here a negative expectation about p's attainability (even with a high degree of certainty) is not enough for “disturbing” an intention. Conversely, degree of negative certainty being equal, the less convenient p is deemed, the more probable it is that it does not become an intention or that a formed intention is dropped before being pursued (or even in the course of pursuit). Here, the commonsense rule at stake is “The game is not worth the candle”: One is considering (or reconsidering) p's attainability and convenience and p looks unworthy of pursuit. So, one gives up p, whereas its motive q can still be there.
Therefore, the role of negative expectations in the process of loss of motivation (including intention dropping as its end point) can be summarized as follows: If a negative expectation about an intention p is to induce loss of motivation with regard to p, it is sufficient that the expectation regards p's unattainability and is certain. When attainability is uncertain, it is also necessary to have a negative expectation of inconvenience: The greater the inconvenience, the more likely the loss of motivation and consequent intention dropping. It is worth specifying that two different situations are possible: In one case, p is dropped, so to say, as a whole; in the other case, p can be still there as a goal, but it is no longer an intention.
In fact, an intention is, as already observed, a special goal, which implies the choice to pursue that goal. This choice is simply another goal, that of “doing something” to make the first goal true. In other words, anintention can be divided into the pure represented state of the world that one wants to be true and the goal to act (i.e., to use some means) to realize it. For instance, the intention “I lose weight” (in view of my motive qto find a boyfriend) can be divided into goal p that I lose weight and goal r that I go on a diet (see the distinction between “intention that” and “intention to”; e.g., Grosz & Kraus, 1996).
Therefore, one can lose either one's motivation for p or one's motivation to pursue p (by going on a diet). In the latter case, goal r (going on a diet) has been dropped, whereas goal p is still there but is no longer anintention (i.e., it has returned to the state of a mere goal).
In any case, however, it is worth stressing that, as in the case of frustration, the goal implied in the expectation should be an intention for a loss of motivation to occur. Loss of motivation implies intention. A negative expectation concerning a simple goal (even the most certain and strongest negative expectation) says nothing about loss of motivation. Suppose I have the goal (not the intention) that John loves me and I also predict that he will never love me. In what sense could one say that I have “lost my motivation” for being loved by John? I could of course lose any hope of being loved by John, thus being hopeless and depressed, which are exactly the emotional reactions implied by my negative expectations. I could try not to think about my hopeless goal and avoid any activity of imagination and “foretaste” of the desired state of affairs. I could even try either to repress or to suppress my goal (however hard it may be to explain how this can be realized). But, in any case, loss of motivation does not apply.
To put the question in other terms, loss of motivation does not coincide with disengagement from the originalmotive (which we do not consider here) but coincides with disengagement from its pursuit, or, more precisely, from some subordinate goal that has become an intention. The two kinds of disengagement should be kept distinct. In fact, the latter does not necessarily imply the former. It is sufficient to provide a reminder of the typical reactions of depressed people to failure: Although they are likely to disengage from pursuit, they are unable to “mentally” disengage from failure and from the unachieved goal itself (e.g., Pyszczynski & Greenberg, 1987).
Disappointment is a special case of negative expectation, which necessarily implies a process of transition or transformation of a positive expectation into a negative one. A disappointed expectation is in fact a positive expectation (with varying degrees of certainty) that becomes negative (with varying degrees of certainty).
A disappointed expectation (or disappointment) may regard simple goals, not necessarily intentions. For instance, I would like the weather tomorrow to be fine, and I expect it to be so; then I come to know that a storm is approaching, and I become disappointed. Here no intention is at stake, and, as a consequence, no loss of motivation will apply. For a loss of motivation to be induced by a disappointment, the implied goal should be, as usual, an intention.
What has already been observed about negative expectations of unattainability or inconvenience and loss ofmotivation also applies in the case of disappointment. However, a disappointment is more likely than a purely negative expectation to induce intention dropping. In fact, on the one hand, the very formation of theintention is favored by the initial positive expectation. Although not indispensable, positive expectations are a condition favoring the prioritization of the goal, its transformation into an actual intention, and, hence, the commitment to its pursuit (Bratman, 1987; Cohen & Levesque, 1990; Pervin, 1991). On the other hand,intention dropping is favored by the transformation of the positive expectation into a negative one. By contrast, when an expectation is negative from its start, its implied goal is less likely to become an intention, although, as just observed, this is not impossible.
How does a positive expectation turn into a negative one? Of course, one should somehow “verify” that one'sintention is less likely to be realized than initially supposed. However, such a verification does not necessarily imply an actual (unsuccessful) pursuit of the intention (i.e., a verified frustration). It is sufficient that some preliminary test about the intention's conditions of attainability or convenience reveals that such conditions do not hold. Suppose Mary has the goal that John falls in love with her and starts having positive expectations about that goal (grounded, say, either in a few signs of his interest toward her or in her confidence in her ability to make him fall in love with her). Now suppose that, supported by these positive expectations, Mary's goal becomes an intention, and she starts planning an action (e.g., to call him for a date) for achieving it. At this point, before any pursuit, Mary discovers that John is a homosexual. Suppose that this new piece of information is sufficient to thwart her positive expectation, which turns into a negative one. Such a disappointment can induce loss of motivation about her intention, which is dropped (whereas the hopeless goal may still be there).
So far, then, the relationship between disappointment and loss of motivation can be summarized as follows: Disappointment of an intention (unlike mere negative expectation) implies a process of transition from a positive expectation about the intention's attainability and convenience into a negative one: whereas the positive expectation favors intention formation, the negative one favors intention dropping. For a disappointment to occur, a verification (before, during, or after pursuit) about the intention's attainability or convenience should apply.
However, this picture of the role of disappointment in loss of motivation might be incomplete in that it does not take into account another important factor that seems likely to enter the demotivation process: suffering. Although the verification implied by disappointment does not necessarily coincide with a verified frustration, disappointment of expectations is very likely to aggravate the suffering provoked by frustrating assumptions (Miceli & Castelfranchi, 1997). In fact, violation of expectations is an important component of most emotional experiences (e.g., Mandler, 1984; Scherer, 1984; Stein & Levine, 1987, 1990). If Mary wants to be loved by John and expects to be, the pain of her (either predicted or actual) failure will be stronger than what she would experience in the absence of any definite expectations (“It may work out all right, and it may not”) or in the case of negative expectations.
