Examining the Effects of Goal-Setting, Feedback, and Incentives on Sustained Attention

Matthew K. Robison, Nash Unsworth, Gene A. Brewer

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

9 Scopus citations


Across four experiments we examined the effects of goal-setting, feedback, and incentivizing manipulations on sustained attention. In addition to measuring task performance, we measured subjective attentional states and momentary feelings of motivation and alertness. Experiment 1 compared two specific goal conditions—one difficult and one easy—with a standard set of instructions. The specific goal conditions both reduced RTs and attenuated the vigilance decrement but did not impact task engagement (motivation or task-unrelated thoughts). Experiment 2 manipulated both goal-setting and feedback across conditions. The combination of a specific goal and feedback had strong effects on both task performance and task engagement. Additionally, feedback increased task engagement (higher motivation and fewer task-unrelated thoughts) regardless of whether or not it was paired with a specific goal. Experiment 3 examined the effect of pairing goals with a reward. Participants in one reward condition (time-based incentive) reported higher motivation but did not show better task performance. Offering a cash incentive to meet a goal did not have an effect on any dependent variables. Finally, in an effort to examine whether more moderately-difficult goals might lead to optimal performance, Experiment 4 examined a broader range of goals. However, we did not see an effect of a moderately-difficult goal on any of the dependent variables. Although some of the experimental manipulations were effective in mitigating the vigilance decrement, none eliminated it. We discuss the theoretical implications of the results with regard to goal-setting theory and theories of vigilance.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)869-891
Number of pages23
JournalJournal of Experimental Psychology: Human Perception and Performance
Issue number6
StatePublished - 2021
Externally publishedYes


  • Goal-setting
  • Mind-wandering
  • Motivation
  • Sustained attention
  • Vigilance

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Experimental and Cognitive Psychology
  • Arts and Humanities (miscellaneous)
  • Behavioral Neuroscience


Dive into the research topics of 'Examining the Effects of Goal-Setting, Feedback, and Incentives on Sustained Attention'. Together they form a unique fingerprint.

Cite this