Behavioral and Physiological Correlates of Goal-Directed Behavior

Caran Colvin, Rick Jacobs

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


The effects of a task complexity system, defined by a match or mismatch between subject's ability and task requirements, and goal setting on performance of a computer-based game were investigated in two studies using a 3x2x2 (Complexity System x Goal x Teial) design. In the first trial, undergraduate students (90 in Study 1 and 72 in Study 2) played the game under a low, balanced, or high task complexity system condition. The low complexity task system condition was characterized by high ability on the part of the subject coupled with low task demands. The reverse describes the high complexity task system condition. The balanced task complexity system condition matched subjects' ability with demands of the task. In the second trial, the same students either set performance goals or were told to do their best as they played the game. We concluded that balanced task complexity systems elicited active coping with task demands. Goal setting, however, altered the subjects' patterns of autonomic and behavioral responses. Across the goal and task complexity system conditions, performance outcomes were consistent with patterns of autonomic response. When parasympathetic withdrawal was accompanied by sympathetic overbalance, performance was lower. Performance was lower: (a) in the unbalanced task complexity systems when goals were self-set and (b) in the balanced systems when do-your-best goals were applied. When parasympathetic dominance was evident, performance was higher. Performance was higher: (a) in balanced task complexity systems when goals were self-set and (b) in the unbalanced systems when do-your-best goals were applied. Implications for these findings are discussed, and avenues for future research are outlined.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)115-134
Number of pages20
JournalHuman Performance
Issue number2
StatePublished - Jun 1993

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Applied Psychology
  • General Psychology
  • Organizational Behavior and Human Resource Management


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