We suspect suffering itself to play some role in loss of motivation. More specifically, loss of motivation could (also) be a means for avoiding or reducing the suffering implied by a frustrating assumption, and in particular a disappointment. But, if so, how does it work? That is, how can loss of motivation favor suffering reduction?
Suffering Reduction as a Reason for Loss of Motivation
If loss of motivation is to be induced by disappointment, the implied goal should be an intention, which is dropped as a result of the verification that the desired state of affairs is less likely to be realized than initially supposed. The existence of an intention, even before any pursuit, is quite likely to favor anticipation of the satisfaction of the intended goal. The implied choice and commitment, as well as the activity of planning for the goal, favor the continuous activation of the goal itself, along with the persistence of images related to the desired state and its expected satisfaction. This, together with the initial positive expectation, favors an “as if” state of mind (which is all the stronger, the more certain the expectation) in which the desired state is (almost) realized, and the individual feels already allowed to dwell on the enjoyment of the satisfaction of his or her goal. In a sense, the realization of the goal comes to be viewed as something to be maintained (as if it were already given) rather than acquired.
When the positive expectation is disappointed, one “falls” from such a pseudo-satisfaction of the goal to its pseudo-loss. In fact, because the goal was “as if” attained, now it is “as if” lost, rather than simply not acquired. A loss—that is, the frustration of a maintenance goal—is likely to imply greater suffering than the frustration of an acquisitive goal (Miceli & Castelfranchi, 1997). Not surprisingly, the damage associated with the loss of a given resource is considered greater than the utility associated with the acquisition of the same resource (see Kahneman, Knetsch, & Thaler, 1990; Kahneman & Tversky, 1979). This is, in our view, the basic reason why a disappointment about an intention implies greater suffering than a simple frustrating assumption: The “virtual” satisfaction of the goal favored by the initial positive expectation and the cognitive processes implied by the intention make people perceive the abortive real satisfaction as a loss once the positive expectation is disappointed.
We assume that the intention dropping implicit in loss of motivation drastically reduces the anticipatory representation [ 2 ] of one's achievement. Thus, once the intention dropping has reduced the “foretaste” of the desired state, the latter is very likely to return to its original acquisitive status; that is, it is seen as something quite far from being (almost) given. As a consequence, the frustration of the goal comes to be viewed as a failed acquisition rather than a loss. And this implies a reduction in suffering.
In addition, intention dropping can be viewed as a preventive measure against the greater suffering caused by pursued (and failed) goals. In fact, the frustration of a pursued goal implies (all else being equal) greater suffering than the frustration of a nonpursued goal (Miceli & Castelfranchi, 1997). One of the reasons for this resides in the (useless) costs incurred for pursuit. The greater the amount of resources, effort, and persistence involved (i.e., the investment demanded for pursuit), the greater the suffering. This is due not only to the costs incurred but to the consequence of having incurred costs, in that the value of the goal rises as the costs incurred grow (as implied in the psychology of “sunk costs”; e.g., Arkes & Blumer, 1985;Bazerman, 1990). Thus, intention dropping, implying renouncing pursuit of the goal, can also be a means for avoiding the suffering relative to the (supposedly useless) costs of pursuit one would incur.
In sum, loss of motivation can reduce suffering, through its implied intention dropping, in at least two main ways. On the one hand, it reduces the anticipation of the desired state, thus favoring an experience of frustration in terms of failed acquisition rather than loss; on the other hand, it can work as a preventive measure against the suffering related to useless pursuit.
If loss of motivation reduces suffering, one can also expect that, when the suffering rises to an intolerable degree (or even when one is afraid it is going to rise), suffering itself can act as a demotivating force (i.e., it can induce loss of motivation to be reduced). In particular, the severe suffering caused by disappointment can favor loss of motivation as a means for avoiding or reducing the suffering. Thus, the picture of the role played by disappointment in loss of motivation can be enriched by the following corollary: Disappointment induces greater suffering than either simple frustration or negative expectation, and in so doing it is more likely to favor loss of motivation, and consequent intention dropping, as a means for suffering reduction.
As Carver and Scheier (1990, p. 31) observed, the negative affect occurring when one's expectancies about goal attainment become “sufficiently unfavorable” induces “disengagement from the attempt to conform to it.” Because disengagement, in turn, favors the reconsideration and reprioritization of one's goals, such a view suggests a functional role not only for suffering as a demotivating force but also for loss of motivation itself. This aspect is beyond the scope of the present article, and deserves separate attention.
Suffering Reduction and Low-Level Versus High-Level Intention Dropping
We have just suggested that loss of motivation, through intention dropping, is likely to reduce the suffering implied in disappointment. However, it might be plausibly argued that this mainly applies to low-levelintentions. By contrast, when high-level intentions, and in particular intentions related to a person's self-view, are at stake, the situation becomes much more complicated. In fact, dropping a self-related intentioncan be more painful than suffering from “low-level” disappointment.
At least a couple of reasons can be suggested for this fact. On the one hand, a low-level intention is more easily replaceable than a high-level one (see Carver & Scheier, 1990): If, for shopping (q), going by car (p) proves impossible or inconvenient, I can easily drop p and establish some other feasible subgoal (e.g., taking a bus). Conversely, if, to become a pianist (q), I have to pass the conservatory exam (p), and the pursuit of pproves unsuccessful and disappointing, what else can I do? Renouncing p implies renouncing q, which, as far as q is related to my life projects, personal strivings, and self-definitional concerns, can be highly distressing.
Although there is some truth in the previous argument, it is worth specifying that, as is apparent from the earlier examples, the intention's irreplaceability implies the risk of renouncing the superordinate motive, and in principle this may happen at any level in a goal hierarchy. Even a very low-level intention (e.g., a specific step in a program) can be the unique means for realizing a certain supergoal. And, whenever dropping an (either low- or high-level) intention implies renouncing its superordinate goal, intention dropping can be more difficult and painful than it would be with a replaceable intention. In other words, what applies at the higher levels in a hierarchy also applies at the lower levels. What makes the real difference is the value attached to the superordinate motive. However, it is still true that the higher a motive in a person's goal hierarchy, the more important it is likely to be. And the more important a motive and the less replaceable its subordinateintention, the more difficult and painful the latter's dropping.
