Who Gets You Going and Who Keeps You Going: Motivational Relevance Determines Role Model Effectiveness
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Role models are ubiquitous: They boost gym-goers’ motivation, encourage women to enter science-related fields, or even nudge people to eat the “right” kind of cereal. The present research provides an organizing framework to answer the question of when a role model is most motivating. Incorporating insights from both role model and goal stage research, I propose that it is critical to understand the fit between how a role model describes his or her accomplishments and an audience’s motivational focus. I first show that people in the beginning stages of their long-term goals are most focused on information about whether or not they have the ability to attain the goal (i.e., expectancy information). In contrast, I propose that people who are maintaining a goal are most focused on information about the importance of goal pursuit (i.e., value information). Further, across 5 studies I show that framing an identical role model’s actions in expectancy versus value terms differentially impacts people’s motivation as a function of their goal stage. Beginners are more motivated after viewing a role model who highlights expectancy (vs. value) information, despite the role model’s objective accomplishments being identical. Further, as individuals move from beginning to maintenance stages of goal pursuit (which I both measure and manipulate), a role model who emphasizes a goal’s value becomes increasingly motivating. This research suggests that a one-size-fits-all role model is likely to be ineffective at motivating all individuals. Implications for helping people pursue their goals most effectively are discussed.