Motivation and emotion/Book/2014/Goal conflict and emotion

Goal conflict and emotion:
What are the affective consequences of goal conflict?


Goals are desired end states one believes (consciously or not) one knows how to attain (or to begin attaining) (Kleiman & Hassin 2011). It is very evident that achieving one's goals often seems to be a very effortful, conscious process.

Goal conflict occurs when our goals are not met,and causes great strain on our emotion wellbeing therefore leaving us to have high levels of anxiety, depressive states and various factors of emotional wellbeing[grammar?]. The use of goal setting practices [grammar?] it allows us to overcome the emotional wellbeing to goal conflict along with limiting goal conflict. By understanding emotion and the brain associated with emotion it helps demonstrates the association between the two.

Goal conflict is an important part of classic and contemporary theories of motivation (Michael J. Boudreaux, Daniel J. Ozer 2012). Goals drive our behavior. One thing that makes it difficult to achieve our goals is that sometimes they conflict. for example a university student trying to do an assessment, although he may also want to go to a party with his friends. when it is not possible to do both of these plans, the goals are in conflict (Markman 2013).

Emotion is associated with mood, temperament, personality and motivation. Emotion is a subjective, conscious experience characterized primarily by psycho-physiological expressions, biological reactions, and mental states (Myers 2004). Emotion is majorly influenced by hormones and neurotransmitters such as dopamine, noradrenaline, serotonin, oxytocin, cortisol and GABA and is the driving force behind motivation(Gaulin and McBurney 2003).

What is goal conflict?Edit

A goal is the object of a person's ambition or effort; an aim or desired result ( Oxford dictionary 2014). When setting a goal we want to achieve we thrive to accomplish this by using all means to get to this point. A goal conflict is the existence of two or more competing goals leading to the cause of conflict in an individual’s mind set. It occurs when two or more motives block each other.

Goal conflict occurs when a goal that a person wishes to accomplish interferes with the attainment of at least one other goal that the individual simultaneously wishes to accomplish (Emmons et al. 1993). An example of goal conflict is when an individual wishes to go to the gym daily and maintain a social life although the individual has study commitments. All of those required goals are in conflict as the most important goal being the studying, and the others are important although not as important as studying[Rewrite to improve clarity]. Although conflict is an important part of classic and contemporary theories of motivation and personality functioning (Boudreaux & ozer 2012)[grammar?].Emmons and King (1988) found that individuals with more conflict between their goals tended to spend more time thinking about, rather than acting on (Boudreaux & ozer 2012).

What is emotion?Edit

Figure 1: Examples of basic emotions

Emotion is a complex psychological state that involves three distinct components: a subjective experience, a physiological response, and a behavioral or expressive response(Hockenbury & Hockenbury, 2007). Emotion is more complex than what meets the eye, [grammar?]we first see emotion as feelings although there are many categories of emotion such subjective, biological, purposive and social phenomena (Izard,1993). Emotions are subjective feelings they make us feel in a particular way such as sad, happy, joyful, angry. Although within the biological reactions towards emotions, energy mobilizing responses prepare the body for adaptation to situations out of our control. Emotions are also purposive due to hunger and thirst having a purpose to survial. [grammar?]lastly, Emotions are socially phenomena due to when we are emotional we send off signals that are easily picked up by the social world around us for example; crying, smiling, laughing ( Reeve 2009).

Charles Darwin answered this question of what is emotion,[grammar?]by his acute observations to the facial and bodily expressions of cats, dogs and infants, whose emotions we regularly divine from their nonverbal behavior (Nicholson 2013). Darwin described that the main emotions are are happiness, surprise, fear, anger, disgust and sadness. Each of these is associated with a particular set of neural structures and neurotransmitters (Nicholson 2013).

Emotional brainEdit

Figure 2:Parts of the Limbic system

To perceive emotion is to receive and interpret information from both external (world) and internal (body) environments (Gosling 2013). Our senses connect us with our emotions through the physcial brain. The physical brain consists of the brain stem, cerebellum, neocortex (cerebrum) and limbic system. The limbic system – comprising the thalamus, hypothalamus, hippocampus, amygdala, and connecting pathways (Gosling 2013). The physcial [spelling?] Brain connects us with expresses emotional, motivational, sexual and social behaviors, and memory (Gosling 2013).

