Goal Setting--Old ideas and New Frontiers--Factors in Substance Use and University Achievement



Goal-setting theory emerged within the field of industrial–organizational psychology over the course of the last 35 years. More than 400 correlational and experimental studies provide evidence for the validity of the goal-setting approach. The basic premise is simple: Explicitly setting goals can markedly improve performance

at any given task. Goal setting works via the premise that conscious goals affect action. Our previous research has demonstrated the impact of personal goal setting on a number of domains in university students: mood, personality, and broad academic achievement (ECTS, GPA, retention). We have also recently gathered affirmative evidence that the impact of goals on outcomes is not always task-specific. We suspect that the benefits of personal goal setting go far beyond what we have already studied--for example, to generalized impacts on behaviors such as substance use. 

Approximately 1 in 3 university students meet criteria for alcohol abuse; 6% meet dependence criteria. Prevalence of other substance-related disorders and tobacco use is also concerning among university students. While face-to-face brief interventions (BIs) have been shown to decrease substance use in clinical settings, their applicability in university students is limited. Most undergraduates who drink or use drugs excessively deny they have a problem, and are unlikely to see a need to seek treatment.

A newer area of research involves online substance-use brief interventions (BIs), which require participants to acknowledge that substances might be a problem. Alternative “indirect” interventions that do not require identification of a substance issue are worth exploring, especially among students for whom drug or alcohol misuse may be normative. Such indirect interventions could be widely distributed and designed to reduce problematic behaviors (e.g., excessive drinking) without obviously targeting them, focusing instead on cognitive processes such as self-regulation. This past year, we collected pilot data on alcohol and substance use among students who participated in a mandated online goal-setting intervention. 

In the present lecture, preliminary results, planned qualitative and quantitative analyses, and future studies related to goal setting and substance use among these students will be discussed.