The phenomenology of maintenance goals: lower threat and greater satisfaction with the current state

Yael Ecker*, Michael Gilead, Roland Imhoff

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

2 Scopus citations


This research tested the mental experience of maintenance goals as distinct from goals to approach better outcomes (approach goals) and goals to avoid worse outcomes (avoidance goals). In Studies 1 and 2, participants reported personal goals and categorized them as one of the three goal types. We theorized that maintenance centers on existing positive outcomes, while avoidance centers on future (expected) negative outcomes. We therefore predicted a lesser experience of threat and a greater experience of satisfaction in maintenance compared to avoidance. Additionally, we predicted greater satisfaction in maintenance compared to approach goals, wherein motivation comes from the value of future (desired) positive outcomes rather than current ones. Confirming our predictions, participants rated personal maintenance goals as lower on threat (Study 1) and higher on satisfaction (Studies 1 and 2) compared to avoidance goals. Additionally, revealing the centrality of maintenance, maintenance goals played a major role in reported central life goals (Study 1) and the largest role in goals pursued in the previous week (Study 2). Finally, in Study 3, participants judged another person engaged in maintenance as more satisfied and less threatened than a person engaged in avoidance or approach. Taken together, this work informs about the phenomenological nature of maintenance and advances a theory-driven ternary taxonomy of basic goal types.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)246-256
Number of pages11
JournalMotivation and Emotion
Issue number2
StatePublished - Apr 2023


FundersFunder number
Deutsche ForschungsgemeinschaftIM147/3 − 2, FOR2150


    • Approach-avoidance
    • Goals
    • Maintenance
    • Motivation
    • Self-regulation


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