The main part of our brain essential to Emotion is the limbic system. Limbic system is is [grammar?] a complex set of structures that lies on both sides of the thalamus and includes the hypothalamus, the hippocampus, the amygdala (George Boeree 2009). The Limbic system is involved in motivation, emotion, learning, and memory.


The amigdala[spelling?] is an almond shape structure that is located in the left and right temporal lobe (Rajmohan, V., & Mohandas, E. 2007). Its role is the control of friendship, love and affection, mood, fear, rage and aggression. The amygdala is fundamental for self preservation. When the amygdala is triggered it gives rise to fear and anxiety which prepares to flight or fight(Rocha do Amaral, 2014).


The Hippocampus is involved with memory phenomena, specially with the formation of long-term memory.The Hippocampus allows the animal to compare the conditions of a present threats with past experiences. This helps with survival techniques (Rocha do Amaral, 2014).


The thalamus is important throughout the emotional brain due to its ability to Llesion or stimulate the medial dorsal and anterior nuclei of the thalamus which is associated with changes in emotional reactivity (Rocha do Amaral, 2014).


The hypothalamus's part within the emotional brain is its involvement with pleasure and rage, and has alot to do with the expressions of emotions (Rocha do Amaral, 2014).

Brain stemEdit

The brainstem is the region responsible for the emotional reactions (Rocha do Amaral, 2014).

Emotion and goal settingEdit

Many people feel as if they're adrift in the world as they work hard, but they don't seem to get anywhere worthwhile[factual?]. The reasons of [grammar?] feeling that way was due to the lack of goals that help them reach for what they are thriving[factual?].

When we set a goal, we aim to accomplish something. Goal setting could be for example getting a certain grade in your class. A goal is whatever an individual is striving to accomplish. Studies have shown that specific and ambitious goals lead to a higher level of performance than easy or general goals, therefore aiming high results in better results.

Goal setting can be used as a motivational motive for the uses of getting through Emotional status. Setting goals and not reaching the end result can lead to anger, disappointment and been upset. Therefore if you correctly set goals that are reachable, it is a positive motive to try and overcome any disappointment; For example- wanting to loose weight, you aim to loose 5 kgs weekly, when that isn't accomplished you become upset, give up on the goal and then become emotional due to the lack of results. Although if the individual set a goal of walking each day/ eating correctly and aiming for loosing half a kg a week therefore the goal is more reasonable and reachable.

Research on goal conflictEdit

Non-conscious goal conflictsEdit

Goal conflicts is a pervasive concept in our lives (Kleiman & Hassin 2011).The question raised is whether goal conflicts can occur outside of conscious awareness. Findings by Kleiman and Hassin stated that this is positive, that they can be occur outside our conscious awareness. Their arugment stated that goal conflicts can occur non-consciously which then rests on two arguments. The first is that goal quests are pervasive within our lifestlyes, and we most often contridict our goals (e.g., to enjoy a cake and to remain slim).The second argument is that our conscious resources are gravely limited (Kleiman & Hassin 2011).

If every goal conflict we confront and manage in our daily lives would have required awareness and conscious resources then,we would have had little cognitive resources for anything else. Since this does not seem to be the case, therefore its stated that goal conflicts can occur non-consciously (Kleiman & Hassin 2011).

Pursuing more than one goalsEdit

Primed goals are “adopted” by participants as if other goals they pursue are irrelevant to the process. It has made evident that preparing goals that are in direct conflict with social norms results in negativity. (Oettingen, Grant, Smith, Skinner, & Gollwitzer, 2006); Although, preparing goals that are in indirect conflict with one's important goal results in decreased performance on the focal task (Shah & Kruglanski, 2002); therefore preparing for the main goal aimed to achieve, inhibits other alternative goals (Kleiman & Hassin 2011).

