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Effects of Achievement Motivation on Behavior

Scott T. Rabideau
Rochester Institute of Technology

Motivation can be defined as the driving force behind all the actions of an individual. The influence of an individual's needs and desires both have a strong impact on the direction of their behavior. Motivation is based on your emotions and achievement-related goals. There are different forms of motivation including extrinsic, intrinsic, physiological, and achievement motivation. There are also more negative forms of motivation. Achievement motivation can be defined as the need for success or the attainment of excellence. Individuals will satisfy their needs through different means, and are driven to succeed for varying reasons both internal and external.

Motivation is the basic drive for all of our actions. Motivation refers to the dynamics of our behavior, which involves our needs, desires, and ambitions in life. Achievement motivation is based on reaching success and achieving all of our aspirations in life. Achievement goals can affect the way a person performs a task and represent a desire to show competence (Harackiewicz, Barron, Carter, Lehto, & Elliot, 1997). These basic physiological motivational drives affect our natural behavior in different environments. Most of our goals are incentive-based and can vary from basic hunger to the need for love and the establishment of mature sexual relationships. Our motives for achievement can range from biological needs to satisfying creative desires or realizing success in competitive ventures. Motivation is important because it affects our lives everyday. All of our behaviors, actions, thoughts, and beliefs are influenced by our inner drive to succeed.

Implicit and Self-Attributed Motives

Motivational researchers share the view that achievement behavior is an interaction between situational variables and the individual subject's motivation to achieve. Two motives are directly involved in the prediction of behavior, implicit and explicit. Implicit motives are spontaneous impulses to act, also known as task performances, and are aroused through incentives inherent to the task. Explicit motives are expressed through deliberate choices and more often stimulated for extrinsic reasons. Also, individuals with strong implicit needs to achieve goals set higher internal standards, whereas others tend to adhere to the societal norms. These two motives often work together to determine the behavior of the individual in direction and passion (Brunstein & Maier, 2005).

Explicit and implicit motivations have a compelling impact on behavior. Task behaviors are accelerated in the face of a challenge through implicit motivation, making performing a task in the most effective manner the primary goal. A person with a strong implicit drive will feel pleasure from achieving a goal in the most efficient way. The increase in effort and overcoming the challenge by mastering the task satisfies the individual. However, the explicit motives are built around a person's self-image. This type of motivation shapes a person's behavior based on their own self-view and can influence their choices and responses from outside cues. The primary agent for this type of motivation is perception or perceived ability. Many theorists still can not agree whether achievement is based on mastering one's skills or striving to promote a better self-image (Brunstein & Maier, 2005). Most research is still unable to determine whether these different types of motivation would result in different behaviors in the same environment.

The Hierarchal Model of Achievement Motivation

Achievement motivation has been conceptualized in many different ways. Our understanding of achievement-relevant effects, cognition, and behavior has improved. Despite being similar in nature, many achievement motivation approaches have been developed separately, suggesting that most achievement motivation theories are in concordance with one another instead of competing. Motivational researchers have sought to promote a hierarchal model of approach and avoidance achievement motivation by incorporating the two prominent theories: the achievement motive approach and the achievement goal approach. Achievement motives include the need for achievement and the fear of failure. These are the more predominant motives that direct our behavior toward positive and negative outcomes. Achievement goals are viewed as more solid cognitive representations pointing individuals toward a specific end. There are three types of these achievement goals: a performance-approach goal, a performance-avoidance goal, and a mastery goal. A performance-approach goal is focused on attaining competence relative to others, a performance-avoidance goal is focused on avoiding incompetence relative to others, and a mastery goal is focused on the development of competence itself and of task mastery. Achievement motives can be seen as direct predictors of achievement-relevant circumstances. Thus, achievement motives are said to have an indirect or distal influence, and achievement goals are said to have a direct or proximal influence on achievement-relevant outcomes (Elliot & McGregor, 1999).

