Psychology Ph.D. Dissertations


Image Theory: An Experimental Study of the Effect of Feedback on Decision Making

Date of Award


Document Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (Ph.D.)



First Advisor

Milton D. Hakel, PhD (Committee Chair)

Second Advisor

William K. Balzer, PhD (Committee Member)

Third Advisor

Dryw O. Dworsky, PhD (Committee Member)

Fourth Advisor

William E. Knight, PhD (Committee Member)


Image theory claims that one’s images, namely one’s values, goals, and plans to achieve those goals, are key aspects in decision making. Decision options that are incongruent with one or more of the images can lead to a “shock” to the status quo, resulting in abandoning the goal, revising the goal, or changing the strategy to attain the goal. However, the characteristics of the feedback that cause this shock have not been evaluated independently within the decision making scenario. The goal of the current study is to better understand how people respond to positive and negative feedback through the principles of image theory. To test the effect of feedback, 434 students stated their goal performance on a number task, including plans to achieve the goal, goal-setting strategy, and how the goal performance was valued. Subjects received randomly assigned false feedback at positive, moderately negative, or extremely negative levels after completing the number task. Then, they indicated their plans, goal-setting strategy, and goal value for a second chance to meet their goal on the number task. Results indicated that those in the negative feedback conditions experienced the feedback as a “shock” at a significantly higher rate than those in the positive feedback condition. However, participants in the extremely negative feedback condition were not more likely than the other two feedback conditions to change their plans to achieve their goal, goal-setting strategy, or value of the goal. Overall, the results suggest that feedback valence plays a significant role in how one responds to adversity in meeting a goal and can produce a shock. This study provides a significant first step into understanding the role of feedback on shocks and image violations.