Markers of goal conflictEdit

Arousal : Decisions made in conflictual situations are characterized by difficulty and unease

Decision duration:Decisions under conflict take longer. This is because during conflicts one has to negotiate between various conflicting goals, plans, or behaviors, and negotiation takes time (Kleiman & Hassin 2011).

Behavioural Variance: Goal conflicts are created when there are multiple goals that a person finds attractive. For example wanting to go on a costly holiday or stay back and work.

Subtle cues: When two (or more) goals are in active conflict they often create close-call decisions (Kleiman & Hassin 2011). |}

Goal conflict, goal striving and psychological wellbeingEdit

Personal goals can give meaning and structure to people’s lives. Research evidence links meaningful goal pursuit to healthy psychological functioning and positive life outcomes, including subjective well-being (Diener et al. 1999; Koestner et al. 2002). Goal conflict occurs when the pursuit of one goal undermines the pursuit of another valued goal, in other words if you undretake more then one goal you are most likely to take the value away from the more valued goal. Therefore you result in goal conflict. This, for example, occurs when young people/students try to socialize, study, contain a job and do there daily lives along with trying to do there degree therefore the more valued goal is doing the degree/course and the other goals are in the way of the main goal. This study by Michael J Boudreaux, Daniel J Ozer examined goal conflict in a young adults and researched the kinds of goals young adults report as conflicting and assess the relations between goal conflict and two outcomes measured over 4–6 weeks. The study consisted of 180 undergraduate students where they were asked to list 8 of there goals provided and rated each on conflict and facilitation. The participants were told to complete a goal elicitation task where they had to list 8 personal goals They were asked to think about the goals that are important to them, and how they attempted to achieve these goals. They then were asked if to judge whether working toward one goal interferes with working toward and attaining another goal. A survey software was used and found the results from the modrls conveyed that the conflict was unrelated to attainment at the goal- level stating that conflicting goals were not related with lower rating of success. Although, individuals with more conflict tended to be less successful in attaining their goals. data suggest that many people are in fact quite competent at pursuing and achieving their goals, despite problems and conflict, while others seem to struggle.

Linking goal self-concordance and affective reactions to goal conflictEdit

Most people view Goal conflict as a negative experience, although a study by Julia Gorges, Wiebke Esdar and Elke Wild. Their study investigate the role of the level of goal self-concordance for people’s affective reactions to goal conflicts due to resource constraints (Gorges, J., Esdar, W., & Wild, E. 2014). A study conducted by Julia Gorges, Wiebke Esdar and Elke Wild aimed to study the relationship between people’s affective reactions to a recently experienced goal conflict and the levels of self-concordance of the conflicting goals (Gorges, J., Esdar, W., & Wild, E. 2014). In other words, the relationship between ones emotional reaction towards there goal conflicts are studied and using the levels of self concordance (what extent goals are pursued with self- determined motivation).

Self concordance goals fulfill basic needs and are aligned with an individual's true Self as these goals have personal meaning to an individual (Gollwitzer 1990). Gorges, Esdar and Wild researched analyses of goal conflicts which was experienced at work where they conducted an experiment with using 647 junior scientists who researched the role of levels of self-concordance of the conflicted goals on the way the goal conflict is experienced by the individual (Gorges, J., Esdar, W., & Wild, E. 2014).

The quality of motivation attached to goal pursuit plays a role in goal conflicts. Pursuing and attaining highly self-concordant goals has positive effects on people’s well-being (Sheldon et al.2004). Therefore, goal self-concordance is an important factor for goal conflicts’ potential to impair people’s well-being (Gorges, J., Esdar, W., & Wild, E. 2014).

The study examined the relation between various levels of self-concordance of two conflicting goals and people’s affective reactions when facing that goal conflict (Gorges, J., Esdar, W., & Wild, E. 2014). Throughout the study, we take into account that goal conflict is a negative experience generating negative emotions and reactions.

The study built a situation where people felt confused and torn between two goals that they wanted to accomplish, they then rated their positive and negative affective (emotions) reactions to that situation and there levels of self-concordance(Sheldon and Elliot 1998, 1999).

