The Influence of Goal Orientation on Task Performance: A Substantively Meaningful Suppressor Variable1


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    The author would like to thank Mark Griffin and John Mathieu for their helpful comments on an earlier version of this paper. This paper is based, in part, on the author's doctoral dissertation completed at The Pennsylvania State University. The author would like to extend additional gratitude to the members of the doctoral committee: Rick Jacobs, James Farr, John Mathieu, Richard Carlson, and Mike Rovine.

Correspondence concerning this article should be addressed to David A. Hofmann, Department of Psychological Sciences, 1364 Psychology Building, West Lafayette, IN, 47907-1364.


The present study investigated the relationship between performance goal orientation and performance on a complex task. It was hypothesized that cognitive interference would mediate this relationship. In addition, it was hypothesized that cognitive ability would moderate the relationship between cognitive interference and task performance. A three-variable suppressor relationship indicated that, although the direct effect of performance goal orientation on performance was one that produced better performance, the indirect effect of performance goal orientation indicated that performance orientations were associated with increases in cognitive interference, and these increases in cognitive interference were associated with poorer performance. Thus, the beneficial aspect of performance goal orientation (i. e., the direct effect) was counterbalanced by the dysfunctional aspects of performance goal orientation (i. e., the associated increase in cognitive interference). Support was also found for the proposed moderation of ability on the cognitive interference-task performance relationship for final, but not initial performance. The results are interpreted in light of recent discussions regarding the influence of goal orientation on task performance and cognitive interference.