Goal setting, feedback, social context, and growth mindset —if done right— improve engagement. I/O psychologist Jamie Madigan delves into the nuances that make these design elements tick.

Goal Setting

  • Providing a specific, achievable goal improves performance.
  • Goal specificity/clarity, feedback on performance, time/financial investment, and complexity of task modify efficacy. 
  • Zeigarnik Effect: Incomplete goals create mental tension and are more memorable.
  • Distance to goal completion inversely correlates with persistence. 
  • Endowed Progress Effect: Players gifted initial progress towards a goal are more likely to complete it.


  • Positive reactions to feedback are increased effort and strategy development. 
  • Good feedback is specific, behavior focused, immediate and frequent, and informs players of their progress. 

Social Info

  • Social comparisons and the directions thereof motivate players to compete. 
  • Leaderboards motivate players to set goals to overtake other players. 
  • Big-Fish-Little-Pond Effect: Top ranked players of a low ranked league view their performance more positively than low ranked players of a top ranked league.

Growth Mindset

  • Individuals with growth mindsets see ability as malleable, seek challenges, push through obstacles, and learn from criticism. 
  • Games designed to require multiple attempts to overcome an obstacle can provoke this mentality.


Full Psychology of Games article

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