The end justifies the means, but only in the middle

Maferima Touré-Tillery*, Ayelet Fishbach

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

46 Scopus citations


Achieving goals often requires the completion of sequential actions, such as finishing a series of assignments to pass a class. In the course of pursuing such goals, people can decide how closely to follow their personal standards for each action. We propose that actions at the beginning and end of a sequence appear more diagnostic of the pursuer's personal standards than do actions in the middle. Therefore, people are more likely to adhere to their standards at the beginning and end of goal pursuit-and slack in the middle. We demonstrate this pattern of judgment and behavior in adherence to ethical standards (e.g., cheating), religious traditions (e.g., skipping religious rituals), and performance standards (e.g., "cutting corners" on a task). We also show that the motivation to adhere to standards by using proper means is independent and follows a different pattern from the motivation to reach the end state of goal pursuit.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)570-583
Number of pages14
JournalJournal of Experimental Psychology: General
Issue number3
StatePublished - Aug 2012


  • Ethics
  • Goals
  • Motivation
  • Self-signaling
  • Standards

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Experimental and Cognitive Psychology
  • General Psychology
  • Developmental Neuroscience


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