These motives and goals are viewed as working together to regulate achievement behavior. The hierarchal model presents achievement goals as predictors for performance outcomes. The model is being further conceptualized to include more approaches to achievement motivation. One weakness of the model is that it does not provide an account of the processes responsible for the link between achievement goals and performance. As this model is enhanced, it becomes more useful in predicting the outcomes of achievement-based behaviors (Elliot & McGregor, 1999).

Achievement Goals and Information Seeking

Theorists have proposed that people's achievement goals affect their achievement-related attitudes and behaviors. Two different types of achievement-related attitudes include task-involvement and ego-involvement. Task-involvement is a motivational state in which a person's main goal is to acquire skills and understanding whereas the main goal in ego-involvement is to demonstrate superior abilities (Butler, 1999). One example of an activity where someone strives to attain mastery and demonstrate superior ability is schoolwork. However situational cues, such as the person's environment or surroundings, can affect the success of achieving a goal at any time.

Studies confirm that a task-involvement activity more often results in challenging attributions and increasing effort (typically in activities providing an opportunity to learn and develop competence) than in an ego-involvement activity. Intrinsic motivation, which is defined as striving to engage in activity because of self-satisfaction, is more prevalent when a person is engaged in task-involved activities. When people are more ego-involved, they tend to take on a different conception of their ability, where differences in ability limit the effectiveness of effort. Ego-involved individuals are driven to succeed by outperforming others, and their feelings of success depend on maintaining self-worth and avoiding failure. On the other hand, task-involved individuals tend to adopt their conception of ability as learning through applied effort (Butler, 1999). Therefore less able individuals will feel more successful as long as they can satisfy an effort to learn and improve. Ego-invoking conditions tend to produce less favorable responses to failure and difficulty.

Competence moderated attitudes and behaviors are more prevalent in ego-involved activities than task-involved. Achievement does not moderate intrinsic motivation in task-involving conditions, in which people of all levels of ability could learn to improve. In ego-involving conditions, intrinsic motivation was higher among higher achievers who demonstrated superior ability than in low achievers who could not demonstrate such ability (Butler, 1999). These different attitudes toward achievement can also be compared in information seeking.

Task- and ego-involving settings bring about different goals, conceptions of ability, and responses to difficulty. They also promote different patterns of information seeking. People of all levels of ability will seek information relevant to attaining their goal of improving mastery in task-involving conditions. However they need to seek information regarding self-appraisal to gain a better understanding of their self-capacity (Butler, 1999). On the other hand people in ego-involving settings are more interested in information about social comparisons, assessing their ability relative to others.

Self-Worth Theory in Achievement Motivation

Self-worth theory states that in certain situations students stand to gain by not trying and deliberately withholding effort. If poor performance is a threat to a person's sense of self-esteem, this lack of effort is likely to occur. This most often occurs after an experience of failure. Failure threatens self-estimates of ability and creates uncertainty about an individual's capability to perform well on a subsequent basis. If the following performance turns out to be poor, then doubts concerning ability are confirmed. Self-worth theory states that one way to avoid threat to self-esteem is by withdrawing effort. Withdrawing effort allows failure to be attributed to lack of effort rather than low ability which reduces overall risk to the value of one's self-esteem. When poor performance is likely to reflect poor ability, a situation of high threat is created to the individual's intellect. On the other hand, if an excuse allows poor performance to be attributed to a factor unrelated to ability, the threat to self-esteem and one's intellect is much lower (Thompson, Davidson, & Barber, 1995).

A study was conducted on students involving unsolvable problems to test some assumptions of the self-worth theory regarding motivation and effort. The results showed that there was no evidence of reported reduction of effort despite poorer performance when the tasks were described as moderately difficult as compared with tasks much higher in difficulty. The possibility was raised that low effort may not be responsible for the poor performance of students in situations which create threats to self-esteem. Two suggestions were made, one being that students might unconsciously withdraw effort, and the other stating that students may reduce effort as a result of withdrawing commitment from the problem. Regardless of which suggestion is true, self-worth theory assumes that individuals have a reduced tendency to take personal responsibility for failure (Thompson, Davidson, & Barber, 1995).