Moreover, although a low-level intention may be irreplaceable, we do not pretend to rule out the idea that high-level intentions are more likely to be irreplaceable. We in fact share this conviction, but only to some extent. Otherwise, if high-level intentions were irreplaceable in any case, it would be impossible to account for those kinds of so-called “fluid compensation” (e.g., Allport, 1943; Steele, 1988) in which to compensate for some deficit or failure, people look to other areas of “power” (different from those in which the failure is identified) that offer better chances of success. So, a stutterer may take up mime, a handicapped individual may bring his or her intellectual faculties to the forefront, and a shy person may focus on his or her artistic gifts. This is an interesting phenomenon attesting to a great psychic capacity for abstraction and generalization. Although governed by various goals relating to a wide range of domains, the individual shows the capacity to “translate” one goal into another once each goal has been ascribed a sort of exchange rate. Just as various objects (a house, a promotion, a divorce, a holiday, and so forth) may be compared once they are reduced to monetary terms, so different goals (athletic prowess, sexual conquest, or even a lottery win) may also be compared when taken in terms of a denominator such as power or self-esteem. However, the replaceability of one goal with another has its limits. In fact, one goal can be equivalent to another inasmuch as both are means for one common supergoal. If it is enough for me to be a clever mime, a skilled orator, or a good boxer to consider myself successful, then these goals will also be interchangeable. By contrast, if in my system of goals and values there is no such instrumental relationship between, say, “being a good boxer” and “being successful,” and if any ad hoc revision of this system of motives and values threatens their established order (e.g., entailing discussion of deeply rooted values), then the operation will hardly take place. Thus, neither substitution with other motives and values nor the consequent compensation will occur.
Apart from the replaceability issue, however, dropping a self-related intention can be particularly painful because of the symbolic meaning attached to the fact of disengaging from one's life tasks and personal strivings. In such cases, one is forced to choose between two “evils”: either going on in an apparently unsuccessful pursuit or acknowledging (before oneself or other people) that one has fallen short of one's own life projects and self-values. In terms of suffering, probably the latter option seems worse. (There might also be a degree of satisfaction or pride implied in being engaged—although unsuccessfully—in some challenging endeavor.) However, in considering such cases, one should always be careful in identifying and distinguishing among the various goals implied in a given hierarchy or common to different hierarchies. In fact, a certainintention can be instrumental to different motives, and what is a useless pursuit with regard to a certain superordinate goal may still be useful with regard to another. For instance, “studying” (p) can prove unsuccessful relative to “passing the exam” (q), but it can still be functional to such a motive (r) as “showing that one is a hard-working person” (which is, at least in part, independent of q's realization). Thus, in such cases disappointment relative to p as a means for q can be “compensated” by a satisfied expectation relative to p as a means for r. The amount of disappointment and consequent suffering will depend on the importance attached to q and r, respectively.
However, we find it reasonable to suppose that also in those cases suffering can act as a demotivating force. Conflict and ambivalence (and the suffering they entail), in fact, especially when experienced with regard to one's personal strivings, tend to inhibit action (e.g., Emmons & King, 1988). Although action inhibition does not coincide with intention dropping (the intention can still be there and can also imply intense planning and replanning activity), at least engagement in actual performance, as well as effort expenditure and persistence in striving, can be undermined.
Discouragement can be viewed as a kind of disappointment. In discouragement, there is in fact a transformation of a positive expectation into a negative one. In particular, discouragement implies a transition from a situation in which one has the “courage” to “manage” it to a situation in which one loses heart. In other words, when one becomes discouraged, one comes to despair of succeeding in something (i.e., in achieving some goal) after having expected a positive outcome.
However, a discouragement is something more specific than a simple disappointment. Discouragement implies disappointment, but there may be disappointment without discouragement. Consider the previous example involving my expectations for sunny weather: If I have to change my prediction from “sunny” to “rainy,” I will become disappointed but not discouraged. In this case, there is nothing to be discouraged about.
The reason for this resides in the fact that, as already stressed, disappointment does not necessarily implyintention. One may be disappointed about mere goals, but, in regard to discouragement, there should necessarily be some intention implied: One is in fact discouraged from pursuing some goal (because one's positive expectations have been disappointed). Going back to the previous example, discouragement might come into play if the expected sunny weather were considered an enabling condition for pursuing the goal of, say, taking a trip. In such a case, I would be discouraged with regard to that goal (or better intention) but simply disappointed relative to the goal of having sunny weather.
Thus, discouragement implies both disappointment and intention. If one considers again the example of Mary planning to make John fall in love with her until she discovers he is a homosexual, one can see that this is, in fact, a case of discouragement: Mary becomes discouraged from trying to make John fall in love with her, because the news about his homosexuality has disappointed her positive expectations of succeeding in that endeavor.
Moreover, discouragement shows another important difference from mere disappointment. In discouragement, the focus of attention is on one's lack of power to achieve a certain goal p. As already observed, in common usage, “being discouraged” means that one feels unable to manage the situation, whereas “being disappointed” is unmarked with regard to power. Both imply a transition from a positive expectation to a negative one. But in the case of discouragement the positive expectation implies a belief of the type “I can manage it,” whereas in the case of mere disappointment the expectation can simply be “p will happen.” This is quite in line with Weiner, Russel, and Lerman's (1979, p. 1216) view of disappointment as “independent of attributions but dependent on outcomes” (see also Zeelenberg et al., 1998).
Discouragement is indeed very close to hopelessness, as defined by Abramson et al. (1989), that is, the conjunction of negative expectations about the occurrence of desired outcomes with “expectations of helplessness about changing the likelihood of occurrence of these outcomes” (p. 359). The main difference between discouragement and hopelessness is that the former necessarily entails a transition from positive expectations to negative ones (i.e., a disappointment). In fact, starting from mere negative expectations, one can become hopeless without undergoing a discouragement phase.
