Chapter 7: Achievement
Mastery motive: inborn motives to explore, understand, and control one’s
The Concept of Achievement Motivation
Achievement motivation: their willingness to strive to succeed at
challenging tasks and to meet high standards of accomplishment.
The Motivational View of Achievement
Need for achievement (n Ach): McClelland’s depiction of achievement
motivation as a learned motive to compete and to strive for success in
situations in which one’s performance can be evaluated against some
standard of excellence.
A person’s need for achievement is determined by counting the achievement-
related statements that he or she includes in the four stories.
A Behavioural View of Achievement
Children will show different strivings in different skill areas depending on
the extent to which they value doing well in each area, and they expect to
succeed and be recognized for their accomplishments.
Intrinsic orientation: a desire to achieve in order to satisfy one’s personal
needs for competence or mastery.
Extrinsic orientation: a desire to achieve in order to earn external
incentives such as grades, prizes, or the approval of others.
Children who are intrinsically oriented are more likely than those who are
extrinsically oriented to prefer challenging problems over simpler ones and
to view themselves as highly competent at schoolwork.
Early Reactions to One’s Accomplishments: From Mastery to Self-Evaluation
High achievers as those who reliably evaluate their accomplishments against
standards of excellence and will often try to outperform others when faced
with new challenges.
Phase 1: Joy in mastery. Visibly pleased to master challenges, displaying the
Phase 2: Approval seeking. Anticipate how others will evaluate their
Phase 3: Use of standards. Began to react more independently to their
successes and failures.
Theories of Achievement Motivation and Achievement Behaviour Need Achievement Theories
McClelland’s Theory of Achievement Motivation
McClelland and his colleagues viewed n Ach as a learned motive that, like all
other complex social motives, is acquired on the basis of rewards and
punishments that accompany certain kinds of behaviour.
The Relationship between Achievement Motivation and Achievement Behaviour
People who express a strong desire to achieve on the McClelland fantasy
measure of n Ach often do achieve at higher levels than those who test low in
The Achieving Society
McClelland’s cross-cultural data suggest that achievement motivation
precedes economic growth and that a nation’s mean n Ach is a barometer of
its future economic accomplishments.
Problems with McClelland’s Approach
People who actually do accomplish a lot often differed from people who
accomplish much less in their emotional reactions to achievement contexts:
high achievers welcomed new challenges, whereas low achievers seemed to
Atkinson’s Revision of Need Achievement Theory
Motive to achieve success (Ms) Atkinson’s term for the disposition
describing one’s tendency to approach challenging tasks and take pride in
mastering them; analogous to McClelland’s need for achievement.
Motive to avoid failure (Maf) Atkinson’s term for the disposition describing
one’s tendency to shy away from challenging tasks so as to avoid the
embarrassment of failing.
Is it Worth Accomplishing? The Value of a Particular Goal
Achievement value: perceived value of attaining a particular goal should
one strive to achieve it.
Achievement motivation is more likely to forecast noteworthy
accomplishments when the goals one might attain are considered valuable or
Can I Achieve? The Role of Expectancies in Achievement Behaviour Achievement expectancies: cognitive expectations of succeeding or failing
at a particular achievement-related activity.
Expectations of success and failure are a powerful determinant of
achievement behaviour; children who expect to achieve usually do, whereas
those who expect to fail may spend little time and effort pursuing goals they
believe to be out of reach.
Weiner’s Attribution Theory
Attributional theory of achievement that claims that a person’s achievement
behaviour depends very critically on how he interprets prior successes and
failures and on whether he thinks he can control these outcomes.
Causal attributions: conclusions drawn about the underlying causes of
one’s own or another person’s behaviour.
Weiner argues that people are likely to attribute their successes or failures to
any of four causes: (1) their ability (or lack thereof), (2) the amount of effort
expended, (3) the difficulty (or easiness) of the task, or (4) the influence of
luck (either good or bad).
Locus on control: personality dimension distinguishing people who assume
that they are personally responsible for their life outcomes (internal locus)
from those who believe that their outcomes depend more on circumstances
beyond their control (external locus).
The more internal responses the child selects, the higher his internality score
(internalizers do better).
Contributions of “Stability” and “Locus of Control” Attributions to Future
Outcomes attributed to stable causes lead to stronger expectancies than
those attributed to unstable causes.
Judgments about the internality or externality of an outcome determine its
value to the perceiver.
Successes are most valuable when attributed to internal causes that one can
take credit for.
It is adaptive to attribute our successes to high ability, for this internal and
stable attribution causes us to value what we have accomplished and leads us
to expect that we can repeat our successes.
Age Differences in Achievement-Related Attributions
Incremental view of ability: belief that one’s ability can be improved
through increased effort and practice.
Entity view of ability: a perspective that ability is a fixed or stable trait that
is not influences much by effort or practice. Dweck’s Learned Helplessness Theory
Mastery-oriented: tend to attribute success to their high ability but tend to
externalize the blame for their failures or attribute them to unstable causes
that they can easily overcome.