Avoidance Achievement Motivation

In everyday life, individuals strive to be competent in their activities. In the past decade, many theorists have utilized a social-cognitive achievement goal approach in accounting for individuals striving for competence. An achievement goal is commonly defined as the purpose for engaging in a task, and the specific type of goal taken on creates a framework for how individuals experience their achievement pursuits. Achievement goal theorists commonly identify two distinct ideas toward competence: a performance goal focused on demonstrating ability when compared to others, and a mastery goal focused on the development of competence and task mastery. Performance goals are hypothesized to produce vulnerability to certain response patterns in achievement settings such as preferences for easy tasks, withdrawal of effort in the face of failure, and decreased task enjoyment. Mastery goals can lead to a motivational pattern that creates a preference for moderately challenging tasks, persistence in the face of failure, and increased enjoyment of tasks (Elliot & Church, 1997).

Most achievement goal theorists conceptualize both performance and mastery goals as the "approach" forms of motivation. Existing classical achievement motivation theorists claimed that activities are emphasized and oriented toward attaining success or avoiding failure, while the achievement goal theorists focused on their approach aspect. More recently, an integrated achievement goal conceptualization was proposed that includes both modern performance and mastery theories with the standard approach and avoidance features. In this basis for motivation, the performance goal is separated into an independent approach component and avoidance component, and three achievement orientations are conceived: a mastery goal focused on the development of competence and task mastery, a performance-approach goal directed toward the attainment of favorable judgments of competence, and a performance-avoidance goal centered on avoiding unfavorable judgments of competence. The mastery and performance-approach goals are characterized as self-regulating to promote potential positive outcomes and processes to absorb an individual in their task or to create excitement leading to a mastery pattern of achievement results. Performance-avoidance goals, however, are characterized as promoting negative circumstances. This avoidance orientation creates anxiety, task distraction, and a pattern of helpless achievement outcomes. Intrinsic motivation, which is the enjoyment of and interest in an activity for its own sake, plays a role in achievement outcomes as well. Performance-avoidance goals undermined intrinsic motivation while both mastery and performance-approach goals helped to increase it (Elliot & Church, 1997).

Most achievement theorists and philosophers also identify task-specific competence expectancies as an important variable in achievement settings. Achievement goals are created in order to obtain competence and avoid failure. These goals are viewed as implicit (non-conscious) or self-attributed (conscious) and direct achievement behavior. Competence expectancies were considered an important variable in classical achievement motivation theories, but now appear to only be moderately emphasized in contemporary perspectives (Elliot & Church, 1997).

Approach and Avoidance Goals

Achievement motivation theorists focus their research attention on behaviors involving competence. Individuals aspire to attain competence or may strive to avoid incompetence, based on the earlier approach-avoidance research and theories. The desire for success and the desire to avoid failure were identified as critical determinants of aspiration and behavior by a theorist named Lewin. In his achievement motivation theory, McClelland proposed that there are two kinds of achievement motivation, one oriented around avoiding failure and the other around the more positive goal of attaining success. Atkinson, another motivational theorist, drew from the work of Lewin and McClelland in forming his need-achievement theory, a mathematical framework that assigned the desire to succeed and the desire to avoid failure as important determinants in achievement behavior (Elliot & Harackiewicz, 1996).

Theorists introduced an achievement goal approach to achievement motivation more recently. These theorists defined achievement goals as the reason for activities related to competence. Initially, these theorists followed in the footsteps of Lewin, McClelland, and Atkinson by including the distinction between approach and avoidance motivation into the structure of their assumptions. Three types of achievement goals were created, two of which being approach orientations and the third an avoidance type. One approach type was a task involvement goal focused on the development of competence and task mastery, and the other being a performance or ego involvement goal directed toward attaining favorable judgments of competence. The avoidance orientation involved an ego or performance goal aimed at avoiding unfavorable judgments of competence. These new theories received little attention at first and some theorists bypassed them with little regard. Motivational theorists shifted away and devised other conceptualizations such as Dweck's performance-learning goal dichotomy with approach and avoidance components or Nicholls' ego and task orientations, which he characterized as two forms of approach motivation (Elliot & Harackiewicz, 1996).

Presently, achievement goal theory is the predominant approach to the analysis of achievement motivation. Most contemporary theorists use the frameworks of Dweck's and Nicholls' revised models in two important ways. First, most theorists institute primary orientations toward competence, by either differentiating between mastery and ability goals or contrasting task and ego involvement. A contention was raised toward the achievement goal frameworks on whether or not they are conceptually similar enough to justify a convergence of the mastery goal form (learning, task involvement and mastery) with the performance goal form (ability and performance, ego involvement, competition). Secondly, most modern theorists characterized both mastery and performance goals as approach forms of motivation, or they failed to consider approach and avoidance as independent motivational tendencies within the performance goal orientation (Elliot & Harackiewicz, 1996).

The type of orientation adopted at the outset of an activity creates a context for how individuals interpret, evaluate, and act on information and experiences in an achievement setting. Adoption of a mastery goal is hypothesized to produce a mastery motivational pattern characterized by a preference for moderately challenging tasks, persistence in the face of failure, a positive stance toward learning, and enhanced task enjoyment. A helpless motivational response, however, is the result of the adoption of a performance goal orientation. This includes a preference for easy or difficult tasks, effort withdrawal in the face of failure, shifting the blame of failure to lack of ability, and decreased enjoyment of tasks. Some theorists include the concept of perceived competence as an important agent in their assumptions. Mastery goals are expected to have a uniform effect across all levels of perceived competence, leading to a mastery pattern. Performance goals can lead to mastery in individuals with a high perceived competence and a helpless motivational pattern in those with low competence (Elliot & Harackiewicz, 1996).

Three motivational goal theories have recently been proposed based on the tri-variant framework by achievement goal theorists: mastery, performance-approach, and performance-avoidance. Performance-approach and mastery goals both represent approach orientations according to potential positive outcomes, such as the attainment of competence and task mastery. These forms of behavior and self-regulation commonly produce a variety of affective and perceptual-cognitive processes that facilitate optimal task engagement. They challenge sensitivity to information relevant to success and effective concentration in the activity, leading to the mastery set of motivational responses described by achievement goal theorists. The performance-avoidance goal is conceptualized as an avoidance orientation according to potential negative outcomes. This form of regulation evokes self-protective mental processes that interfere with optimal task engagement. It creates sensitivity to failure-relevant information and invokes an anxiety-based preoccupation with the appearance of oneself rather than the concerns of the task, which can lead to the helpless set of motivational responses. The three goal theories presented are very process oriented in nature. Approach and avoidance goals are viewed as exerting their different effects on achievement behavior by activating opposing sets of motivational processes (Elliot & Harackiewicz, 1996).

Intrinsic Motivation and Achievement Goals

Intrinsic motivation is defined as the enjoyment of and interest in an activity for its own sake. Fundamentally viewed as an approach form of motivation, intrinsic motivation is identified as an important component of achievement goal theory. Most achievement goal and intrinsic motivational theorists argue that mastery goals are facilitative of intrinsic motivation and related mental processes and performance goals create negative effects. Mastery goals are said to promote intrinsic motivation by fostering perceptions of challenge, encouraging task involvement, generating excitement, and supporting self-determination while performance goals are the opposite. Performance goals are portrayed as undermining intrinsic motivation by instilling perceptions of threat, disrupting task involvement, and creating anxiety and pressure (Elliot & Harackiewicz, 1996).

