B.E. For Dogs: Goal Gradient

B.E. for Dogs is a bi-weekly comic series that will examine concepts in behavioral economics from the perspective of our canine companions. Look out for new comics every other week!

The series is created by Matt TrowerCatherine Berman, and Jamie Foehl.


Goal Gradient: Have you ever been in a race? Do you find yourself giving a little extra push as the finish line approaches? If so, you’ve seen the goal gradient theory in action. Goal gradient theory suggests that people will work harder to achieve a goal as they get closer to reaching it. In the illustration above, the dog runs faster as the distance to the human shrinks. 
 
This principle was illustrated in a study using coffee punch cards. When customers got a punch card specifying that they could get a free cup of coffee after buying 10 cups, they bought coffee more frequently as they got closer to the free cup. In a follow up study, researchers compared customers who were given a 12-punch coffee card with two “free” punches and customers who got a 10-punch coffee card with no free punches. The group with free punches bought coffee fastest (presumably because they felt they were closer to the free coffee), even though both groups technically had to buy 10 cups to get a free one.