New paper: Is it easier to focus on beating a personal best or beating the others?

Focusing on beating a personal best demands more of our immediate attention than focusing on doing better than someone else.

A recent paper published by Dr Rachel Avery and colleagues has demonstrated that when pursuing a mastery-approach goal (e.g., do better than what you scored previously) relies heavily on working memory facilitated by the use of deliberative, ‘step-by-step’ intensive strategies to solve a problem. Conversely, pursing a performance-approach goal (e.g., do better that what the average person has scored) depends less on working memory, facilitated by the use of more heuristic ‘short-cut’ strategies to solve a problem. These findings inform the development of training performance strategies designed to either minimise or maximise allocation of working memory resources. They also help to address more basic questions in psychology concerning the mechanisms through which motivation translates into action and achievement.

Dr Avery is a member of the Enhancing Thinking research theme and a chartered occupational psychologist with an active role in the British Psychological Society Division of Occupational Psychology.


Avery, R. E., Smillie, L. D., & de Fockert, J. W. (2013). The Role of Working Memory in Achievement Goal Pursuit. Acta Psychologica.

Link to paper: