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The role of tenacious versus flexible goal pursuit in the vulnerability to bipolar disorder

Dempsey, Robert C and Eardley, Katherine and Dodd, Alyson (2020) The role of tenacious versus flexible goal pursuit in the vulnerability to bipolar disorder. Current Psychology. ISSN 1046-1310

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Abstract

The vulnerability to bipolar disorder is characterized by dysregulated goal-related behavior, the setting of ambitious and extreme goals, and increases in goal approach behaviors. To date, no studies have investigated the nature of goal pursuit behaviors amongst individuals at a behavioral risk for bipolar disorder in terms of whether goal pursuit is characterized by a tenacious active striving for goals or a more flexible changeable focus on goals. A non-clinical sample of 168 participants completed online measures of mood, bipolar-vulnerability, reward sensitivity, goal-related perfectionist tendencies, tenacious goal pursuit and flexible goal adjustment behaviors. Our findings demonstrate that bipolar-vulnerability is characterized by the tenacious, not flexible, pursuit of goals, in combination with low regulation of goal behavior, and tendencies towards narcissistic and self-critical perfectionism indicative of setting high ambitious standards and making overly harsh self-judgments when such standards are not met. These findings are similar to those from clinical bipolar samples where there is evidence of prolonged symptom recoveries after the experience of goal frustrations and failures. Reducing the tenacious, active striving for goals amongst at-risk individuals may be a potential avenue for early intervention.

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