Thus, discouragement entails some negative belief concerning one's power (means, skills, resources, or enabling conditions) to realize an intended p. But does it necessarily concern one's internal power? That is, in attributional terms, should the (expected) failure be seen as dependent on one's lack of effort or ability? Not necessarily: One can become discouraged as well when the failure is traced back to lack of external power, that is, some objective difficulty or impossibility to realize p, such as the absence of an external enabling condition (e.g., sunny weather or a potential partner with heterosexual inclinations). It is worth observing that the hopelessness theory of depression (Abramson et al., 1989) also deemphasizes the “internality dimension,” (in contrast to its original statement; Abramson et al., 1978) while stressing the role of stable and global attributions (either internal or external). In the same vein, Smith and Pope (1992) pointed out that an individual's appraisal of his or her coping potential with respect to a task combines considerations of perceived task difficulty and perceived ability. However, when an internal lack of power is at stake, discouragement is likely to elicit greater suffering, in that it is accompanied by painful beliefs about one's lack of self-efficacy (e.g., Bandura, 1982) and a possible lowering of self-esteem. And such greater suffering is in turn likely to favor loss of motivation (as described earlier).
Moreover, in terms of becoming discouraged, it is not necessary that the intention has been actually pursued and that pursuit has proved to be unsuccessful. It suffices that the agent has somehow verified that success is unlikely. As in disappointment, such a “verification” does not necessarily imply a verified frustration. If some planning has been performed, and a preliminary test of the intention's conditions of attainability and convenience reveals that such conditions do not hold (as initially supposed), the agent can become discouraged before any pursuit.
However, when pursuit has already occurred, discouragement will be stronger, in at least two senses of the word. On the one hand, it will be more certain; the negative expectation it implies will be more certain, grounded as it is on an actual frustration of the goal. On the other hand, discouragement will be more serious, in that the suffering it entails will be greater. [ 3 ] Therefore, the stronger the discouragement, the more likely it will be to induce loss of motivation.
We can summarize the previous analysis of the relationship between discouragement and loss of motivationas follows: Discouragement is a kind of disappointment whereby (previously positive and then negative) expectations concern one's (either internal or external) power to realize an intention. The strength of a discouragement depends on two basic factors (other than the importance of the intention itself): the actual (failed) pursuit of the intention and the internal character of the lack of power implied. The stronger the discouragement, the more likely the pertinent loss of motivation and intention dropping.
Discouragement and loss of motivation are closely related. The necessary ingredients of discouragement (i.e., disappointment and intention) are in fact sufficient conditions for loss of motivation to occur. However, although discouragement is very likely to induce loss of motivation, it does not necessarily coincide with it. If one views loss of motivation as the final result of a process rather than as the process itself, one should notice that discouragement is not yet loss of motivation. One can be discouraged and still maintain one'sintention as such. By contrast, loss of motivation (as a final result) implies intention dropping.
In addition, and more important, there can be loss of motivation without discouragement. In other words, the latter is just a possible (and, in fact, very likely) cause of loss of motivation. Other causes can come into play.
Loss of Motivation
Let us go back to our initial example about Mary having the intention p to lose weight in view of her goal q to find a boyfriend. When Mary assumes that p is not a (good) means for q (because her brother tells her that, to find a boyfriend, it is not her weight that matters), she is likely to drop p (and possibly look for alternative means). Here a loss of motivation has occurred. But would one say that Mary has become discouraged with regard to p? She is disappointed, because her positive expectation that p would serve for q has turned into a negative expectation, but one would not say that she is discouraged. In fact, no negative belief concerning power (either internal or external) to realize the intended p is at stake here, in that p can be successfully accomplished (or, at least, Mary is not considering whether it can or cannot be accomplished). By contrast, what matters is the belief that, once p is achieved (i.e., Mary loses weight), q remains unrealized. In other words, what is at stake here is a very basic belief about the instrumental relationship between p and its “motive” q. At first p was believed to be a good means for q, but then the means–end relationship came to be questioned: p “did not work;” it did not serve for q. And this was enough for loss of motivation to occur.
It might be argued that, in this situation, Mary can become discouraged as well. For instance, she might declare that she is “discouraged” because she has realized that losing weight is useless (with regard to the goal of finding a boyfriend), and one would not be puzzled by her choice of that word to describe her feelings. But if one looks more closely at the meaning conveyed by Mary's report, one can see that it is not focusing on the mere belief that p is useless. Mary is implicitly saying much more. She is saying that, because losing weight is useless, she feels unable to manage the situation, in that she has no alternative means (for q) at her disposal, or she does not know which other means would serve the purpose. In a word, she is discouraged because she does not know what to do, or she believes she can do nothing else. Once again, her power to manage the situation is at stake, and discouragement refers precisely to that power. (The only difference from the previous cases of discouragement is that the reference goal here is q rather than p.) In fact, if she were offered some promising alternative means (as in the original example, where her brother suggests she try to improve her social skills), her discouragement would be out of place. Thus, we have shown a case of loss ofmotivation without discouragement: Whenever the implied disappointment regards the mere means–end relation, in that p is no longer believed to be a means for q (as initially expected), loss of motivation can occur independent of discouragement.
As already pointed out, a second difference between loss of motivation and discouragement implies a view of loss of motivation in terms of the “end point” of the demotivating process, where the end point coincides with dropping the intention. Discouragement—as well as (and even more than) disappointment—is likely to induce or favor intention dropping, but the intention may still be there, in spite of discouragement.
If discouragement is to induce intention dropping, much depends on the strength of discouragement itself (as described earlier); thus, such factors as the certainty of the negative expectations about p's feasibility and convenience and negative beliefs about one's self-efficacy are likely to play a crucial role in favoring intentiondropping. However, it is worth stressing that the “threshold” for intention dropping is hard to establish “objectively,” in that it does not necessarily depend on such factors as the preassessed value the person ascribes to p or its motive q or the number of unsuccessful pursuits. Negative expectations themselves are quite far from depending only on objective signs or proof of p's unattainability or inconvenience. A general sense of doubt (especially self-doubt) and dispositions to pessimistic forecasts are likely to play a crucial role. In fact, for instance, some people can become discouraged and begin to despair after a first unsuccessful attempt or in front of the first obstacle they meet, whereas others stubbornly persist in spite of serious obstacles or previous actual failures. The risk of failure plays a different role according to how it is viewed by the person: as a stimulating challenge to be met or, conversely, as an unbearable threat to be avoided. And here what makes the difference is the person's self-esteem and feelings of personal control (e.g., Bandura, 1982; McFarlin, Baumeister, & Blascovich, 1984; Taylor & Brown, 1988).