The results demonstrates that goal conflict is related to a more positive affect when the conflicting goals are highly self-concordant (Gorges, J., Esdar, W., & Wild, E. 2014). Therefore, results show that people’s affective reaction when faced with goal conflict vary according to the levels of self-concordance of the conflicting goals.

Affective consequences of goal conflictEdit

The word affective relates to moods, feelings, and attitudes. Throughout Goal conflict we have many emotions that link us to disappointment, For example you are aiming to study for exams, but you also have work commitments, social life commitments and a new Boyfriend whom you would rather spend time with. Your main goal is your exams although the other goals are more appealing, so therefore you place more attention on those goals, abandoning the most important goal. We then feel guilt, shame, worthlessness and disappointment. All these symptoms are very common, although those who get knocked down continuously, become more susceptible to depression and anxiety.

A study was conducted to examine the relationship between goal conflict and psychological distress and in their case depression. The study used Ambivalence as it can be inferred when an individual is pursuing a certain goal, despite believing they would be unhappy if they succeeded in it. Ambivalence and goal conflict are associated in the way that they cause psychological distress. Goal conflict on its own can not cause distress although ambivalence is more distressing, therefore the two together can cause depression (Kelly, Mansell & Wood 2011). The study aims to see how conflict and ambivalence contribute to depression. The results indicated that depression symptoms were highest when there was high goal ambivalence and low goal conflict. This study proposes that ambivalence is conveyed as disadvantaged in the absence of goal conflict, whilst conflict appears to show depression (Kelly, Mansell & Wood 2011).

It is seen that when a goal is conflicted, the pursing of one goal at the expense of another results in feelings of ambivalence, and can be understood and are less distressing (Kelly, Mansell & Wood 2011). For example; an individual who has conflicted goal in terms of there demands, such as having university assessments and a fitness regnum, they might feel ambivalent about doing this assessment or the fitness regnum due to the feeling guilty due to the expense of giving up one goal for the other (Kelly, Mansell & Wood 2011). Goal conflict at higher levels is thought to be more detrimental to well being, as different motivational processes contribute to different manifestations of distress. Individuals with depression tend to think in more abstract, high-level ways (Watkins, 2008).

Therefore, the study does suggest that conflict and ambivalence interact to predict depression. This correlation conveys that there are affective consequences of goal conflict.


Goal conflict is a term used to describe our everyday lifestyle dilemmas, whether that be trying to do an assessment task along with handling a family, or whether that be holding a full time job as well as being active. Goals are conflicted in high and low levels and are a major influence on our wellbeing as shown by previous research.

Goal conflicts occur when ‘‘a goal that a person wishes to accomplish interferes with the attainment of at least one other goal that the individual simultaneously wishes to accomplish’’ (Emmons et al. 1993). With goal conflict in our lives, the chapter looked at the emotional side towards it. The use of empirical research has helped demonstrate that there is huge emotional distress on goal conflict and its variables. To avoid goal conflict, strategies of goal setting and goal planning may be used to implement a less stressful environment once you have experienced goal conflict.

Goal conflict is a lacking researched topic, although it is becoming more popular within motivational topics, therefore more research is becoming conducted.


Just to test your knowledge of what you have learnt.


1 What are the four main subgroups of the Limbic system?

hippocampus, cortex, temporal lobe, Amygdala
hippocampus, amygdala, thalamus, Hypothalamus
temporal lobe, amygdala, thalamus, hypothalamus
temporal lobe, cortex, hippocampus, hypothalamus

2 What is a goal?

A boundary that restricts you from going anywhere
A limitation on going places
Goals are desired end states one believes (consciously or not) one knows how to attain (or to begin attaining)
A place in the brain where goal conflict is generated

3 Who was the first to suggest that emotions were universal?


4 what is goal conflict?

