The Role of Goals and Goal Orientation as Predisposing Factors for Depression
Thesis or dissertation
University of Exeter
Abstract - Part I: Systematic Literature Review. Dysregulation of the motivational and incentive functions that underlie goal setting and goal pursuit is thought to be a key factor implicated in the aetiology of Major Depressive Disorder. Although research over the past two decades has shown that motivational and cognitive factors can play an important role in increasing negative affect and making individuals vulnerable to depression, much of this work has involved dysphoric and non-depressed samples and much less is known about their role in the maintenance of and recovery from clinical depression. The objective of the present study was therefore to identify and synthesize the evidence from studies that examined goals, goal pursuit and goal orientation in clinically depressed individuals. Only 9 studies meeting the inclusion criteria could be identified through systematic literature searches and were heterogeneous in design and quality. The results therefore do not allow strong conclusions to be drawn and need to be interpreted with caution. Bearing this caveat in mind, the findings did not support the idea that depressed individuals set fewer, less valued or more avoidant personal goals than non-depressed individual and suggested that problems were more likely to lie in the motivational and cognitive processes governing goal engagement and goal pursuit. Factors identified by the present studies likely to play a significant role in disrupting motivational processes and promoting maladaptive strategies of goal pursuit were perceived goal attainability, perceived lack of control, personal resources and skills required, type of goal focus, lack of goal specificity and goal engagement and disengagement processes. The results of two randomised clinical trials further suggested that therapies focusing on goal dysregulation in patients identified to lack adaptive strategies for goal pursuit and goal reengagement may be more effective than standard models. These findings identified promising areas for future research and highlight the importance of understanding individual profiles and subtypes of depression in order to target key areas of dysregulation and tailor treatment accordingly and in collaboration with the patient. The review highlighted the paucity of good quality studies involving samples of clinically depressed individuals and the need for more translational work focusing on clinically significant outcomes and developing reliable measures to assess day-to-day goal engagement and pursuit in depressed individuals. Abstract - Part II: Empirical paper. Goal orientation theory suggests that adopting a self-worth goal orientation (seeking self-validation and avoiding proof of worthlessness) may make individuals more vulnerable to depression, whereas pursuing learning goals (seeking personal growth and improving one’s abilities) might represent a protective factor. This study examined whether adopting different goal orientations following negative performance feedback and unfavourable social comparison affected mood and performance on a subsequent performance task. Trait goal orientation was assessed in a sample of 86 U.K. university students who were allocated to three experimental groups receiving self-worth goal, learning goal and no instructions after receiving negative feedback on the first performance task. The findings provided some support for the original predictions of goal orientation theory (Dykman, 1998). Validation-seeking was associated with greater anticipatory anxiety following a negative event as well as reduced confidence when faced with a performance challenge. However, the results provided no substantial evidence to suggest that adopting a ‘state’ learning goal orientation vs. self-worth goal orientation mitigates the experience of negative affect or helplessness responses. Potential implications of the findings regarding the utility of the goal orientation construct as a predictor of depression vulnerability are discussed in the light of methodological limitations of the present study.
Thesis consists of two parts: Part I - Systematic literature review "Goals, Goal pursuit and Goal Orientation in Depression"; Part II - Empirical paper "Striving for Self-validation versus Growth – the Role of Goal Orientation as a Predisposing Factor for Depression"