Research article

Do Behavioral Observations Make People Catch the Goal? A Meta-Analysis on Goal Contagion



Goal contagion is a social-cognitive approach to understanding how other people’s behavior influences one’s goal pursuit: An observation of goal-directed behavior leads to an automatic inference and activation of the goal before it can be adopted and pursued thereafter by the observer. We conducted a meta-analysis focusing on experimental studies with a goal condition, depicting goal-directed behavior and a control condition. We searched four databases (PsychInfo, Web of Science, ScienceDirect, and JSTOR) and the citing literature on Google Scholar, and eventually included e = 48 effects from published studies, unpublished studies and registered reports based on 4751 participants. The meta-analytic summary effect was small − g = 0.30, 95%CI [0.21; 0.40], τ² = 0.05, 95%CI [0.03, 0.13] − implying that goal contagion might occur for some people, compared to when this goal is not perceived in behavior. However, the original effect seemed to be biased through the current publication system. As shown by several publication-bias tests, the effect could rather be half the size, for example, selection model: g = 0.15, 95%CI [–0.02; 0.32]. Further, we could not detect any potential moderator (such as the presentation of the manipulation and the contrast of the control condition). We suggest that future research on goal contagion makes use of open science practices to advance research in this domain.


goal contagiongoal pursuitautomatic inferencemeta-analysispublication bias
  • Year: 2021
  • Volume: 34 Issue: 1
  • Page/Article: 3
  • DOI: 10.5334/irsp.428
  • Submitted on 4 Apr 2020
  • Accepted on 24 Nov 2020
  • Published on 22 Jan 2021
  • Peer Reviewed