Goal Setting May Predict Bipolar Manic Episodes

A new study involving people with bipolar suggests that setting extrinsic goals may be a predictor for manic episodes. Individuals with bipolar disorder are aware that setting high goals can cause them to get overstimulated and result in a manic episode. “The reward sensitivity model has been found to be useful in predicting the course of mania; indeed, increases in mania over time have been predicted by self-reported reward sensitivity, life events involving reward, and elevations in behavior focused on attaining reward and goals,” said Sheri L. Johnson of the Department of Psychology at the University of California at Berkeley, and lead author of a recent study examining the relationship between reward sensitivity and the development of bipolar. “People with bipolar disorder appear to value goal pursuit more than do other people.”

Of particular interest to Johnson and her colleagues was the pursuit of extrinsic goals, namely fame and financial gain. “On the whole, findings regarding high aspirations for popular fame and low aspirations for friendships and family suggest that people with bipolar disorder adopt extrinsically rather than intrinsically motivated goals,” said Johnson. “Several early studies suggest that a better understanding of goal dysregulation might be relevant for treatment planning.” For her study, Johnson examined the goals of 92 people with bipolar 1 and a control group using the Willingly Approached Set of Statistically Unlikely Pursuits (WASSUP) model, and followed their pursuit of these highly ambitious aspirations over a three month period.

“Participants with bipolar disorder endorsed higher ambitions for popular fame than did controls; moreover, heightened ambitions for popular fame and financial success predicted increases in manic symptoms in those with bipolar disorder over the next three months.” Johnson added, “We have designed a mania treatment that involves techniques for modulating high goal setting. Over the course of the intervention, participants demonstrated significant decreases in WASSUP scores and interviewer ratings of manic symptom severity.” Johnson believes that insight into how goal dysregulation affects bipolar and how to manage it will help influence effective interventions for those at risk for bipolar and manic episodes.

Johnson, S. L., Carver, C. S., & Gotlib, I. H. (2011, November 21). Elevated Ambitions for Fame Among Persons Diagnosed With Bipolar I Disorder. Journal of Abnormal Psychology. Advance online publication. doi: 10.1037/a0026370

© Copyright 2011 by By John Smith. All Rights Reserved. Permission to publish granted to GoodTherapy.org.

The preceding article was solely written by the author named above. Any views and opinions expressed are not necessarily shared by GoodTherapy.org. Questions or concerns about the preceding article can be directed to the author or posted as a comment below.

  • Leave a Comment
  • Chris

    November 29th, 2011 at 12:33 PM

    So let me try to understand this: something like this works as it helps those who tend to experience manic episodes set goals that are a little more realistic and attainable than those that they may tend to work towards? This helps to moderate the manic episodes as they are more apt to work towards those goals than others without the symptoms may be?

  • Theodora

    November 29th, 2011 at 2:49 PM

    Isn’t it sad how the pursuit of fame an forune continues to hurt so many lives? Instead, if these yearnings could be replaced by goals of actually being closer to and forming stronger bonds with friends and family, sounds like that could help a whole lot of people. Something we could all bebefit from come to think about it.

  • Jeanette

    November 30th, 2011 at 5:25 AM

    My mom was bipolar and this has been something that I have run from all of my life. My only goal has been to NOT exhibit the same symptoms that she had. So in all honesty this drove me toward more depressive episodes because I saw how dispuptive our lives were when she was in that manic state. And talk about nothing slowing her down! Man, when she was in that manic state of mind it was like living with the tasmanian devil in the house! Really, any thing that could help those with bipolar get some help would be so good across the board.

  • eliza k

    November 30th, 2011 at 8:07 AM

    so bipolar people are more ambitious? would seem like a good thing at first, but only until you realize that there is proof chasing extrinsic dreams leads to lower life satisfaction.read it a little while ago.

  • TC

    November 30th, 2011 at 11:57 PM

    Lets us not hasten and paint all ambitious people as bipolar, please. I do not think this is a conclusive study and results such as these really should be accompanied by something of a note or something to let everybody know that its not always necessarily like that!

  • Matt

    January 30th, 2018 at 3:00 PM

    So, I read this article and I found myself being very sensitive and reactive to it because it described me in some instances last year.
    Basically, there is a phrase: the gas is greener on the other side but the water bill is higher. I feel like this article is expressing that sentiment. I noticed that when I started to set goals I did engage in manic behaviors and I think this study speaks the truth about it. However to say that “family and friends” are more important than “extrinsic goals” seems to be a value judgement; nobody can tell you that one is more important than other because that is a personal choice. Can you really say that to someone who didn’t have a dad? Or is struggling to find a single job? I don’t think so.
    So the stigma associated with terms manic and depression require clarification, and I think in some instances being a manic to work for your dreams should be supported.

Leave a Comment

By commenting you acknowledge acceptance of GoodTherapy.org's Terms and Conditions of Use.


* Indicates required field.

GoodTherapy uses cookies to personalize content and ads to provide better services for our users and to analyze our traffic. By continuing to use this site you consent to our cookies.