The Moderating Effect of Performance Feedback and the Mediating Effect of Self-Set Goals on the Primed Goal-Performance Relationship

Guy Itzchakov, Gary P. Latham

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The effect of feedback and a self-set goal on the relationship between a goal primed in the subconscious and performance were examined in three laboratory experiments and one field experiment (n = 241, 465, 201, 74 respectively), using normative (bogus) and absolute feedback manipulations, and different performance tasks that were coded for both performance quality (i.e. creativity) and quantity. The hypothesis that providing feedback, a moderator in goal setting theory, amplifies the causal effect of a primed goal on performance was supported. Specifically, in experiment 1, participants were randomly assigned to a 2 (prime of effective vs. ineffective performance) × 3 (positive, negative, no feedback) factorial design. The primed goal for effective performance led to higher performance than the negative primed goal. In addition, feedback, regardless of its sign, increased both task and creative performance when a primed goal for effective performance was presented, but did not do so when the goal primed ineffective performance. This effect was replicated in two subsequent laboratory experiments which employed three primed goal conditions (effective/neutral/ineffective). In experiments 2 and 3, a consciously set goal, with no prompting by an experimenter, mediated the relationship between a primed goal and performance when feedback was provided. Experiment 4 provided a conceptual replication in a work setting, involving employees in a customer service department of a large communication company. Finally, a meta-analysis of these four experiments indicated an average effect size of d = 0.36, 95 per cent CI [0.23, 0.49] with no evidence of heterogeneity across the four experiments. These findings suggest that not only are subconscious goals a foundation for the difficulty level of consciously set goals, but in addition subconscious goals and conscious goals work together in affecting performance.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)379-414
Number of pages36
JournalApplied Psychology
Issue number2
StatePublished - 1 Apr 2020

Bibliographical note

Publisher Copyright:
© 2018 International Association of Applied Psychology

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Developmental and Educational Psychology
  • Arts and Humanities (miscellaneous)
  • Applied Psychology


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