On Gains and Losses, Means and Ends: Goal Orientation and Goal Focus Across Adulthood

Alexandra M. Freund, Marie Hennecke and Maida Mustafić

in The Oxford Handbook of Human Motivation

Published in print February 2012 | ISBN: 9780195399820
Published online September 2012 | | DOI:

Series: Oxford Library of Psychology

On Gains and Losses, Means and Ends: Goal Orientation and Goal Focus Across Adulthood


Personal goals guide behavior toward a desired outcome, motivate behavior over time and across situations, provide direction and meaning, and contribute to the acquisition of skills and subjective well-being. The adaptiveness of goals, however, might vary with dimensions such as their orientation toward the achievement of gains, maintenance of functioning, or the avoidance of losses. We argue that goal orientation is most adaptive when it corresponds to the availability of resources and the ubiquity of losses. In line with this argument, younger adults show a predominant orientation toward the promotion of gains, whereas goal orientation shifts toward maintenance and avoidance of loss across adulthood. This shift in goal orientation seems adaptive both regarding subjective well-being as well as engagement in goal pursuit. A second goal dimension that has been largely overlooked in the literature is the cognitive representation of goal pursuit primarily in terms of its means (i.e., process focus) or its ends (i.e., outcome focus). This chapter investigates the antecedents and consequences of goal focus. In particular, it highlights the importance of factors related to chronological age (i.e., the availability of resources, future time perspective, goal orientation, motivational phase) for the preference for and adaptiveness of an outcome or process focus. Finally, we posit that a process focus leads to more adaptive behavioral and affective reactions when people encounter failure during goal pursuit.

Keywords: adult development; goal orientation; goal focus; means; ends; resources; time perspective; failure

Article.  15883 words. 

Subjects: Psychology ; Social Psychology

Full text: subscription required

How to subscribeRecommend to my Librarian

Buy this work at Oxford University Press »