Motivation and emotion/Book/2020/Goldilocks principle and motivation

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Goldilocks principle and motivation:
What is the Goldilocks principle and how can it be applied?

Overview[edit | edit source]

‘This porridge is too hot! This porridge is too cold! This porridge is just right!’ Goldilocks ate all the porridge

(Goldilocks and the three bears, 2017).

We are all aware of the childhood fable of Goldilocks and Three Bears (Robert Southey, 1837), where a young girl named Goldilocks enters the home of three bears, searching for the ‘just right’ porridge/chair/bed. This fable became the grounding hypothesis of The Goldilocks Principle postulating that “there (is an) empirically derivable balance point” (Przybylski et al., 2017), that is ‘just right’ when applied to effort in motivation.

So how can the Goldilocks’ Principle help me get motivated?

By understanding what the Goldilocks Principle is, we can explore how it can be applied to well-being, how it can motivate us to better our well-being and what research supports the principle.

Focus questions:

  • What is the Goldilocks Principle?
  • How can the Goldilocks principle be applied to motivation?
  • Does research support the Goldilocks Principle?
  • What are some criticisms of the Goldilocks Principle?

What is the Goldilocks Principle?[edit | edit source]

Image of a young girl sitting in a chair as she deliberates whether she should sit in another of the three chairs available.
Figure 1. Illustration by Walter Crane from the 1873 toy book Goldilocks and the Three Bears, later re-published in Mother Hubbard's Picture Book from 1911.

The Goldilocks Principle is a psychological theory that is based on the children’s fairy tale, Goldilocks and the Three Bears (Robert Southey, 1837). In the story, a young girl named Goldilocks enters the home of three bears who aren’t there. The young girl is hungry and tries three porridges, one that’s too hot, one that’s too cold and one that’s just right. The young girl then needs to sit; she sits in one chair that is too hard, one that is too soft and one that is just right. Goldilocks is then very tired and attempts to sleep; one bed that is too large, one that is too small and one that is just right. As she falls asleep, the bears return home finding Goldilocks had eaten all their food, sat in their chairs and is asleep in their beds, Goldilocks wakes up and is terrified, she runs away. The principle encompasses the moral of the fairy tale, in all that individuals are motivated to do, there is two extremes and a medium that is just right. Summarised by Balas-Timar et al. (2015), “the Goldilocks principle stat(es) that phenomenon, facts, actions and reactions must fall within certain margins, as opposed to reaching extremes” (p. 239).

Inflection Point:[edit | edit source]

Inflection Point: An Inflection Point is the point in which the 'just right' zone becomes part of the too much or too little extremes, either side of the optional zone. The inflection point is where benefit becomes un-beneficial.

[Provide more detail]

How can the Goldilocks Principle be applied to motivation?[edit | edit source]

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Infant Development[edit | edit source]

Human-beings are an inherently social species, we are dependent on each other for developing skills and proficiencies (Over, 2016). As adults, we procreate and pass on valuable survival skills to our children from the moment they are born (Over, 2016). Infants are immediately aware of their surroundings and use these cues to form [say what?] (ie. Faces) (Hill et al., 2015; Kidd et al., 2012).

information processing skills and explicit memory

The development of these skills then begs the question, how do infants decide what information to absorb and what to ignore?

Kidd et al. (2012) conducted an experiment to determine how infants develop information processing skills. The study used two experiments, the first presented infants with unique images, randomly consisting of familiar and unfamiliar images (i.e. ball) and the second experiment simply increased the amount of images seen at one time. The researchers tracked the eye movement of the infants on the images, using these results to determine how long the infants processed the information and what images they favoured on the screen. The findings of this research concluded that infants avoid processing information that is too complex or too simple. Instead, they actively sought out information that is ‘just right’ (Kidd et al., 2012). This research explains how infants apply motivated learning to development, and reiterates that the Goldilocks’ principle is applicable to situations of learning and development.

Well-being[edit | edit source]

The Goldilocks’ Principle can be applied to motivate individual well-being through promoting physical health, positive trait changes and screen time/internet gaming.