But, apart from the strength of discouragement, there are other reasons why discouragement (as well as disappointment) may be insufficient to cause intention dropping. In fact, persistence (i.e., the likelihood of giving up or not giving up a certain intention or pursuit) does not depend only on such beliefs as “It is impossible,” “It is too difficult,” or “I am unable to. ... ” The greater the amount of resources already allocated and spent in pursuing an intention, the greater the resistance to giving up. In other words, persistence can be enhanced by previous effort.
This seems to depend on the so-called “sunk cost effect” (e.g., Arkes & Blumer, 1985). Sunk costs are, as mentioned earlier, the resources and effort already spent in a given pursuit. Such costs are likely to motivate the decision to persist in spite of more “rational” economic reasons (i.e., the ratio between the costs and benefits expected from the outcome), which would orient one toward disengagement. In other words, according to mere economic reasons, one's choice to persist or give up should depend on a question such as “Is there a better investment I can make?”, regardless of what has already been spent. However, the human decision maker's choice is heavily influenced by the problem of “how much I have already spent” in the endeavor.
The basic motivation underlying the sunk cost effect is assumed to be a desire not to appear wasteful. Such amotive to avoid the waste of what has already been spent is very likely to favor persistence in useless and discouraging pursuits. Not surprisingly, an important consequence of having incurred costs is, in fact, an increase in the subjective importance of the specific intention (that is, its value rises as the costs incurred grow), as if the value of the goal of “waste aversion” were added to the original value of the intention.
Therefore, although I can be seriously discouraged about succeeding in an endeavor (e.g., passing an exam), if I have already spent a great amount of effort (e.g., I have studied very hard and for a long time), discouragement might prove insufficient to produce intention dropping. More precisely, we propose that persistence is inversely proportional to strength of discouragement and directly proportional to sunk costs. Thus, we suggest the following prediction: The stronger the discouragement (or disappointment) and the lower the costs already incurred in pursuit, the more likely intention dropping.
Relationships Among Disappointment, Discouragement, and Loss of Motivation
At this stage, the relationships among disappointment, discouragement, and loss of motivation are more clear. Disappointment is the most general mechanism of the three, in that both discouragement and loss ofmotivation imply it: Discouragement is disappointment about one's power to achieve a certain intention p,whereas loss of motivation is either discouragement (along with actual intention dropping) or disappointment about the instrumental relationship between intention p and its motive q. So, as Figure 1 shows, both discouragement and loss of motivation are kinds of disappointment. However, the latter is a wider phenomenon that does not necessarily overlap with either of the former two; disappointment may regard simple goals (not intentions), whereas both discouragement and loss of motivation pertain to intentions. In the same vein, discouragement overlaps only partially with loss of motivation, because, as just argued, there can be loss of motivation without discouragement (when loss of motivation stems from disappointment about the instrumental relationship between p and q), as well as discouragement without loss of motivation (when the intention is not dropped).
Relationships among disappointment, discouragement, and loss of motivation
Toward a Principled Model of Loss of Motivation
Let us now try to sum up the results of our analysis in terms of the basic conditions for loss of motivation. One is motivated for p (its attainment or maintenance) in view of q. Goal q is the motive for p if three basic conditions hold: (a) One believes that p is a means for q; (b) one believes that p is attainable (in terms of both external and internal conditions of attainability); and (c) one believes that p is “convenient” in at least two senses. On the one hand, it is preferred to possible alternative means for q, in that it is regarded as the most effective for realizing q. On the other hand, it is not too expensive; that is the costs implied by its pursuit and achievement (including renunciation of other possible goals, as well as possible negative side effects ofp's realization) are supposed to be lower than the benefits (realization of the superordinate motive, including the latter's importance, as well as possible positive side effects) it can provide. In addition, when comparison with other possible means is involved, p is assumed to be less expensive than such other means. However, such a “rational” picture of convenience considerations should be corrected by a psychological view of convenience, one that is implied by the sunk cost effect. In particular, the convenience of choosing p (as a means for motive q), which depends on the factors previously mentioned (i.e., p's supposed effectiveness and the costs–benefits ratio), does not necessarily coincide with the convenience of renouncing p. The latter also depends on having already incurred some costs, and to what extent. This, too, is (in psychological terms) a matter of “convenience.” In fact, it is viewed as inconvenient to quit when one has invested “too much” (at least until there is some possibility of attainability).
If a demotivation process is to occur, the necessary conditions are, as we have shown, disappointment andintention. The negative expectation implied in disappointment can concern any of the following beliefs.
Not(a): The individual comes to believe that intention p is not a means for q, as initially supposed; this is the case earlier analyzed in which loss of motivation can occur without discouragement.
(a) + not(b): The individual still believes that p is a means for q, but disappointment concerns p's attainability. Note that condition (a) is a necessary complement of not(b), in that p's attainability or unattainability is relevant to loss of motivation as far as the means–end relationship between p and q is supposed to hold. Conversely, not(a) is by itself sufficient for loss of motivation to occur, independent of the individual's wondering about either attainability or convenience.
(a) + not(c): The individual still believes that p is a means for q, but disappointment concerns p's convenience. Here condition (a) is a necessary complement of not(c), in that the problem of p's degree of convenience is relevant as far as p is considered a means for q.
