Your browser (Internet Explorer 6) is out of date. It has known security flaws and may not display all features of this and other websites. Learn how to update your browser.

Unit 25 – Motivation and Goal Setting

Difficulty: Easy/Medium

Time: 6 minutes

The following passage has been adapted from Psychology, Seventh Edition, by Bernstein, Penner, Clarke-Stewart and Roy. 

Achievement motivation tends to be learned early in childhood, especially from parents. For example, in one study young boys were given a difficult task at which they were sure to fail. Fathers whose sons scored low on achievement motivation tests often became annoyed as they watched their boys. They discouraged them from continuing, interfered, or even completed the task themselves (Rosen & D’Andrade, 1959). A different pattern of behavior appeared among parents of children who scored high on tests of achievement motivation. Those parents tended to (1) encourage the child to try difficult tasks, especially new ones; (2) give praise and other rewards for success; (3) encourage the child to find ways to succeed rather than merely complaining about failure; and (4) prompt the child to go on to the next, more difficult challenge (McClelland, 1985). Other research with adults shows that even the slightest cues that bring a parent to mind can boost people’s efforts to achieve a goal (Shah, 2003).

More general cultural influences also effect the development of achievement motivation. For example, subtle messages about a culture’s view of how achievement occurs often appear in the books children read and the stories they hear. Does the story’s main character work hard and overcome obstacles, thus creating expectations of a payoff for persistence? Is the character a loafer who wins the lottery, suggesting that rewards come randomly, regardless of effort? If the main character succeeds, is it the result of personal initiative, as is typical of stories in individualist cultures? Or is success based on ties to a cooperative and supportive group, as is typical of stories in collectivist cultures? These themes appear to act as blueprints for reaching culturally approved goals. It should not be surprising, then, that ideas about how people achieve differ from culture to culture. In one study, for example, individuals from Saudi Arabia and from the United States were asked to comment on short stories as having succeeded because of the help they got from others, whereas Americans tended to attribute success to the personal traits of each story’s main character (Zahrani & Kaplowitz, 1993).