Promoting Physical Health[edit | edit source]

A large amount of effort and time has recently been placed into promoting physical health within workspaces (Straker et al., 2018). Due to the varied nature of different workplaces, Straker et al.'s (2018) study suggests applying the Goldilocks principle to promote activity that will aid in an ageing population, increase productiveness and advance standards of living (Straker et al., 2018). The study also stresses the impact of too much and too little physical activity leading to an unmotivated workforce that can not meet the demand of the workplace (Straker et al., 2018). Holtermann et al. (2018) summarises the Goldilocks’ Principle applied to individual workplace goals by stating:

The "just right" physical activity is therefore characterized by timelines of exposures (eg, postures, movements, forces) that combine exposure intensities, frequency and duration in patterns leading to improved health and capacity, as opposed to combinations causing disorders and deteriorated capacity” (p. 92).

Holtermann et al. (2018) reiterates that the physical activity should be individualised for each employee’s abilities, which will in turn, increase motivation due to the realistic nature of the exercises.

Positive Trait Change[edit | edit source]

A black and white hand-drawn image of the three bears discovering Goldilocks asleep in their home. Goldilocks is fleeing the scene
Figure 2. Image appearing on p. 25 of The Story of the Three Bears. Pictured, Goldilocks being discovered in the bears home.

Although personalities remain generally consistent throughout individual’s lifespans, a positive trait change can happen and is often necessary for general well-being (Human et al., 2013). Motivation for trait change is derived from basic human needs (the three basic needs: acceptance, optimal predictability, and competence (Dweck, 2017)), once the trait change is evaluated as a need, then the individual becomes intrinsically motivated to adjust (Dweck, 2017). Consistent with the Goldilocks’ Principle, too much or too little change does not invoke optimal well-being benefits (Martin et al., 2015). Therefore, finding the ‘just right’ amount of change is imperative for personality well-being. This is further supported by Martin et al. (2015) who hypothesised that positive trait change would improve overall well-being and happiness. The study sought to determine whether or not trait change for individuals would contribute or disrupt well-being and happiness, aiming to specify where trait change goes from negative to positive (the just right spot). Their results proved significant, confirming their hypothesis that trait change positively effects well-being and can be measured using the Goldilocks principle, stating, “the evidence supports the Goldilocks hypothesis for these three traits (sociality, agency, and conscientiousness)” (p. 25). Consequently, the Goldilocks Principle can then be applied to motivational positive trait change for overall well-being.

Screen time and Internet Gaming[edit | edit source]

Internet gaming and screen time has become an increasing form of addiction with internet gaming disorder recognised in the DSM-5 (Savci et al., 2017). Adolescents seem to be the most effected demographic of screen time/internet gaming addiction, with the average amount of time minors spend online being 18.9 hours per week in 2015 (Przybylski et al., 2017). Przybylski et al. (2017) investigated the Digital Goldilocks Hypothesis, where they sought to prove that technology used ‘just right’ (not too much and not too little) is “not intrinsically harmful and may be advantageous in a connected world (Przybylski et al., 2017, p. 205)”. The research proved statistically significant and can be used by guardians to moderate screen time and internet gaming to better increase the well-being of their dependents. This information alone can be used to educate guardians so that they feel motivated and confident in implementing the Digital Goldilocks Hypothesis in their homes (Przybylski et al., 2017).

