Doing better (or worse) than one's parents: Social status, mobility, and performance-avoidance goals

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Previous research has shown that, when succeeding in higher education, first-generation (FG) students endorse more performance-avoidance goals (i.e., the fear of performing poorly) than continuing-generation (CG) students.


In this study, individual mobility is examined as a predictor of performance-avoidance goal endorsement. It is argued that FG students endorse more these goals than CG students because in higher education, the former (but not the latter) experience upward mobility. In addition, CG can also be at risk of endorsing these goals when they are confronted with downward mobility.


Two studies were conducted with psychology students (N = 143 in Study 1; N = 176 in Study 2).


In Study 1, FG and CG students’ perceived upward mobility was measured. In Study 2, FG and CG students were provided with a feedback that suggested either upward or downward mobility. In both studies, participants reported their level of performance-avoidance goal endorsement.


Results from Study 1 supported an indirect effect of status on performance-avoidance goals via a higher perception of upward mobility. Results from Study 2 supported that psychology students who face mobility (i.e., FG students who received better feedback than their usual level of performance, CG students who received worse feedback than their usual level of performance) increased their performance-avoidance goals the most.


Taken together, the results of these studies support that one's actual social position and, even more, the social position one is about to reach are reliable predictors of performance-avoidance goals.

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