Stuck in the middle: The psychophysics of goal pursuit

Andrea Bonezzi*, C. Miguel Brendl, Matteo de Angelis

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

64 Scopus citations


The classic goal-gradient hypothesis posits that motivation to reach a goal increases monotonically with proximity to the desired end state. However, we argue that this is not always the case. In this article, we show that motivation to engage in goal-consistent behavior can be higher when people are either far from or close to the end state and lower when they are about halfway to the end state. We propose a psychophysical explanation for this tendency to get "stuck in the middle." Building on the assumption that motivation is influenced by the perceived marginal value of progress toward the goal, we show that the shape of the goal gradient varies depending on whether an individual monitors progress in terms of distance from the initial state or from the desired end state. Our psychophysical model of goal pursuit predicts a previously undiscovered nonmonotonic gradient, as well as two monotonic gradients.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)607-612
Number of pages6
JournalPsychological Science
Issue number5
StatePublished - May 2011


  • goal gradient
  • monitoring progress
  • motivation
  • self-regulation

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Psychology(all)

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