An alternative set of predictions may be derived from the approach-avoidance framework. Both performance-approach and mastery goals are focused on attaining competence and foster intrinsic motivation. More specifically, in performance-approach or mastery orientations, individuals perceive the achievement setting as a challenge, and this likely will create excitement, encourage cognitive functioning, increase concentration and task absorption, and direct the person toward success and mastery of information which facilitates intrinsic motivation. The performance-avoidance goal is focused on avoiding incompetence, where individuals see the achievement setting as a threat and seek to escape it (Elliot & Harackiewicz, 1996). This orientation is likely to elicit anxiety and withdrawal of effort and cognitive resources while disrupting concentration and motivation.

Personal Goals Analysis

In recent years, theorists have increasingly relied on various goal constructs to account for action in achievement settings. Four levels of goal representation have been introduced: task-specific guidelines for performance, such as performing a certain action, situation-specific orientations that represent the purpose of achievement activity, such as demonstrating competence relative to others in a situation, personal goals that symbolize achievement pursuits, such as getting good grades, and self-standards and future self-images, including planning for future goals and successes. These goal-based achievement motivation theories have focused almost exclusively on approach forms behavior but in recent years have shifted more toward avoidance (Elliot & Sheldon, 1997).

Motivation is an important factor in everyday life. Our basic behaviors and feelings are affected by our inner drive to succeed over life's challenges while we set goals for ourselves. Our motivation also promotes our feelings of competence and self-worth as we achieve our goals. It provides us with means to compete with others in order to better ourselves and to seek out new information to learn and absorb. Individuals experience motivation in different ways, whether it is task- or ego-based in nature. Some people strive to achieve their goals for personal satisfaction and self-improvement while others compete with their surroundings in achievement settings to simply be classified as the best. Motivation and the resulting behavior are both affected by the many different models of achievement motivation. These models, although separate, are very similar in nature and theory. The mastery and performance achievement settings each have a considerable effect on how an individual is motivated. Each theorist has made a contribution to the existing theories in today's achievement studies. More often than not, theorists build off of each other's work to expand old ideas and create new ones. Achievement motivation is an intriguing field, and I find myself more interested after reviewing similar theories from different perspectives.

Peer Commentary

Expanding Achievement Motivation Theory: How Motivational Psychology Relates To Other Fields

Marc B. Charbonneau
Rochester Institute of Technology

Scott T. Rabideau's paper, "Effects of Achievement Motivation on Behavior," effectively summarized current research and theories in the field of motivational psychology. Rabideau's paper detailed the basic aspects of motivational theory in educational psychology, such as intrinsic and extrinsic motivation, and described its finer aspects, such as how seeking information about a task can depend on whether the task is motivated by approach goals or avoidance goals.

Although the paper was competent in this regard, I find it surprising that it focused so little on how research into motivation theory relates and can be applied to more well-known, traditional psychological schools of thought, such as behaviorism and cognitive psychology. Indeed, many of the ideas presented in this paper are strongly tied to traditional psychological fields. In this paper I will attempt to link some of these fields with the theories and concepts presented in Rabideau's paper.

Cognitive psychology is one such field that has strong ties to motivation theory. According to motivation theory, the perception one has of ones self and ones perceived abilities have an effect on task motivation. Furthermore, self-worth theory as described by Rabideau tells us that people take personal responsibility for a failure, and in this case will likely avoid that task in the future. It seems reasonable therefore that challenging negative perceptions would have a strong positive effect on motivation. This echoes the principles dealt with in some aspects of cognitive psychology. For instance, Aaron T. Beck's cognitive theory of depression works in much the same manner, by challenging automatic negative thoughts, which are a causal factor in depression (Martin & Pear, 2003). Likewise, Albert Ellis has gained a significant following based on his development of rational-emotive behavior therapy, which deals with identifying irrational thoughts that cause negative emotions (Martin & Pear, 2003). These cognitive theories have had tremendous effect on developing effective therapies for individuals suffering from depression, and I believe that their core principles could be used in achievement motivation theory.

