BASIC COGNITIVE EFFECTS OF OBSTACLES
When people face an obstacle to a goal and they stay engaged or care about making progress, the research I completed for my PhD (supervisors: Jens Förster and Gerben A. Van Kleef) suggests that they will mentally step back (i.e., increase psychological distance), look at the bigger picture (i.e., increase global processing, focus on the "forest" rather than the "trees"), and find more creative means to their goals. Of course, open questions (e.g., "What happens when obstacles elicit strong negative affect?") remain and independent replications will tell more about these findings. Yet, for now it seems that when people are looking for novel and original approaches to a goal, obstacles that prevent them from reaching it along the most direct and straightforward path could be considered welcome interferences.
INTERFERENCES, ATTENTION, AND VALUE
In a somewhat similar project, Tory Higgins, Abigail Scholer, and I looked at how different ways of dealing with adversity influence value. We found that the more people attend to opposing an adversity in order to overcome it, the more they end up valuing a reward associated with good task performance, whereas the more they attend to coping with the potentially negative feelings the adversity might elicit, the less they value the same reward. In other words, adversity can either increase or decrease the motivational force of attraction to a positive outcome depending on how people deal with it.
PERSPECTIVES ON UNCERTAINTY
Current studies focus on how people interpret and respond to uncertainty.
Marguc, J., Van Kleef, G. A., & Förster, J. (2014). Welcome interferences: Dealing with obstacles promotes creative thought in goal pursuit. Creativity and Innovation Management. Advance online publication.
Higgins, E. T., Marguc, J., & Scholer, A. A. (2012). Value from adversity: How we deal with adversity matters. Journal of Experimental Social Psychology, 48, 965-967.
Marguc, J., Van Kleef, G. A., & Förster, J. (2012). Stepping back while staying engaged: When facing an obstacle increases psychological distance. Social Psychological and Personality Science, 3, 379-386.
Marguc, J., Förster, J. & Van Kleef, G. A. (2011). Stepping back to see the big picture: When obstacles elicit global processing. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 101, 883-901.
Marguc, J., Van Kleef, G. A., & Förster , J. (2010). Obstacles: Their impact on thinking and beyond thinking. In D. A. Contreras (ed.), Psychology of Thinking (pp. 97-120). New York: Nova Publishers.
Förster, J., Marguc, J., & Gillebaart, M. (2010). Novelty categorization theory. Social Psychology and Personality Compass, 4, 736-755.
Marguc, J., van Kleef G. A., & Förster , J. (2010). Doel, boom, weg: Hoe past alles bij elkaar? De effectenvan fysieke obstakels op conceptuele breedte [Goal, tree, path: How does it all fit? Effects of physical obstacles on conceptual breadth]. In: J. W. van Prooijen, R. Renes, B. Derks, M. Stel, & M. Vliek (Eds.). Jaarboek Sociale Psychologie 2009 (pp. 245-252). Groningen: ASPO pers.
Marguc, J., Van Dijk, W. W., & Gallucci, M. (2006). De invloed van angst en boosheid op informatie zoekgedrag. [The influence of fear and anger on information search behavior]. In: R. Holland, J. W. Ouwerkerk, C. Van Laar, J. Ham, & R. Ruiter (Eds.). Jaarboek Sociale Psychologie 2005 (pp. 323-330). Groningen: ASPO pers.