Study finds men are more likely to achieve targets if they are set goals

A new study by researchers from the Department of Economics has revealed that men are more receptive to goals in the workplace than women.

Using a timed addition task, the team examined the effect of non-binding goals – where no monetary rewards or punishments are associated with success or failure – on effort, and found that: men are more motivated by achieving goals than women; goal-setting can generate the same effects on success as monetary incentive; and having a goal leads to better focus and increased speed to complete a task.

One hundred and nine research participants completed a simple addition task summing up sets of five two-digit, randomly drawn numbers over five minutes in one of three groups:

  1. Control – no goal was given
  2. Low goal – to achieve 10 correct answers
  3. High goal – to achieve 15 correct answers

They found participants within the two goal groups scored more correct answers, attempted more questions and had greater accuracy during the tests. However, there was no significant difference between the two goal groups, showing that having a goal is more important than the specific value of the goal.

Research lead Samuel Smithers (pictured), PhD student from the Department, said: “The focus of this research was to determine how to motivate people. When we are given a goal, we feel a sense of purpose to achieve it; it naturally helps to focus us. The findings demonstrate that setting a goal induces higher effort.

“My research found that women perform better than men in the no goal setting, but men thrive in both of the goal treatments, suggesting that men are more responsive to goals than women."

The research, which is published in Economics Letters, was funded by the Economic and Social Research Council (ESRC).

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