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The End Justifies the Means, but Only in the Middle, Journal of Experimental Psychology: General


Achieving goals often requires the completion of sequential actions, such as finishing a series of assignments to pass a class. In the course of pursuing such goals, people can decide how closely to follow their personal standards for each action. We propose that actions at the beginning and end of a sequence appear more diagnostic of the pursuer’s personal standards than actions in the middle. Therefore, people are more likely to adhere to their standards at the beginning and end of goal pursuit—and slack in the middle. We demonstrate this pattern of judgment and behavior in adherence to ethical standards (e.g., cheating), religious traditions (e.g., skipping religious rituals), and performance standards (e.g., “cutting corners” on a task). We also show that the motivation to adhere to standards by using proper means is independent and follows a different pattern from the motivation to reach the end state of goal pursuit.




Rima Toure-Tillery, Ayelet Fishbach

Date Published



Toure-Tillery, Rima, and Ayelet Fishbach. 2012. The End Justifies the Means, but Only in the Middle. Journal of Experimental Psychology: General.(3): 570-583.


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