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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).

Motivation is intrinsically linked to goal-setting. Psychologists have found that the kinds of goals we set can influence the amount of effort, persistence, attention, and planning we devote to a task.
In general, the more difficult the goal, the harder people will try to reach it. This rule assumes, of course, that the goal is seen as attainable. Goals that are impossibly difficult may not motivate maximum effort. It also assumes that the person values the goal. If a difficult goal is set by someone else – as when a parent assigns a teenager to keep a large lawn and garden trimmed and weeded – people may not accept it as their own and may not work very hard to attain it. Setting goals that are clear and specific tends to increase people’s motivation to persist at a task (Locke & Latham, 2002). In short, the process of goal-setting is more than just wishful thinking. It is an important first step in motivating all kinds of behavior.


1. In the psychological experiments descriped in the first paragraph of the passage, how was the achievement motivation of the children measured?

  • A      Through the reaction of the parents
  • B      By how well they performed or attempted the task
  • C      It was measured retrospectively
  • D      It wasn’t said


2. Based on information provided in the passage, which of the following goals would motivate the most effort from a budding young musician?

  • A      Work harder
  • B      Make $400 to pay father for rent for the month
  • C      Write a pop song with a view to getting onto local radio
  • D      Get signed to a major record label such as Sony or Universal.


3. Which of the following statements is most intensely contradictory of the main idea of the passage?

  • A      People are motivated purely by fear and greed
  • B      Human achievement motivation is fundamentally selfish
  • C      Achievement motivation is innate
  • D      Culture has little effect on the development of achievement motivation


Question 4 refers to the following additional information:

Child's reaction to Humpty Dumpty - "Maybe they didn't try hard enough"

4. Based on the information provided in the passage, what can we infer about the child in the illustration?

  • A      Her father is very encouraging
  • B      She has strong achievement motivation
  • C      She was raised in a collectivist culture
  • D      She did not understand the story
  • Q1: D
    “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. ”
    The tests were probably done beforehand and then afterwards the psychological experiment involving the parents began, but it isn’t specified how they measured achievement motivation in the kids.

    Q2: C
    According to the passage, a couple of different requirements must be met to maximise the motivation generated by setting a goal:
    1) More difficult (but not impossible) goals
    2) Goal must be set by the individual themselves
    3) Specificity

    Work harder is terribly vague. Make $400 is more specific but still quite vague as the ‘how’ is not included. It is also possible that this goal has been externally constructed (not set by the individual).
    D, from the perspective of a ‘budding young musician’, is close to impossible.
    C is difficult, and the task is specific, and relevant to the musician’s interests (it’s more likely this goal would be set by the musician himself).

    Q3. C
    The main idea of the passage is that there are many different factors which contribute towards achievement motivation. It is learned in early childhood and influenced by many external factors as the child grows up.
    ‘Innate’ is the opposite of learned. If motivation is innate then that means that people are born with their achievement motivation already set. This is the opposite of what the passage is saying.

    People with high achievement motivation tend to be less likely to give up on difficult tasks. They will be more highly motivated to find a way to get the job done. In the cartoon the girl is projecting her motivation onto ‘all the kings horses’, suggesting that because they ‘couldn’t out Humpty together again’ that they did not try hard enough.
    A and C are both possibly explanations for her motivation, but we can’t definitely say which is true based solely the information in the cartoon.

    Gamsat Sample Questions

    June 5, 2012

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