While some people set higher goals after failing, some may choose to lower their goals in the face of setbacks. A possible explanation for this difference in goal revision is the negative emotions experienced after failures that signal the discrepancy between one’s expectations and goal attainment (Carver, 2015). People who feel negative about their goal failure may be motivated to raise their expectations and work harder in compensation for the past failure (Seo & Patall, 2020). Given that almost no studies investigated the role of achievement emotions in the relationship between failures and goal revision, Theobald et al. ’s (2021) study aims to investigate how students emotionally respond to goal failures and how their achievement emotions predict subsequent goal revision. 


To examine how students cope and emotionally react after experiencing goal failure, Theobald and colleagues  (2021) recruited 344 medical students to include in data analysis, of which 144 students consisted in the control group, and 230 students consisted in the intervention group. The participants were to prepare for an important exam using a digital learning platform, and throughout 40 days, they responded to pre- and post-questionnaires. Achievement emotions (e.g. joy, frustration, etc.), goal setting (the number of old exam questions the participants intended to answer in preparation for the exam), the actual number of questions answered, and goal revision (up- or down-regulate the goal) were assessed. Goal failure was measured by the difference between the number of questions intended and answered. 


The results of Theobald et al.’s study (2021) conclude that students’ achievement emotions are triggered by the difference between their goals and learning outcomes. For instance, the more the student fails to reach their goal, the more they experience anger and tension and less joy and pride. In addition, the extent to which students failed to achieve their goals and emotional responses are associated with adaptive goal revision. Students tended to down-regulate their goals if they largely missed their learning goal. However, Theobald et al. found that negative emotional responses can mediate the relationship between goal discrepancy and revision. Specifically, students who reported more negative emotions (more anger but less pride and joy) set an upward goal revision as a compensatory mechanism.  


The implications of these results are for students and those who help them cope with experiencing goal failure. For example, Theobald et al. suggest teachers foster positive beliefs about failure that could encourage students to learn from failure. Furthermore, this study connects with EPIC’s research because it indicates that students’ high-arousal negative emotions after failing to accomplish their goal can predict their goal revision in order to keep persisting. Future EPIC studies can explore the role of negative and deactivating emotions such as sadness and helplessness in goal revision after failures.


To read more about Theobald et al.’s study, check out this link to access the article:



This post is written by Eliza Hong. 



Carver, C. S. (2015). Control processes, priority management, and affective dynamics. Emotion Review, 7(4), 301–307. https://doi.org/10.1177/1754073915590616 

Seo, E., & Patall, E. A. (2020). Feeling proud today may lead people to coast tomorrow: Daily intraindividual associations between emotion and effort in academic goal striving. Emotion, 119. https://doi.org/10.1037/emo0000752 

Theobald, M., Breitwieser, J., Murayama, K., & Brod, G. (2021). Achievement emotions mediate the link between goal failure and goal revision: Evidence from digital learning environments. Computers in Human Behavior, 119, 106726.