Loughborough University
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The measurement and application of the desire-goal framework in persistence contexts

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posted on 2023-05-24, 08:27 authored by Christopher GunnChristopher Gunn

Self-control involves the ability to resist a short-term desire in favour of a valued long-term goal. This thesis aims to understand this desire-goal conflict in more depth, by finding novel ways to measure it, and employ motivational principles to improve persistence in contexts that embody such conflicts. 

The first two studies of this thesis (Chapters Two and Three) aimed to identify novel indicators of a desire-goal conflict so that it can be measured dynamically. Chapter Two used a think aloud protocol to identify whether verbalisations of negative affect were appropriate indicators. Chapter Three looked to electroencephalography (EEG), namely if oscillatory activity in the frontal midline theta band could be used for the same purpose. Overall, the think aloud protocol was deemed appropriate for identifying the desire-goal conflict, whereas midline frontal theta activity could not be identified as an appropriate neural marker of this conflict over prolonged acts of persistence.

Building on these findings, Chapter Four describes two concurrently run studies to investigate the effect of expected immediate (versus delayed) goal feedback on persistence and if this effect occurred via intrinsic motivation or delaying the desire-goal conflict. Despite a strong theoretical basis, both studies found no support for the hypothesis that expected immediate feedback would enhance persistence on physical tasks. Chapter Five corroborated these findings and additionally aimed to investigate the influence of time delays on the relationship between intentions and action. When framing a cognitive task as good for you but cognitively difficult, or easy but without the same positive effects, it was hypothesised that participants would be more likely to carry out their initial intention (difficult versus simple) in an immediate action condition versus a delayed action condition. Results offered support for this hypothesis.

Overall, this thesis establishes a basis for the measurement of the desire-goal conflict during self-control dilemmas. The second half of the thesis provides no evidence that shortening the period between action and goal feedback will enhance self-control and persistence, but it does offer support for shortening the period between intention and action.



  • Sport, Exercise and Health Sciences


Loughborough University

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© Christopher Gunn

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A Doctoral Thesis. Submitted in partial fulfilment of the requirements for the award of the degree of Doctor of Philosophy of Loughborough University.


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Ian Taylor

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  • PhD

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  • Doctoral

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