Motivation theory also has very strong ties to behavioral psychology. In fact, I believe much of the goals behind motivation as described by Rabideau can be described in terms of positive reinforcement. Both intrinsic and extrinsic motivation can usually be attributed to a desired positive outcome, whether it is pleasure gained by accomplishing the task, or rewards such as money or social status that is expected in the future. The behavioral field of psychology has much to say about education and teaching, and a lot of it echoes what is presented in motivation theory. Although behavioral psychology is more often used in an educational environment to treat problematic and disruptive behaviors, much success has been made applying behavioral methods to strengthen positive academic behaviors, both with normal and mentally disabled students. Furthermore, behavioral psychology has been gaining support in physical training and education (Martin & Pear, 2003). Rabideau's paper identifies many potential causes for poor motivation, which stem from a variety of internal and external (such as social) reasons. I believe that despite the varied nature of causes for poor motivation, behavior therapy techniques can be used to have a positive effect on problem areas. There are many behavior modification techniques and methodologies available to therapists and educators who are working in the field of achievement motivation. Some strategies include token economies, shaping, extinction, and intermittent reinforcement, all of which have proven to provide measurable levels of improvement in target behaviors (Martin & Pear, 2003). I believe that through these and other techniques, it is possible to increase achievement motivation, even in cases where it may lacking due to one or more problems, or in cases of avoidant motivation (which will not drive an individual towards mastery of a task), such as the fear of failing to look competent by peers. By helping to create motivation based on implicit enjoyment of completing a task, behavior therapy can not only drive motivation towards mastery of a task, but also help in cases where treating a cause of poor motivation is not always possible. This certainly may be the case in some of the causes Rabideau mentioned, such as low motivation that stems from past failure or a fear of peer criticism.

Finally, Rabideau's paper also tied in strongly with the field of social psychology. Competence relevant to peers plays a big role in motivation theory, both in approach and avoidance goals. Often times motivation for a task comes from seeking a level of proficiency, or avoiding a failure. It would have been interesting to see how the outcome of peer criticism or support in the face of a failure effects future task motivation, as in some areas of psychology peer support can have a large effect on the progression of emotional problems.

Peer Commentary

Benefits of Avoiding

Fernando D. Segovia
Rochester Institute of Technology

All of the achievement motivation theories presented by Rabideau seem to agree that mastery and approach-type goals or motives lead to constructive behavior in addition to personal advancement and success. Meanwhile, avoidance-type goals or motives lead to negative personal outcomes, inefficiency, and inner-turmoil.

Although it seems idealistic to have one's motivation completely based on receiving positive reinforcement and self-improvement in order to achieve personal success, perhaps it is not realistic. Motivation based on avoidance characteristics may be detrimental to one's self in excess, but it may be a necessary tool in some regards towards the development of long-term approach and mastery goals. A delicate balance of both approach and avoidance motivation may lead to a more well-rounded and successful individual.

Imagine a workplace scenario in the modern fast-paced American business world in which there are no deadlines, no bosses, and no competition. Sure this would be the ideal place for mastery and approach type goals in which an individual could spend all of his or her time developing their skills and knowledge, but this is not the case. No matter how much enjoyment people receive from their work, people in the business world must unavoidably perform tasks in the midst of deadline threats and competition in order to persevere. They most definitely face some anxiety and fear about not meeting their employers' standards and perform tasks based on avoidance motivation in order to prevent from losing their jobs. They may also aim to perform tasks better in comparison with co-workers both for an ego-boost and for avoiding social incompetence.

These anxiety and stress-inducing situations may not be what we desire as individuals or what is desired for optimal human success, but they are undoubtedly present and encountered in our lifestyles. Without them would anything ever get done? If mastery goals are an individual's only source of motivation and they receive purely pleasure out of performing a task I doubt they would ever make the statement, "well this is good enough." How could they feel they have accomplished their goal if something can always be improved upon? They would always continue to strive for the mastery of the particular task or skill.

