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Researchers Edwin A. Locke from the University of Maryland and Gary P. Latham from the University of Toronto have summarized the findings of a 35-year empirical study on goal-setting theory.  

Building a Practically Useful Theory of Goal Setting and Task Motivation: A 35-Year Odyssey

The study delves into the mechanisms through which goals operate, the moderating factors influencing goal effects, the relationship between goals and satisfaction, and the role of goals as mediators for incentives. Additionally, the study explores the external validity and practical significance of goal-setting theory, while also discussing new avenues for future research. The authors also address the limitations of the theory and its relationship with other psychological theories.

The field of motivation in North American psychology during the 1950s and 1960s was largely dominated by behaviorists who disregarded motivation as a legitimate research area. They argued that motivation was solely influenced by external factors such as rewards and punishments. Even when internal mechanisms were recognized, such as in drive reduction theory, it was primarily attributed to physiological factors.

However, non-behaviorist McClelland challenged this notion, asserting the existence of internal motives such as the need for achievement. Nevertheless, these motives were considered to be subconscious in nature.

Locke and Latham’s research provides substantial evidence for the presence and significance of internal motives and goal setting. Their study not only demonstrates the effectiveness of goal-setting theory but also the various ways in which goals can impact motivation and ultimately lead to personal satisfaction.

The practical implications of this theory are highlighted, emphasizing its relevance and applicability in real-life settings. The authors also acknowledge the limitations of goal-setting theory and its integration with other psychological theories.

Their findings shed light on the mechanisms through which goals operate, the moderating factors influencing their effects, and the role of goals as mediators of incentives. This study not only contributes to our understanding of motivation and happiness but also provides practical insights for individuals seeking to set and achieve their goals effectively.

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