Addiction[edit | edit source]

Substance dependence comes in many forms in our modern world, ranging from illicit drugs (ie. Methamphetamines), to prescription drugs (opioids) and finally non-regulated drugs (ie. Caffeine, smoking, sugar). When individuals aim to quit an addiction, they usually explore cessation techniques such as gradual quitting or abrupt quitting (Peter et al., 2007). Looking at quitting smoking addictions, Peter et al. (2007) states that, “the quit rate for gradual cessation is as good as or even significantly better than that for abrupt cessation …, and many smokers report quitting gradually ….” (p. 1158). Along with this, a study investigating the effects of gradual smoking reduction found that individuals who choose to quit gradually rather than abruptly allow themselves the opportunity for behavioural change through breaking the bond of dependence. In addition to this, those who quit gradually experience ‘small wins’ along the way, reiterating the positive effects of behaviour change (Shiffamn et al., 2009). These studies indicate that whilst every individual’s recovery journey is unique, there is an optimal cessation technique that meets the extremes of quitting in the middle (the ‘just right’ spot). The Goldilocks’ principle applied to addiction cessation is considered to be quitting gradually, rather than abruptly or not at all.

Case Study[edit | edit source]

The LTLA Project:

The Learning to Live Again Project is mutual aid group where individuals recovering from addiction/dependence attend for support. The group offers support by providing activity lead excursions and events for individuals to participate in. However, Parkman et al. (2015) found that service-users were either over-engaging in the group, causing dependence for recovery, or under-engaging. The study followed many service-users, but found William, James and Clive were especially dependent on the group. The three focused heavily on the group as their main source of socialisation, “attending as many activities as possible, despite not always getting enjoyment from them” (p. 52). There is, conversely, a group of individuals who strike the ‘just right’ amount of time dedicated to the group and outside of the group for optimal recovery. Pauline joined the project with initial nervousness, but eventually found her confidence. She used the group to develop friendships with other members, organising external activities with them. She stated:

“For a few weeks I came and stuck to Mary’s [mentor] side like a little limpet and I remember vividly my first conversation with Roger [mentor] and found we had a great connection because of his interest in theatre and musicals and my background so slowly I began to feel more confident” (Parkman et al., 2015, p. 54)

These findings demonstrate the real life application of the Goldilocks Principle on mutual aid groups like the LTLA Project. It is evident that there are inflection points for extreme engagement and under-engagement, however, there is also a ‘just right’ spot as well.

An image of three fluffy bears standing around a table, looking at empty bowls that once contained porridge.
Figure 4. "”Somebody has been at my porridge, and has eaten it all up!”" From English Fairy Tales (1918) by Flora Annie Steel, illustrated by Arthur Rackham

How does research support the Goldilocks Principle?[edit | edit source]

Current research for Goldilocks Principle is varied and diverse in application, as the theory itself is not isolated to psychology. There are scientific purposes relating to the Goldilocks Planet (Kasting, 2019), healthcare practices, evaluating the pace and environment of hospitals (Braithwaite et al., 2018), and newborn intensive care units (NICU) (Steinhorn, 2018). Specifically regarding the Goldilocks’ Principle and motivation, other studies tend to focuses on niche topics that are extremely specific. These domains also include infant development, well-being and addiction among some (Hill et al., 2015; Budney et al., 2014; Straker et al., 2018; Martin et al., 2015). All the research tends to generally find the ‘just right’ inflection point of their niche topic by exploring different types of testing. Most research uses the Goldilocks’ Principle to support their niche topic hypothesis rather than research the principle itself. This results in a large gap of information and research on the Goldilocks principle, calling for further future studies to investigate the psychological nature of the Goldilocks principle.

Conclusion[edit | edit source]

The Goldilocks Principle is a theory derived from the childhood fable of ‘Goldilocks and the Three Bears’ by Robert Southey in the 19th century. The principle hypothesises that there are always two extremes characterised by an inflection point, middled by a ‘just right’ spot. The Goldilocks Principle can be applied to infant development through motivated learning, general well-being, specifically promoting physical health, positive trait changes and internet gaming/screen time use. The principle can also be applied to addiction and cessation techniques such as abrupt quitting and gradual quitting. The current research on the Goldilocks Principle primarily focuses on the application of the theory to specific niches, such as the Goldilocks planet, hospital environments/paces and NICUs. Overall, the Goldilocks Principle is a general theory that is applicable in most situations and works well with motivational psychology.

