Time Pressure May Affect Goals and Performance

When you are trying to complete a task, do you try to learn something new along the way or do you just try to get the job done and not embarrass yourself? For example, when you need to complete the task of baking a cake, do you try the latest recipe so as to learn something new and broaden your culinary skills? Or do you avoid any recipe that looks hard and pray that everything comes out right so that you don’t embarrass yourself at your next dinner party? If you chose the former, you have a mastery goal orientation, and if you chose the latter, you have a performance-avoidance goal orientation.


Now that you are becoming more familiar with different types of goal orientation, let’s throw in a twist. Imagine that you have one hour to bake the cake. In this scenario, would you adopt a mastery goal orientation or a performance-avoidance goal orientation?

To answer this question, the researchers (Beck & Schmidt, 2013) recruited a sample of 111 undergraduates who indicated their sense of time pressure and goal orientation before four different exams during a semester. Questions such as “I am constantly running out of time for this class” and “I am working under excessive time pressure” assessed time pressure; questions such as “In statistics class, I look for opportunities to develop new skills and knowledge” and “I prefer to avoid parts of statistics class where I might perform poorly” assessed goal orientation; and scores on exams measured performance.


According to this study, people under time pressure are less likely to utilize a mastery goal orientation and are more likely to adopt a performance-avoidance goal orientation. This makes sense. If you have a short time to complete a project or task, you are probably not going to try something new, and you will instead rely on a proven formula. Going one step further, this study also found that goal orientation affects performance, as people with a mastery goal orientation typically performed better than those with a performance-avoidance goal orientation. In sum, time pressure affects goal orientation that in turn affects performance.

Organizations may want to be aware of this concept when placing employees under unnecessary pressure. Clearly, too much pressure can have detrimental effects on performance.

Beck, J. W. & Schmidt, A. M. (2012). State-Level Goal Orientations as Mediators of the Relationship Between Time Pressure and Performance: A Longitudinal Study. Journal of Applied Psychology, 98(2), 354-363.