Figure 2 shows the previous necessary conditions “in the flow”; that is, it sketches how they might work to produce loss of motivation (and the possible consequent disengagement from the intention). Of course, the flowchart in Figure 2 is very sketchy, in that many aspects are neglected or roughly simplified. For example, it is limited to depicting what happens once the intention (more precisely, a “future-directed” intention, in Bratman's terms; see Bratman, 1987) is already formed and, possibly, already accompanied by preliminary positive expectations. At that point, as shown, a “verification” phase is supposed to start because, in the process of planning for realizing the intention, one is likely to check whether the conditions for such planning hold. And here is where disappointment can come into play, either about the instrumental relationship between intention p and its motive q or about p's attainability or convenience. In each case, disappointment leads to loss of motivation; in addition, if some negative inference about one's power is at stake, disappointment also implies discouragement, which is likely to induce (or, more precisely, increase the likelihood of) loss of motivation.
Necessary conditions for loss of motivation
Going back to the verification phase, its three components are sequentially ordered in Figure 2, namely, instrumentality followed by attainability, and then convenience. Actually, we believe this is their “logical” order, in particular as far as the priority of instrumentality is concerned (in fact, as already stressed, both p's attainability and convenience considerations can play some role in the demotivation process if intention p is viewed as a means for its motive q). However, we do not assume that, in actual fact, the procedure applied by a human planner should necessarily follow a sequential order, and in particular this one. Most depends on the particular information available at the moment. So, in some instances, one can start with (and even limit the verification to) attainability or convenience considerations; especially when particularly cogent and apparent, such considerations can be sufficient to undergo disappointment and loss of motivation aboutintention p, without even addressing the other questions.
Another simplification in Figure 2 is that the verification tests simply represent two possible exit points—yes or no—without taking into account varying degrees of certainty and probabilistic thresholds. However, supposing such tests do not lead to disappointment, the intention is actually pursued. If, during or after pursuit, no frustration is recorded, then pursuit is considered successful, and the intention is satisfied; in the case of frustration, a new verification phase is called into play.
Comparison With Related Models
What is the “added value” of the present model in comparison with others dealing with the same problems, that is, loss of motivation and disengagement? To start with, in our view, an analytical treatment of the “family” of those mental attitudes that are related to loss of motivation was still missing in the literature. In particular, disappointment and discouragement and their respective roles in the demotivation process had never been addressed in such detail. More specifically, let us try to point to a few differences between our work and a couple of approaches that we view as particularly close to ours.
First, we feel quite comfortable with Carver and Scheier and their control-process view (e.g., Carver & Scheier, 1981, 1982, 1990; Scheier & Carver, 1988). Particularly interesting is their stress on the role of the perceived rate of progress in discrepancy reduction, rather than discrepancy per se, in disengagement. They in fact claim that it is not just the presence or absence of discrepancies between the intended and the present states (or the size of such discrepancies) that can explain or predict disengagement but, rather, the perceived “slowness” with which they are being reduced. Although we have not addressed the rate of reduction issue directly, it is quite compatible with our view in that it implies our difference between merely unattained and frustrated goals. In particular, if our notion of a deadline for the realization of the goal were divided into several subdeadlines—distributed along the time span within which, according to the individual, the goal should be realized—such intermediate deadlines could in fact function as reference values for an “acceptable rate” of discrepancy reduction.
However, simply referring to sufficiently favorable versus sufficiently unfavorable expectations about goal attainment (also including progress in discrepancy reduction) can still be inadequate in explaining or predicting disengagement. Consider, for instance, our “there is no harm in trying” case, in which even very unfavorable attainability expectations can be insufficient for mining an intention if convenience expectations are sufficiently favorable. An important distinction is in fact missing in Carver and Scheier's model between the two kinds of (negative) expectations—attainability versus convenience—and their respective role in disengagement.
More generally, we find that Carver and Scheier's approach is mainly focused on action execution and the possible disengagement from it (i.e., on disengagement from pursued intentions). Their model of disengagement starts with attempts at discrepancy reduction and (either actual or potential) perceived obstacles, interruptions, and changes in the rate of progress toward the goal, which can affect the agent's outcome expectancies and so favor disengagement from such attempts. In this way, another kind of disengagement, that occurring before action, is neglected, if not excluded in principle. Conversely, we have tried to also address those disengagement processes that can occur in the transition from a “future intention” to an actually pursued one (see Figure 2). Moreover, remaining within the domain of pursued intentions, some important aspects seem to be lacking in Carver and Scheier's model. In fact, as they put it, if behavior “proceeds smoothly” (i.e., without obstacles and at a sufficiently positive rate of progress), disengagement has no reason to occur. However, in our view, this is not altogether correct. Behavior can proceed smoothly, and nevertheless disengagement can still occur: It is sufficient that one starts to question the intention's instrumentality in view of the superordinate goal, as in the not(a) case in the previous section. In other words, if, in spite of a successful pursuit of p and a positive rate of progress toward its realization, I start to harbor some doubt about p's “use” for q, my motivation can suffer a serious setback, up to the point of my dropping the intention. In our view, this side of the demotivation process is unduly neglected, and the reason mainly is an almost exclusive attention to pursued intentions and perceived success in pursuit, which inevitably restrict the domain of application of disengagement.
Another outstanding model of motivation and disengagement is Bandura's social–cognitive theory (e.g.,Bandura, 1982, 1986, 1991; Bandura & Cervone, 1983). Bandura has mainly addressed the crucial and pervasive role of self-efficacy beliefs in affecting (loss of) motivation. The great importance of self-efficacy beliefs can hardly be questioned. People's degree of effort and persistence in striving heavily depends on their self-efficacy beliefs; obstacles, impediments, frustrations, and disappointments are insufficient per se for explaining or predicting loss of motivation, in that what often makes the difference is people's confidence in their ability to overcome such obstacles and eventually obtain the desired result.
However, comparing Bandura's approach with ours, we would say that its strength is also its limit, in that it is basically confined to the treatment of discouragement and its relationship with loss of motivation. More precisely, it addresses only a (very important) part of discouragement, that which implies self-efficacy beliefs. As a consequence, we view Bandura's picture of loss of motivation and its eliciting conditions as incomplete, for at least a couple of reasons. First, as already stressed, discouragement can also regard one's lack of external power, enabling conditions, and so on, in which self-efficacy considerations are not implied. Second, loss of motivation can occur independent of discouragement. Crucial to this regard is our distinction between disappointment and discouragement. In fact, whereas discouragement is just a type of disappointment (regarding the transition from a special positive expectation, that of being able to achieve one's intention, to the negative expectation of being unable to achieve it), the necessary conditions for loss of motivation are disappointment and intention. In other words, the negative expectation implied in disappointment can concern various kinds of beliefs about an intention that include, but are not limited to, the individual's power to realize the intention.
