Expectancy, value and psychological distance: A new look at goal gradients

Nira Liberman*, Jens Förster

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Goal gradients refer to the increase in motivation as a function of goal proximity. We propose that motivation does not always increase closer to the goal, and that in order to predict the shape and steepness of goal gradients one needs to look at how distance affects the two components of motivation-expectancy and value. Furthermore, we distinguish between four aspects of expectancy (probability, difficulty, sufficiency, necessity) and two types of value (value related to high level construal, value related to low level construal), each of which has a unique distance-related dynamics. It is proposed that motivational gradients are determined by the effect that distance has on each of these components. Our study demonstrated gradients of motivation, sufficiency and necessity, but not difficulty. We discuss whether avoidance gradients would be necessarily steeper than approach gradients, as is postulated by Miller's (1944) conflict models. We also suggest that in some situations (e.g., when gradients reflect necessity) gradients would be moderated by regulatory focus (e.g., would be steeper in a prevention focus than in a promotion focus, Higgins, 1998).

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)515-533
Number of pages19
JournalSocial Cognition
Issue number5
StatePublished - 2008


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