Comparing Three Models of Achievement Goals: Goal Orientations, Goal Standards, and Goal Complexes

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Achievement goal theory (Dweck, 1986) initially characterized mastery goals and performance goals as opposites in a good–bad dualism of student motivation. A later revision (Harackiewicz, Barron, & Elliot, 1998) contended that both goals can provide benefits and be pursued together. Perhaps both frameworks are correct: Their contrasting views may stem from differences in how they define performance goals. The traditional framework favors a goal orientation model in which performance goals entail demonstrating competence (“appearance goals”). The revised framework favors a goal standard model in which performance goals entail outperforming peers (“normative goals”). The present studies test whether the 2 performance goals function differently, each promoting educational outcomes that support its guiding framework’s view of performance goals. These studies also unify the earlier models through the emerging goal complex model, which assumes that the normative goal’s effects depend on students’ reasons for pursuing the goal. University students (Ns = 168 and 160) completed measures of their appearance, normative, and mastery goals; their reasons for pursuing normative goals; and several educational outcomes. When pursued for autonomous reasons (e.g., enjoyment or challenge seeking), normative goals predicted adaptive outcomes (self-efficacy and interest) and also proved more compatible with mastery goals (all ps < .05). However, when pursued for controlling reasons (e.g., rewards), normative goals behaved exactly like appearance goals, each predicting maladaptive outcomes (help avoidance and self-handicapping). These findings help resolve the long-standing debate about performance goals, showcase the goal complex model’s potential as a unifying framework, and unveil multiple new research directions.

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