In this article, we have tried to explore a complex phenomenon, loss of motivation, by distinguishing it from mere goal termination, identifying its relationships with more basic mental attitudes, and singling out the basic conditions for loss of motivation. In what follows, rather than merely summarizing how loss of motivation is related to, and favored by, such phenomena as frustration, negative expectation, disappointment, and discouragement, we try to single out a number of hypotheses derivable from our analysis and suggest, in general terms, what is needed for testing them empirically. In particular, we focus on disappointment and discouragement, which show a closer and more direct relationship with loss of motivation.
We have defined disappointment as a special case of negative expectation implying the transformation of a positive expectation into a negative one, and we have stressed that disappointment can regard simple goals, not necessarily intentions. This seems quite easily verifiable by examining the possible changes in people's expectations about states of the world or events in which no personal causation is involved, and so no possibleintention can plausibly be at stake.
We have also suggested that, when disappointment applies to intentions, intention dropping is favored by the positive-to-negative transformation of expectations. Conversely, when an expectation is negative from the start, the implied goal is less likely to become an intention; if the intention is already formed, however, its dropping can be less likely (all else being equal). To control this prediction, one should design a situation comparing the behavior of two groups of people, one endowed with negative expectations about a givenintention and the other endowed with disappointed expectations about the same intention (e.g., that of accomplishing a given experimental task). Initially, the actual existence of that intention in both groups should be ascertained (for instance, by inquiring about participants' willingness and commitment to accomplish the task). As for expectations, both kinds could be induced via an experimental manipulation. The “disappointment” group should be initially presented with positive information about the task accomplishment so as to favor (and then ascertain) the existence of a positive expectation, and then the latter should be undermined by introducing some new piece of information about the unlikelihood or inconvenience of the desired outcome. Conversely, the “negative expectation” group should be presented from the start with such negative information. Of course, the “negativity” of both kinds of expectations should be of the same extent (that is, implying beliefs about the same degree of inconvenience or probability of unattainment). At this point, one should measure and compare the frequency of intention dropping in the two groups. In addition, because we have suggested that disappointment induces greater suffering than negative expectation, it would be worthwhile to measure and compare the subjective distress experienced by the two groups of participants to verify whether it is, in fact, greater within the “disappointed” group.
We have defined discouragement as a kind of disappointment regarding, in particular, the transition from the positive expectation of being able to achieve one's intention to the negative expectation of being unable to achieve it. Thus, discouragement entails some negative belief concerning one's power to realize the intendedp. We have suggested that (a) it can concern both internal and external power, (b) it can apply to both future and pursued (and failed) intentions, (c) it is stronger (and entails greater suffering) if it regards internal power or pursued and failed intentions, and (d) the stronger the discouragement, the more likely the pertinent loss of motivation and intention dropping. These are in principle all testable hypotheses.
To ascertain the relative impact of people's discouragement with regard to their external versus internal lack of power, one can design an experiment in which two groups of participants are initially induced to harbor the same positive expectations about their accomplishment of a given task, and their “encouraging” beliefs are verified (e.g., by asking them whether they actually think they “can manage” the situation). Then such expectations should be differentially undermined by presenting one group with negative information about external obstacles or the lack of enabling conditions and the other group with negative information about their own self-efficacy relative to the task. At this point, one should ascertain that the expected change has in fact occurred in the participants' expectations (i.e., that they no longer feel so able to manage it) and then measure both the amount of distress experienced and the frequency of intention dropping in each group. A similar experiment could be aimed at verifying the relative impact of pursued and failed versus nonpursuedintentions on the strength of discouragement. In this case, one group of participants (endowed, as before, with “encouraging” expectations) should actually try to accomplish the task and be induced to fail and attribute the failure to their lack of (either internal or external) power; by contrast, the other group should just experience the transition from positive to negative expectations about their power to accomplish the task, without any actual pursuit. Then, as before, one could measure both the amount of distress experienced and the frequency of intention dropping in each group.
In our treatment, we have often pointed to the differences between disappointment and discouragement. As shown, discouragement is a special case of disappointment: All discouraged people are also disappointed, but not all disappointed people are discouraged. [ 4 ] So, to verify the differences between disappointment and discouragement, one should inquire within that “space” where there is no possible overlap between them; that is, one should ascertain the existence of disappointment devoid of discouragement. One way to do so is to focus on disappointment about mere goals, which, as already mentioned, does not involve any expectation about one's personal role in the production of the desired result. However, what one may find in such cases is a form of disappointment that is devoid not only of discouragement but also of possible loss of motivation andintention dropping (in fact, no intention is implied in these cases).
By contrast, another way to address disappointment devoid of discouragement is more relevant to our presentpurposes in that it also allows one to verify another important hypothesis implied in our model, namely the existence of loss of motivation devoid of discouragement. In other words, what should be verified is that disappointment can lead to loss of motivation independent of discouragement. This is nothing other than what happens in our so-called not(a) case, in which disappointment regards an actual intention p in view of somemotive q, and the negative expectation implied in disappointment has no “discouraging” implication (i.e., no consideration about one's power) but simply concerns p's instrumentality relative to q (i.e., the individual comes to believe that p is not a means for q, as initially supposed). In such a case, one would need to conduct a study in which participants are first induced to believe that the pursuit of a certain intention p is the correct means for realizing a superordinate goal q (and the existence of such a belief, as well as the participants' willingness to pursue p and to obtain q, should be ascertained). Then participants should be “disappointed” by providing them with some new piece of information about the uselessness of p (relative toq). At this point, the supposed absence of discouragement should be verified by ascertaining whether and to what degree the participants' reports focus on their “lack of power” (and by possibly comparing them with other reports about more “discouraging” situations in which the negative expectations concern unattainability or inconvenience). Finally, one could assess whether and to what degree such disappointment inducesintention dropping in the participants.
