UWinnipeg researcher takes an inside look at goals and motivation

Dr. Olya Bullard ©UWinnipeg

Dr. Olya Bullard’s research into how goal progress influences regulatory focus will be in the hands of business students across Canada this fall, as it’s featured in the 8th edition of a popular Canadian textbook, Consumer Behaviour: Buying, Having, and Being by Solomon, White and Dahl.

An assistant professor in The University of Winnipeg’s Department of Business and Administration, Bullard is proud of this recognition.

“The majority of people in Canadian universities who teach consumer behaviour use this textbook, so this affiliation is well-recognized,” she said.

Rosalie Harms, Chair, Business and Administration, is thrilled to see Bullard’s research gaining attention across Canada.

“This research provides important information to help business leaders focus their efforts and understand what drives a person to make the decisions they make,” she said. 

Motivation changes as we get closer to goal attainment.

The textbook highlights Bullard’s research into how a person’s motivation changes, depending how far or close they are to achieving their goal. Her research article, How goal progress influences regulatory focus in goal pursuit, was originally published in the Journal of Consumer Psychology. In it, Bullard and co-researcher Dr. Rajesh Manchanda demonstrate how individuals are driven by rewards at the start of their goal pursuit, but become more sensitive to avoiding negative outcomes as they get closer to goal attainment.  

Bullard was able to demonstrate through this research that the regulatory focus of a goal is not static. The regulatory motivation that individuals draw upon to make progress toward their goal changes throughout the course of the pursuit.

“We hope that our findings can be used to help people pursue and successfully reach their personal and professional goals,” said Bullard. “Whether you struggle with motivation in the beginning or toward the end of your goal pursuit, our research holds some strategic tips to help you succeed.”

Consumers’ goals affect purchases for others

Thanks to a 2017 Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council (SSHRC) grant, Bullard is continuing her research with a new study examining how a person’s active goals influence the purchase decisions they make for others. Her research paper, When and why choices for others diverge from consumer’s own salient goals, is currently under review.

“What I’m showing is that our active goals not only motivate us to buy goal-consistent products for ourselves, they motivate us to buy goal-inconsistent products for other people,” said Bullard.

She goes on to explain that when people have to make choices for other people, they tend to prefer goal-inconsistent products because it makes them feel better about their own goal progress. 

As Bullard examined this theory, she noticed that this effect only takes place when the purchase is social/relationship focused (such as buying a gift for a friend or simply getting something for another person of their own free will). It doesn’t come in to play when an individual is in a care-giving mindset, when they are simply following someone’s favour request, or when goals are set at a group level.

“The reason this effect works in the relationship focus is because consumers actively reflect on what their choice means for them,” said Bullard. “Whereas, if your goal is to be a healthy family, the outcome is not just measured by your performance, but by everybody’s performance. So if you’re choosing for somebody within that unit, you will choose goal-consistently.”

As an expert in the field of consumer behavior, Bullard hopes that her research will help others gain new understanding into what motivates people.

“The cool thing about this research is that, because it’s theoretical, it’s not limited to a specific context,” she said. “There are implications for marketers, public policy makers, and consumers.”

Asked if it her research has changed her own consumer habits, she laughs.

“I definitely identify certain persuasion techniques, but I wouldn’t say I’ve become a rational shopper,” she said. “All the same things that work on other people, probably also work on me.”


Jennifer Cox, Communications Officer, The University of Winnipeg 
T: 204.988.7671 E: j.cox@uwinnipeg.ca

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