People harbor many cherished goals that may prove elusive even with the aid of market offerings, such as pursuit of an ideal of beauty or fame. Despite repeated setbacks, some individuals persist in their efforts, often making extraordinary investments of time, emotion, and money. A new study in the Journal of Consumer Research furthers our understanding of such persistent goal striving in cases where the chances of success are low and the costs of continued efforts are high by investigating a particular context: people's repeated efforts to achieve parenthood, especially through the use of assisted reproductive technologies (ARTs).
"This paper may be of value to people who find themselves repeatedly trying to achieve an elusive goal: it may help them gain insight into factors that influence how they try to reach their goals and whether they maintain them," write Eileen Fischer (York University, Ontario), Cele C. Otnes (University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign), and Linda Tuncay (Loyola University). "Given the emotional and financial tolls exacted in these contexts, it is appropriate and important that consumer scholars turn their attention to persistence."
Goal-related research has explored the cognitive processes that take place as people appraise tactics for achieving goals, make plans, and decide whether to try again in the face of failure. This study complements prior work by exploring how "discourses" - or, culturally engrained systems of ideas - influence persistent goal striving. The researchers identify both goal specific and culturally pervasive discourses that influence how people appraise means of trying, the extent to which they plan their efforts, and their likelihood of persisting or abandoning a goal.
After conducting numerous one-on-one interviews with men and women involved with ARTs, the researchers identify three major culturally pervasive discourses that not only influence the goal of having a child, but also influence what kinds of trade-offs people might consider when they fail to conceive after using a particular ART or when they do not carry a child to term:
- Scientific rationalism: We may turn the ordeal into a scientific formula, seeking to suppress all emotion and following the procedures recommended by an expert.
- Self-management: We may take the opportunity to claim control over our own lives, proceeding with self-selected options chosen both through instinct and scientific probability.
- Fatalism: We may take the attitude that our fate is in the hands of a higher power. Fatalism may help consumers rationalize abandoning persistence, but it may also lead to unexpected epiphanies and new bouts of effort.
"Given the importance of parenthood in many consumers' lives, we argue that when consumers begin their attempts to become parents, they may not even have to consider which dimensions of parenthood they would value over others, if creating their families proves easy for them," the authors explain. "But when consumers encounter obstacles to becoming parents, they may have to make conscious and painful tradeoffs between cherished dimensions, sacrificing some in order to privilege others."
They continue: "From a theoretical point of view, the paper reminds researchers studying goal striving that they need to be sensitized to the broader cultural ideas that can influence cognitive processes and behavioral patterns of persistence in any given context."
Eileen Fischer, Cele C. Otnes, and Linda Tuncay, "Pursuing Parenthood: Integrating Cultural and Cognitive Perspectives on Persistent Goal Striving." Journal of Consumer Research: December 2007.