Another similar example would be students attending colleges and universities in western society. Unless they are there for the sole purpose of expanding their knowledge, the majority of the students enrolled in any particular university are probably there to receive a higher-level education in the pursuit of employment for sustenance. This long-term goal is not achieved through solely positive reinforcement; there is plenty of stress, anxiety, and sometimes failure as well. In fact the goal itself could be considered an avoidance goal and motivate a student based on the fear of becoming a social pariah or the inability to provide for oneself.

In regards to class work and assignments, a student might be motivated to excel in his or her particular area of study. Although If student is forced to attend a required class not related to their area of interest and study he/she might be motivated by the avoidance of receiving poor marks or negative feedback by the professor, which would be detrimental to their college career from an overall perspective. The avoidance would lead to completion of course work and material and actually benefit the student in the long run.

In contrast too much motivation through means of avoidance would follow the motivational theories as described by Rabideau and completely "undermine intrinsic motivation." With a deprivation of approach and mastery type goals an individual may lack the inner-drive needed to succeed in life. Instances as described in the "self-worth" theory may occur in which an individual chooses the easiest route and removes most or all task-related effort in order to avoid failure and low self-esteem.

It would be interesting to explore further into this realm and see how motivations through avoidance type goals are related to depression, particularly unipolar disorders. Perhaps the continuation of motivation through stress, anxiety and fear leads an individual through a downward spiral into a depressive state. Cognitive therapy may assist these individuals in developing more approach-type goals and counter the effects described in the "self-worth" theory.

Peer Commentary

What's My Motivation? It May Not Be Yours

Jeremy M. Swerdlow
Rochester Institute of Technology

The most interesting concepts explored in this paper concerned the identification of various types of motivation. Obviously motivation drives human behavior and there are many different forms motivation can take, but how do these different types of motivation interact to describe behavior? Whether motivational cues are taken directly from the environment or imposed by individuals, there is always a choice to be made, be it conscious or unconscious. Nobody can make an individual do anything, a person's perception of reality shapes that person's motivation.

To better illustrate this phenomenon, an actual [observed] scenario describing two students will be described. One student, receives a poor grade on an exam while the other receives an "A." Why did the first student do so poorly? Obviously he was motivated to take the test and he was also motivated to receive a passing grade so he could advance. But what was the goal? Let us explore the many different forms that motivation can take. This author discusses numerous types of motives starting with achievement goals including: performance-approach, in which a student would focus on attaining mere competence relative to his classmates, a performance-avoidance goal mindset would mean the student was trying to avoid incompetence, and finally if the student was facing a mastery goal he would try to become an expert in the material regardless of what was required for the test. Student one is very bright, highly task-involved and seeks to acquire knowledge as well as skills and understanding, in direct contrast to ego-involvement were the goal here is to prove superiority over the rest of the class.

Now let us contrast the first student with one of his classmates who is not that gifted and is demonstrating performance-avoidance. He is terrified he will fail the class and is extrinsically motivated- he is not studying for his own betterment; he is motivated to both please others and avoid punishment. The future is looking fairly grim for student number two so he begins to withdraw effort. According to self-worth theory, the reason for this is to lessen his inevitable cognitive dissonance from failing the class, that way if he fails it would be due to a lack of preparation rather than his own lack of academic ability.

Student number one studied for the pure joy of learning to master the material while the second students performance-avoidance goals put him between a rock and a hard place; paralyzed with fear of failure he faced task anxiety and helpless achievement outcomes. But student number one gets a "C" on the test and student number two gets an "A." What happened? What happened was a cultural component exerting more power than any other types of motivation. Student number one faced persecution from his peers by "breaking the curve" and student number two cheated to please his parents with his grade. In this case simply understanding motivation did not predict behavior, only motive. Seldom is a person driven by a solitary, isolated motive that is easily defined. The author touches on this point and discusses a variety of motives that are possible, but sometimes predicting behavior by understanding motivation requires a model containing numerous and sometimes contradicting motivations.