This work has been mainly focused on the minimum requirements and conditions for the occurrence of loss ofmotivation. Of course, a number of aspects have therefore been neglected.
For instance, reconsidering our basic conditions, let us go back to disappointment about p's convenience, that is, to what we have called the (a) + not(c) condition. It is worth specifying that this condition implies a kind of loss of motivation we have not considered, in that it can bring ulterior motives into play, other than q. In other words, there is a possible case of disappointment about convenience that involves the interaction between the p–q means–end relation and other means–end relations or, more generally, other goal hierarchies. Think of any case in which p's inconvenience depends on some undesired side effect produced by its pursuit or achievement. Suppose, for instance, that Mary's intention p is “going on a diet,” and her motiveq is “losing weight.” Mary actually assumes both that p is a means for q and that it is attainable. She also believes p is convenient in the sense that it is preferable to other means as far as its effectiveness in view of qis concerned. However, Mary can become disappointed about p's convenience in some other respect. For instance, she learns that going on a diet favors depressive reactions, weariness, and the like, which could thwart some other motive r of hers (such as being healthy, good tempered, or hard working). At this point Mary can lose her motivation to pursue p, and the intention is dropped, in that in spite of its unquestioned usefulness with regard to q, the outcome is not worth the effort once p's realization is compared with the thwarting of r. And, of course, q's attainment will be at risk unless Mary is able to determine some alternative and more convenient means for it (e.g., liposuction).
This kind of phenomenon suggests that loss of motivation does not necessarily regard a single means–end relationship between two goals. It implies at least two goals, but it often calls other goals into play. These interrelations are made possible by the hierarchical organization of goals and the probable interdependence or interference between different hierarchies and plans. Thus, a wider look at loss of motivation should take into account such possible relationships and, in particular, the role of conflicts between different motives and plans for achieving them. As already observed, in fact, such conflicts are likely to favor loss of motivation with regard to the conflicting goals, and in particular to inhibit action toward those goals, especially when the latter are of the high-level type, such as personal strivings (e.g., Emmons & King, 1988).
Other important aspects have been neglected in this work. One of its major limits is that, neglecting unconscious motives, “intentions,” and expectations, it does not take into account unconscious or “automatic” forms of loss of motivation. This, however, is by no means a reflection of a hyperrationalistic view of loss ofmotivation or a bias against nonconscious forms of action control, but rather a temporary choice to restrict our analysis to the conscious, and often deliberated, side of the phenomenon.
Another important issue, one we have mentioned only in passing that deserves a separate work of its own, is the functional value of loss of motivation, either in the psychological sense or from an evolutionary standpoint. For the time being, it is worth emphasizing that the two perspectives should not necessarily or always converge or coincide. That is, sometimes loss of motivation might prove functional in view of an individual's well-being or suffering reduction and maladaptive in terms of fitness of the individual's genes, or vice versa. More precisely, the specific conditions under which loss of motivation favors subjective well-being (e.g., disengagement as a means to cope with an unbearable discouragement) might be different from those favoring adaptation (e.g., disengagement as a means to save resources otherwise wasted in useless pursuits).
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1 ^ We use pursuit in a strict sense. To “pursue” some intention, it is necessary to perform a special kind of action, that is, an action viewed by the performer as endowed with a causal power of favoring or producing the desired and expected outcome. Thus, a pursuit is an active attempt to produce a change in the world as a result of one's action. Usually, at the same time one also performs other actions: those necessary for monitoring the action execution itself, its enabling conditions, and its result. However, these monitoring actions are not sufficient for pursuing an intention. In fact, monitoring also occurs with regard to mere goals (not intentions). Suppose one has a goal that—to be accomplished—does not require any personal intervention on the world, in that it can be achieved through other agents or natural forces. One can just hope, wait, and check whether one's expectations are (going to be) fulfilled or not. In this case, we would find it misleading to call this “pursuit” hoping, waiting, or monitoring. In fact, goal pursuit has been “delegated” to other causal agents. Although expecting the realization of the goal, one does not believe that one is causally contributing to its achievement. Such an important difference between monitoring actions and actual pursuit cannot be missed.
2 ^ Of course, dropping an intention may often be insufficient for doing without “images” of the desired state: In fact, a hopeless wish is still enough to favor such images (Castelfranchi, 1998). But, however recurrent, they appear as less persistent and vivid and, in any case, are confined to the realm of “wish” and daydreaming, which is already marked as unreal. By contrast, when the intention is still there, such images belong, so to say, to the realm of reality: They are marked as not only possible, but probable, and are seen as “going to be real.” That is why it is so easy to enter an “as if” state of mind and to conceive an acquisition goal as a maintenance one.
3 ^ The suffering will be greater both because of that certainty (the more certain a negative expectation, the less room left for hope in future successful attempts) and because of the negative implications of failed pursuit, such as the regret for having incurred useless costs and the depressing negative self-evaluations typically induced by failure when it occurs in spite of one's efforts. In fact, in the absence of plausible external causes, a failure that occurred in spite of one's effort is likely to be traced back to one's lack of ability (Covington, 1985; Dweck & Leggett, 1988; Kun & Weiner, 1973).
4 ^ It is worth stressing that some difference may exist between the everyday meaning and use of a certain term and the “technical” meaning one can attach to it. In other words, we do not necessarily assume that, when people say they are either “disappointed” or “discouraged,” they mean exactly what we mean with those words. Indeed, people can use them more or less vaguely, in the same situation, and often interchangeably, which is also allowed by the actual overlap between the two phenomena (in that, as we view it, discouragement is a kind of disappointment). By contrast, what we assume is that there exist two distinct mental attitudes that both concern the transformation of a positive expectation into a negative one. But one attitude (which we call “disappointment”) is more general than the other, in that it applies to both simple goals and intentionsand is unmarked with regard to power. The other (which we call “discouragement”) applies just to intentions and implies people's negative beliefs about power.
Alamat untuk Korespondensi:
Maria Miceli, Istituto di Psicologia CNR, Viale Marx 15, 1-00137 Rome, Italy