Goal Contagion Theory

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Alternate name(s)


Main dependent construct(s)/factor(s)

Goal contagion, Intention to adopt innovative IT

Main independent construct(s)/factor(s)

Social comparison orientation, knowledge ambiguity construct for firm, social influence, user’s perceived knowledge of the innovative IT used by a firm.

Concise description of theory

The Goal Contagion theory is defined as the automatic adoption and pursuit of goals that others perceive and attempts to attain them. Unlike other goal theories, in goal contagion theory the goal-directed behavior does not have the conscious involvement, and hence automatic adoption occurs. Additionally, goal contagion is seen as a process in which individuals perceive or catch goals from others behavior, and yet the social perception more often driven from the broader contexts surrounding others, and these contexts are adequate enough to drive the goal inferences (Leander & Shah, 2013).

This theory can be seen pertinently among friends and ingroup members, as within the friend circle this type of automatic adoption influence may be most likely to occur. As per theory, adopting goals from other individuals’ actions, people learn how to achieve pleasure by seeking specific incentives or needs, and thus goal contagion helps in facilitating social functioning and coordination. In the seminal paper on goal contagion theory, (Aarts et.al, 2004) discusses the involvement of goal contagion theory in everyday social interactions. According to the authors, an individual attempts to achieve similar goals daily by performing different actions. Also, studies on this theory prominently focuses on unconscious pursuit of goals in social settings like schools and organizations. The context-driven goal contagion also suggests a new path through which self-regulation is expedite by an individual social environment. In such case, individuals sharing similar situational conditions may understand each other’s situations and experience into their own pursuits. It is found that goal contagion theory helps us in understanding the goal-setting behavior of the individuals who have less knowledge about that goal.

In the context of behavioral research, goal contagion theory can be used to examine the effects of adoption timing of digital technologies. Two imperative factors influencing goal contagion are other’s behaviors and the situational context. In IS research, goal contagion is considered as a prominent theory that may help in understanding the adoption of the innovative information technologies.

Diagram/schematic of theory

GCT Diagram.png

Originating author(s)

Henk Aarts, Peter M. Gollwitzer, Ran R. Hassin

Seminal articles

Aarts, H., Gollwitzer, P. M., & Hassin, R. R. (2004). Goal Contagion: Perceiving Is for Pursuing. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 87(1), 23–37. doi:10.1037/0022-3514.87.1.23

Leander, N. P., & Shah, J. Y. (2013). For Whom the Goals Loom: Context-Driven Goal Contagion. Social Cognition, 31(2), 187–200. doi:10.1521/soco.2013.31.2.187

Level of analysis

Individual, Organizational level

Links to WWW sites describing theory


Links from this theory to other theories

Goal-setting theory

IS articles that use the theory

Namyeon Lee, Sinan Li, Bongsik Shin & Ohbyung Kwon (2016) Social Comparison, Goal Contagion, and Adoption of Innovative Information Technology, Journal of Computer Information Systems, 56:2, 127-136, DOI: 10.1080/08874417.2016.1117374

Geels, Kasha, Stephen Rice, and Eric Johnson. 2011. "The Contagion of Emotion, Perception, and Goal-directed Behavior through Symbolic Environments." The International Journal of Technology, Knowledge, and Society 7 (1): 79-92. doi:10.18848/1832-3669/CGP/v07i01/56166.

External Links

https://scholar.google.co.in/scholar?hl=en&as_sdt=0%2C5&as_vis=1&q=Goal+Contagion+theory&btnG= (Google Scholar link)


Mohammed Nawazish, Doctoral Student at Indian Institute of Management, Kozhikode, India.

Date last updated

19/10/2020 Please feel free to make modifications to this site. In order to do so, you must register.