See also[edit | edit source]

1.     Alcohol, dopamine, and emotion (Book chapter, 2019)

2.     Exercise types and emotion (Book chapter, 2019)

3.     Goldilocks and the Three Bears (Wikipedia)

4.     Methamphetamine and emotion (Book chapter, 2019)

5.     Motivation (Wikiversity)

6.     Motivation to overcome substance use addiction (Book chapter, 2019)

7.     Robert Southey (Wikipedia)

References[edit | edit source]

Balas-Timar, D., & Lile, R. (2015). The Story of Goldilocks Told by Organizational Psychologists. Procedia, Social and Behavioral Sciences, 203, 239–243.

Braithwaite, J., Ellis, L., Churruca, K., & Long, J. (2018). The goldilocks effect: the rhythms and pace of hospital life. BMC Health Services Research, 18(1), 529–5.

Budney, A., & Emond, J. (2014). Caffeine addiction? Caffeine for youth? Time to act. Addiction (Abingdon, England), 109(11), 1771–1772.

Dweck, C. (2017). From needs to goals and representations: Foundations for a unified theory of motivation, personality, and development. Psychological Review, 124(6), 689–719.

Hill, F., Bordes, A., Chopra, S., & Weston, J. (2015). The Goldilocks Principle: Reading Children’s Books with Explicit Memory Representations.

Holtermann, A., Mathiassen, S., & Straker, L. (2019). Promoting health and physical capacity during productive work: the Goldilocks Principle. Scandinavian Journal of Work, Environment & Health, 45(1), 90–97.

Human, L., Biesanz, J., Miller, G., Chen, E., Lachman, M., & Seeman, T. (2013). Is Change Bad? Personality Change Is Associated with Poorer Psychological Health and Greater Metabolic Syndrome in Midlife. Journal of Personality, 81(3), 249–260.

Kasting, J. (2019). The Goldilocks Planet? How Silicate Weathering Maintains Earth “Just Right.” Elements (Quebec), 15(4), 235–240.

Kidd, C., Piantadosi, S., & Aslin, R. (2012). The Goldilocks Effect: Human Infants Allocate Attention to Visual Sequences That Are Neither Too Simple Nor Too Complex. PloS One, 7(5), e36399–.

Martin, C., & Keyes, C. (2015). Correction: Investigating the Goldilocks Hypothesis: The Non-Linear Impact of Positive Trait Change on Well-Being. PloS One, 10(9), e0139760–.

Over, H. (2016). The origins of belonging: social motivation in infants and young children. Philosophical Transactions. Biological Sciences, 371(1686), 20150072–.

Parkman, T., & Lloyd, C. (2015). Mutual dependence and the “Goldilocks group”: exploring service user dependency on mutual aid recovery groups. Drugs and Alcohol Today, 15(1), 49–58.

Peters, E., Hughes, J., Callas, P., & Solomon, L. (2007). Goals indicate motivation to quit smoking. Addiction, 102(7), 1158–1163.

Przybylski, A., & Weinstein, N. (2017). A Large-Scale Test of the Goldilocks Hypothesis: Quantifying the Relations Between Digital-Screen Use and the Mental Well-Being of Adolescents. Psychological Science, 28(2), 204–215.

Savci, M., & Aysan, F. (2017). Technological addictions and social connectedness: predictor effect of internet addiction, social media addiction, digital game addiction and smartphone addiction on social connectedness. Düşünen Adam (Bakırköy Ruh Ve Sinir Hastalıkları Hastanesi), 202–216.

Shiffman, S., Ferguson, S., & Strahs, K. (2009). Quitting by Gradual Smoking Reduction Using Nicotine Gum. American Journal of Preventive Medicine, 36(2), 96–104.e1. Steinhorn, R. (2018). Goldilocks in the NICU—can oxygen be titrated “just right?” The Journal of Pediatrics, 197, 4–4.

Straker, L., Mathiassen, S., & Holtermann, A. (2018). The “Goldilocks Principle”: designing physical activity at work to be “just right” for promoting health. British Journal of Sports Medicine, 52(13), 818–819.

External links[edit | edit source]