Where the goals correlate evenly making it easier to make a descion
A mental disorder
occurs when a goal that a person wishes to accomplish interferes with the attainment other goal that

See alsoEdit


Rajmohan, V., & Mohandas, E. (2007). The limbic system. Indian Journal of Psychiatry, 49(2), 132-139. doi:10.4103/0019-5545.33264

Myers, D. G. (2004) Theories of Emotion. Psychology: Seventh Edition, New York, NY: Worth Publishers

James, W. (1884). What is an Emotion? Mind, 9: 188–205

Gaulin, Steven J. C. and Donald H. McBurney. Evolutionary Psychology. Prentice Hall. 2003. ISBN 978-0-13-111529-3, Chapter 6, p 121-142

Kleiman, T., & Hassin, R. R. (2011). Non-conscious goal conflicts. Journal of Experimental Social Psychology, 47(3), 521-532. doi:10.1016/j.jesp.2011.02.007

Boudreaux, M. J., & Ozer, D. J. (2013; 2012). Goal conflict, goal striving, and psychological well-being. Motivation and Emotion, 37(3), 433-443. doi:10.1007/s11031-012-9333-2

Gorges, J., Esdar, W., & Wild, E. (2014). Linking goal self-concordance and affective reactions to goal conflict. Motivation and Emotion, 38(4), 475-484. doi:10.1007/s11031-014-9392-7

Sheldon, K. (1995). Creativity and goal conflict. Creativity Research Journal, 8(3), 299-306. doi:10.1207/s15326934crj0803_9

McEvoy, P., Baker, D., Plant, R., Hylton, K., & Mansell, W. (2013). Empathic curiosity: Resolving goal conflicts that generate emotional distress. Journal of Psychiatric and Mental Health Nursing, 20(3), 273-278. doi:10.1111/j.1365-2850.2012.01926.x

Kelly, R. E., Mansell, W., & Wood, A. M. (2011). Goal conflict and ambivalence interact to predict depression. Personality and Individual Differences, 50(4), 531-534. doi:10.1016/j.paid.2010.11.018

Bailis, D. S., Thacher, T. M., Aird, N. C. A., & Lipschitz, L. J. (2011). Affective and behavioral traces of goal conflict with physical activity. Basic and Applied Social Psychology, 33(2), 128-144. doi:10.1080/01973533.2011.568836

Diener, E., Suh, E. M., Lucas, R. E., & Smith, H. L. (1999). Subjective well-being: Three decades of progress. Psychological Bulletin, 125, 276–302. doi:10.1037//0033-2909.125.2.276.

Koestner, R., Lekes, N., Powers, T. A., & Chicoine, E. (2002). Attaining personal goals: Self-concordance plus implementation intentions equals success. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 83, 231–244. doi:10.1037//0022-3514.83.1.231.

Reeve, J. (2009). Understanding motivation and emotion (5th ed.). Hoboken, NJ: Wiley.

Adolphs, R. (2010). Emotion. Current Biology, 20(13), R549-R552. doi:

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Boeree, G. (2009). The limbic system. Retrieved October, 2014, from

Emmons, R. A. (1986). Personal strivings: An approach to personality and subjective well being Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 51, , . 1058–1068.

Emmons, R. A. (1999). The psychology of ultimate concerns: Motivation and spirituality in personality Guildford Press, New York,

Emmons,R.A , King, L.A. (1988). Conflict among personal strivings: Immediate and long-term implications for psychological and physical well-being Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 54, , 1040–1048.

Gosling, M. (2013). Understanding your emotional brain. Retrieved October/29, 2014, from

Kleiman, T., & Hassin, R. R. (2011). Non-conscious goal conflicts. Journal of Experimental Social Psychology, 47(3), 521-532. doi:10.1016/j.jesp.2011.02.007

Markman, A. (2013). Goal conflict helps you see both sides of an issue. Retrieved october/13, 2014, from

Michael J. Boudreaux, Daniel J. Ozer. (2012). Goal conflict, goal striving, and psychological well-being.37(3), october/14.

Segerstrom, S. C., & Solberg Nes, L. (2006). When goals conflict but people prosper: The case of dispositional optimism. Journal of Research in Personality, 40, , 675–693.

Watkins, E. R. (2008). Watkins constructive and unconstructive repetitive thought Psychological Bulletin, 13

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