The Decade Ahead: Theoretical Perspectives on Motivation and Achievement: Volume 16 Part A


Table of contents

(13 chapters)

The continuous outpouring of studies from motivation researchers begs for a periodic taking of stock, as well as prognostications about future directions in the field. The dawning of a new decade presents a worthwhile opportunity for such a reflective examination. This volume, the 16th in the Advances in Motivation and Achievement series, published in 2010, offers this reflection on where we stand and where we are going as a scientific discipline in the decade ahead.

For half a century, psychologist Albert Bandura has worked to advance a cognitive interactional model of human functioning that emphasizes the role of cognitive and symbolic representations as central processes in human adaptation and change. In his seminal 1977 publication, Bandura emphasized that these representations – visualized actions and outcomes stemming from reflective thought – form the basis from which individuals assess their personal efficacy. An efficacy belief, he contended, is the “conviction that one can successfully execute the behavior required to produce the outcomes” one desires (p. 193). Efficacy beliefs serve as the primary means by which people are able to exercise a measure of control over their lives. During the next two decades, Bandura (1986, 1997) advanced his social cognitive theory, in which people are viewed as self-organizing, proactive, self-reflecting, and self-regulating rather than as solely reactive organisms, products of environmental or concealed inner influences. From this agentic perspective, people are seen as contributors to their life circumstances, not just recipients of them. In this way, people are “partial architects of their own destinies” (Bandura, 1997, p. 8).

Expectancy-value theory is prominent in different areas in psychology, and a number of educational and developmental psychologists who study the development of achievement motivation have utilized this theory in their work (see Schunk, Pintrich, & Meece, 2006; Weiner, 1992; Wigfield & Eccles, 1992; Wigfield, Tonks, & Klauda, 2009 for overviews). In this chapter, we discuss current expectancy-value theoretical models of achievement motivation and review research based on these models. Much of this research has focused on the development of children's expectancies and values, and how expectancies and values relate to performance, choice of different activities, and emotions. We discuss the major findings from each of these areas of research. We also provide suggestions for future research based in this theory for the next decade. We focus our review and suggestions for future research primarily on elementary and secondary school students, but include some relevant work done with college students.

Achievement goal theory traces people's behaviors, thoughts, and emotions in achievement situations to the broad goals they pursue in that activity, whether in education, sports, work, or other achievement domains (Dweck, 1986; Maehr & Midgley, 1991; Nicholls, 1984). Two goals have featured prominently: mastery goals (also sometimes called learning goals) and performance goals (also called ego goals or ability validation goals). Both goals concern the pursuit of competence and the assessment of one's own skill level, yet they do so in distinct ways. People pursuing a mastery goal strive to develop their skill or expertise, while those pursuing a performance goal instead strive to demonstrate and validate their existing skill, typically by outperforming peers. As such, those pursuing mastery goals typically use self-referential standards to define success versus failure, while those pursuing performance goals instead use normative standards to define success versus failure.

Cognitive evaluation theory (CET; Deci, 1975), SDT's first mini-theory, was built from research on the dynamic interplay between external events (e.g., rewards, choice) and people's task interest or enjoyment – that is, intrinsic motivation (IM). At the time, this research was quite controversial, as operant theory (Skinner, 1971) had dominated the psychological landscape. The central assumption of operant theory was that reinforcement contingencies in the environment control behavior, which precluded the existence of inherently satisfying activities performed for non-separable outcomes. During this time, Deci proposed that people – by nature – possess intrinsic motivation (IM), which can manifest as engagement in curiosity-based behaviors, discovery of new perspectives, and seeking out optimal challenges (see also Harlow, 1953; White, 1959). IM thus represents a manifestation of the organismic growth tendency and is readily observed in infants' and toddlers' exploratory behavior and play. Operationally, an intrinsically motivated activity is performed for its own sake – that is, the behavior is experienced as inherently satisfying. From an attributional perspective (deCharms, 1968), such behaviors have an internal perceived locus of causality, as people perceive their behavior as emanating from their sense of self, rather than from experiences of control or coercion.

Almost all historical accounts of psychological work related to the self-concept begin with the pioneering work of William James (e.g., Harter, 1996; Pajares & Schunk, 2002, 2005; Roeser et al., 2006). James' distinction between the self as knower and agent (the I-self) and the self as known and object (the Me-self), in the famous Chap. 10, on self-consciousness, in his Principles of Psychology (1890), undoubtedly informs much subsequent work on the self-concept (a term that James never used himself). In particular, the general idea that the self is made up of different constituents (e.g., the Me-self contains material, social, and spiritual selves) arranged hierarchically is still very much a basic structural assumption in many contemporary theories of the self-concept, just as James' assumption that the I-self can create and monitor a variety of Me-selves anchors much self-concept methodology and process theorizing. With respect to the general aims of self-concept research, James' framing of self-esteem (a term he did use) also has been extremely influential on subsequent generations of both self-esteem and self-concept researchers. For James, self-esteem is a feeling that “depends entirely on what we back ourselves to be and do” (James, 1981, p. 310), a feeling that depends on the success with which we achieve those things we set out to achieve.2

Implicit motives are capacities to experience specific types of incentives as rewarding and specific types of disincentives as aversive (Atkinson, 1957; Schultheiss, 2008). Because implicit motives determine which stimuli are affectively “hot”, they also orient the person's behavior toward those stimuli, energize behavior aimed at attaining (or avoiding) them, and select stimuli that predict their proximity and behaviors that are instrumental for attaining (or avoiding) them (McClelland, 1987).

The attractiveness of dynamic systems perspectives for expanding thinking about motivation, more particularly interest, lies in the central proposition that the individual is a self-organizing system in which “novel forms emerge without predetermination and become increasingly complex with development” (Lewis, 2000, p. 36). As Lewis further points out, “self-organization is not a single theory or model. Rather it is an idea … that promises coherent explanation in the study of pattern, change and novelty” (Lewis, 2000, p. 42). Thelen and Smith (2006) have proposed that self-organization is a “fundamental property of living things” and “by self-organization we mean that pattern and order emerge from the interactions of the components of a complex system without explicit instructions, either in the organism itself or from the environment” (p. 259). They suggest that understanding change and development concerns “the elaborate causal web between active individuals and their continually changing environments” (p. 271) and refer to specific units of organization within the system as “patterns assembled for task-specific purposes whose form and stability depended on both the immediate and more distant history of the system” (p. 284). To date, dynamic systems perspectives have been applied to a wide range of psychological phenomena, for example, the development of perceptual, motor and cognitive systems in infancy and early childhood (see e.g., Thelen & Smith, 2006). Jörg, Davis, and Nickmans (2007) have argued for a similar approach for the learning sciences. They propose a new complexity paradigm suggesting that more attention needs to be given to understanding the dynamics of the complex systems that make up the science of education and teaching.

Publication date
Book series
Advances in Motivation and Achievement
Series copyright holder
Emerald Publishing Limited
Book series ISSN