Electronic Thesis and Dissertation Repository


Doctor of Philosophy




Dr. Gerard Seijts


Goal setting research has shown that on novel, complex tasks people perform better with learning than performance goals. In practice, people must often learn and perform at the same time. Does setting both types of goals simultaneously enhance performance compared to singular goals? This dissertation consists of two studies using a complex business simulation that examine setting simultaneous learning and performance goals (“combined goals”) for highly complex tasks. The first study is a cognitive interview study where I examine how people interpret assigned singular goals (learning or performance) and combined goals at various difficulty levels. The second study is a laboratory experiment which examines how combined goals affect performance under dynamic conditions. The results of both studies suggest that regardless of the goals people are assigned, they focus on the performance goal more than the learning goal or both goals equally. Combined goals appear to have a strong goal hierarchy where performance goals are the dominant goal and learning goals are the background goal. In terms of task performance, as predicted people who consistently focus on both goals equally – particularly early in the task – perform better than those who focus on only one. Also as predicted, assigned combined goals that emphasize learning over performance result in the highest performance. Overall, the results suggest that how people interpret combined goals within a goal hierarchy influences the goals they focus on which in turn influences task performance. This dissertation highlights the role of goal hierarchy in understanding how combined goals influence performance.