How you view yourself can determine whether you generally try to be someone who attains or just maintains.

Someone with attainment goals seeks to reach a desired state, by losing weight, for example, or adding to a savings account. A person with maintenance goals would seek to keep his weight and savings account at least at their current levels.

You’re a careful eater, avoiding high-calorie snacks and meals as a rule. But one day at the lunch counter, instead of ordering the usual salad, you’re tempted by a cheeseburger. Will you give in?

The answer, according to a recent study from Johns Hopkins University, may be influenced by whether you view yourself as more or less of an independent type, and whether you generally try to be ambitious or maintain the status quo.

It’s information that not only could help individuals set goals they may reasonably hope to achieve but also could guide marketers in matching a product to a particular audience.

In their paper, lead author Haiyang Yang of the Johns Hopkins Carey Business School and his co-authors examine two kinds of “self-construal” – that is, how people view themselves. Someone with an “independent” self-image sees himself as distinct from others, while a person with an “interdependent” view of himself aims to fit into the social structure and maintain harmonious relations with others.

Additionally, the paper identifies two kinds of goals – those of “attainment” and of “maintenance.” Someone with attainment goals seeks to reach a desired state, by losing weight, for example, or adding to a savings account. A person with maintenance goals would seek to keep his weight and savings account at least at their current levels.

Yang and his colleagues say that while previous studies have looked separately at self-construal and goals, their paper is among the first to look at how the two concepts jointly influence consumer behavior. Through six experiments involving more than 2,000 participants in the United States and China, the researchers found that compared to people with a predominately interdependent self-construal, those with a predominately independent self-construal tend to be motivated more by goals of attainment and the accompanying potential for advancement and distinction. The more interdependent individuals tend to be motivated more by maintenance goals that emphasize stability and continuity.

“In one of our studies,” Yang said in an interview, “we observed people’s real-life bodyweight goal pursuit behaviors (that is, losing vs. maintaining bodyweight) over a period of 13 months. We found that people who had fewer social ties, and hence were more independent, were more likely to set the goal of reducing as opposed to maintaining bodyweight. Further, after people set their weight-management goals, the more independent individuals were more motivated, as measured by the amount of the money they were willing to bet on their success, to pursue weight-loss goals as opposed to weight-maintenance goals.”

The researchers also found that appeals to a person’s sense of independence or interdependence can influence how goals are set. When study participants were asked about a series of possible actions – adding to a savings account, losing weight, and increasing their college grade-point averages – their motivation for attaining a better state was greater when the actions were posed as benefitting them as individuals, as opposed to benefitting their close social groups (relatives and friends). The opposite pattern emerged for the maintenance-goal version of the actions.

Companies should consider these findings when marketing products and services internationally, with an eye to whether the national culture leans toward independence or interdependence, Yang and his co-authors assert. They state in the paper: “Marketing practitioners should consider engineering purchase environments or consumption contexts to activate respective self-construal, nudging consumers toward goals congruent with firms’ marketing objectives and hence increasing the likelihood of consumers’ adoption of those consumption goals.”

The researchers further assert that consumers can practice the same kind of leverage on themselves by matching their goals to their self-construal (as independent or interdependent people) and thus increasing the motivation to bring their actions to successful and satisfying conclusions.

“Pursuing Attainment versus Maintenance Goals: The Interplay of Self-Construal and Goal Type on Consumer Motivation” was written by Yang, Antonios Stamatogiannakis of IE Business School, and Amitava Chattopadhyay of INSEAD. The paper was published in June in the Journal of Consumer Research.