4.9 Goal Gradient Hypothesis

How close you are to achieve a bonus with your loyalty card, the more motivated you are. Compared to beginner coffee buyers, customers who almost complete a card buy more coffee (come back to the store sooner) (Kivetz, Urminsky, and Zheng 2006)

Similar effects are also found in animals, rats are more motivated when they are closer to their goals (Brown 1948; Hull 1932, 1934)

However, too far behind couples with direct competition could not only lead people a little behind more motivated, but people far behind more demotivated. (Fershtman and Gneezy 2011)

Interestingly, the mechanism for favored candidate to lose motivation is different from underdogs. To save face, favored candidate stops trying to have reason to excuse that if they were to keep trying, they would have won (Dai et al. 2018)


Brown, Judson S. 1948. “Gradients of Approach and Avoidance Responses and Their Relation to Level of Motivation.” Journal of Comparative and Physiological Psychology 41 (6): 450–65. https://doi.org/10.1037/h0055463.
Dai, Hengchen, Berkeley J. Dietvorst, Bradford Tuckfield, Katherine L. Milkman, and Maurice E. Schweitzer. 2018. “Quitting When the Going Gets Tough: A Downside of High Performance Expectations.” Academy of Management Journal 61 (5): 1667–91. https://doi.org/10.5465/amj.2014.1045.
Fershtman, Chaim, and Uri Gneezy. 2011. THE TRADEOFF BETWEEN PERFORMANCE AND QUITTING IN HIGH POWER TOURNAMENTS.” Journal of the European Economic Association 9 (2): 318–36. https://doi.org/10.1111/j.1542-4774.2010.01012.x.
Hull, C. L. 1932. “The Goal-Gradient Hypothesis and Maze Learning.” Psychological Review 39 (1): 25–43. https://doi.org/10.1037/h0072640.
———. 1934. “The Rats Speed-of-Locomotion Gradient in the Approach to Food.” Journal of Comparative Psychology 17 (3): 393–422. https://doi.org/10.1037/h0071299.
Kivetz, Ran, Oleg Urminsky, and Yuhuang Zheng. 2006. “The Goal-Gradient Hypothesis Resurrected: Purchase Acceleration, Illusionary Goal Progress, and Customer Retention.” Journal of Marketing Research 43 (1): 39–58. https://doi.org/10.1509/jmkr.43.1.39.