Edwin A. Locke

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Edwin A. Locke (born January 5, 1938) is an American psychologist and a pioneer in goal-setting theory. He is a retired Dean’s Professor of Motivation and Leadership at the Robert H. Smith School of Business at the University of Maryland, College Park. He was also affiliated with the Department of Psychology. The Association for Psychological Science has praised him, saying, "Locke is the most published organizational psychologist in the history of the field. His pioneering research has advanced and enriched our understanding of work motivation and job satisfaction. The theory that is synonymous with his name — goal-setting theory — is perhaps the most widely-respected theory in industrial-organizational psychology. His 1976 chapter on job satisfaction continues to be one of the most highly-cited pieces of work in the field."[1]

Locke is a proponent of global capitalism,[2] was personally acquainted with the philosopher Ayn Rand, and is affiliated with the Ayn Rand Institute.

He is a critic of the concept of emotional intelligence.[3] In recent years, he has become an outspoken opponent of the animal rights movement, especially the organization People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals. In a winter 2010 interview with Imagineer Magazine, he stated, "I don’t think PETA want all beings equal at all; I think they want man to suffer and die." [4] [5]


Locke received his undergraduate degree in Psychology from Harvard in 1960. He received his MA in Industrial Psychology and Experimental Psychology in 1962 and his PhD in Industrial Psychology in 1964. Both degrees were from Cornell. Locke's doctoral dissertation was on the relationship of intentions to motivation and affect. In 1964 Locke started working as an associate research scientist in the American Research Institutes. In 1966 he became a research scientist there, a position he maintained until 1970.

Locke started his teaching career in 1967, as an assistant professor of Psychology in the University of Maryland. In 1970 he became associate professor of Business Administration in the University of Maryland. Between 1972 and 2001 he held a number of posts in the University of Maryland: 1972-2001- Professor of Business and Management, and of Psychology. 1984-1996- Chair, management and Organization Faculty. 1998-2001- Dean's Professor of Leadership and Motivation. Since 2001 Locke has been acting as Professor Emeritus in the University of Maryland.

Over his career, Professor Locke has published over 260 chapters, books and articles.


The Goal Setting Theory[edit]

The Goal Setting Theory was developed by Locke in 1968, in order to explain human actions in specific work situations [6] . The theory argues that goals and intentions are cognitive and willful, and that they serve as mediators of human actions and that our needs and our goals are mediated by our values, which determine what is beneficial for us.

The two most important findings of this theory are that setting specific goals (e.g., I want to earn $500 more a month) generates higher levels of performance than setting general goals (e.g., I want to earn more money), and that goals that are hard to achieve are linearly and positively connected to performance: The harder the goal, the more a person will work to reach it.[6] Goals are proposed to mediate the influence of incentives and feedback on performance. The model has spawned much research, and this has supported these predictions.[7]

A goal is described as a specified level of efficiency in a certain area, usually to be reached under a time limit. Goals have two characteristics: content, and intensity. Content refers to the chosen achievement (e.g., I want to form a loving relationship). Intensity refers to the quantity of physical and mental resources needed to create or achieve the content. The original model proposed by Locke consisted of five steps: Environmental Stimuli → Cognition → Evaluation → Intentions\ Goal Setting → Performance.[6]

Prime Mover Theory[edit]

He has also developed a model of successful business people.[8] This model is based on observations of success in people as diverse as Walt Disney, Sam Walton, and Mary Kay, in whom seven traits were observed at high levels:

  1. Independent vision
  2. An active mind
  3. Competence and confidence
  4. The drive to action
  5. Egoistic passion
  6. Love of ability in others
  7. Virtue



Fellow of the American Psychological Association, the Association for Psychological Science, the Academy of Management, the Society for Industrial & Organizational Psychology and the Society for Organizational Behavior


  1. ^ a b Association for Psychological Science. "2005 James McKeen Cattell Fellow Award". Retrieved 2009-05-28. 
  2. ^ Locke, Edwin A. (April 24, 2003). "On May Day Delebrate Capitalism". Retrieved 2009-05-28. 
  3. ^ Locke, E. A. (2005). "Why emotional intelligence is an invalid concept". Journal of Organizational Behavior. 26 (4): 425. doi:10.1002/job.318. 
  4. ^ Winter 2010 Interview with Imagineer Magazine. http://www.imagineermagazine.com/index.php/issue_archives/autumn/edwin_a_locke
  5. ^ McConnell, Scott, "Edwin A. Locke," 100 Voices: an Oral History of Ayn Rand, 2010, New American Library, pp. 351-352.
  6. ^ a b c Locke, E. A. (1968). "Toward a theory of task motivation and incentives". Organizational Behavior and Human Performance. 3 (2): 157. doi:10.1016/0030-5073(68)90004-4. 
  7. ^ Mento, A. J.; Steel, R. P.; Karren, R. J. (1987). "A meta-analytic study of the effects of goal setting on task performance: 1966–1984". Organizational Behavior and Human Decision Processes. 39: 52. doi:10.1016/0749-5978(87)90045-8. 
  8. ^ E. A. Locke. (2000). The prime movers: Traits of the great wealth creators. Amacom New York, NY.

External links[edit]