Interestingly, both students altered their behaviors in ways some would consider unexpected. However, the second student broke societies rules by cheating while the first override his desire to receive a high grade with one lower than what he truly deserved. Similarities also come from the fact that both students felt cognitive dissonance, obviously for two different reasons, but the first student was implicitly motivated the second was explicitly motivated. The first student damaged himself for the benefit of the group [to ultimately protect himself from persecution] while the second student took advantage of the group to better himself. One intriguing possibility is that simple implicit or explicit motivations can predict the possible inclusion of other types of behaviors.

External/ internal perceived locus of causality (Gollowitzer, 1996) describes persons with an internal perceived locus as more in control of their density. As a result these persons, like student number one are flexible with regards to the environment and are better equipped to handle situations that require in-depth understanding of how their moral code interacts with the outside world. This may account for this student deciding on task-mastery while at the same time allowing himself to give in to peer pressure to achieve the second goal of group acceptance. It is also possible that student number one receives far less dissonance that student number two who has an external perceived locus of causality. This student feels that his actions could only have been justified by the limited options he perceives are as a result of his own shortcoming. In short, persons who exhibit avoidance achievement motivations are more likely to be susceptible to external influence the opposite is true for those seeking task-mastery.

Author Response

Motivational Theory From a Different Perspective

Scott T. Rabideau
Rochester Institute of Technology

Charbonneau introduced the relation between motivational theory with both the cognitive area of psychology and the school of behaviorism. His points were very interesting and I agree they could have enhanced my original argument and allowed me to further articulate and describe different aspects of motivational theory. He mainly focused on ideas for enhancing motivation and suggested how these areas of psychology could be related to a motivational therapy. As for the cognitive field, I agree that the perceptions people have of themselves indeed play a strong role in affecting their motivation. It would be interesting to conduct a future study of how depression therapy techniques could possibly be used to aid in motivation. Charbonneau's other argument focused on behavioral therapy and how it could be used in motivation treatments. I found these arguments to be quite interesting and would also be interested in seeing the results of a study based on Charbonneau's ideas. However, I still feel that motivation is most strongly tied to the social aspect of psychology.

Segovia provided an interesting counter-argument concerning avoidance and motivation. His idea that a balance of approach and avoidance motivation would create a more well-rounded person seems quite intriguing. I believe Segovia makes a strong case in his argument that avoidance achievement goals are completely necessary for daily functioning, not only for working adults but for college students as well. His points about students taking classes unrelated to their primary studies and adults performing tasks at work just to avoid failure or avoid being fired is something I should have considered including in my original presentation. Like Segovia, I would be interested in seeing a study performed that might assess how avoidance goals can help people succeed in life, and also how avoidance goals may be related to mental disorders such as depression.

Swerdlow presented an interesting example of how task mastery and avoidance goals can sometimes result in unexpected outcomes and how motivational drives are different for individual people. His example using the two students was quite provocative and fascinating. He emphasized how observed behavior of an individual can differ from the motivational drives of that individual by introducing environmental and cultural factors. I agree that these factors can strongly influence an individual's behavior despite their own intrinsic motives for success.

I would like to thank the authors of these commentaries for they provided me with additional insights on the various aspects of motivational theory. It was quite thought-provoking to see these different views of achievement theory.


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Harackiewicz, J. M., Barron, K. E., Carter, S. M., Lehto, A. T., & Elliot, A. J. (1997). Predictors and consequences of achievement goals in the college classroom: Maintaining interest and making the grade. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 73, 1284-1295.

Martin, G., & Pear, J. (2003). Behavior modification: What it is and how to do it. Upper Saddle River, NJ: Prentice Hall.

Thompson, T., Davidson, J. A., & Barber, J. G. (1995). Self-worth protection in achievement motivation: Performance effects and attributional behavior. Journal of Educational Psychology, 87, 598-610.

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