Achievement emotions play important role in motivation

A pretty African American university woman reading at the parkResearch on motivation has focused largely on students’ achievement goals and their goal orientations, but a recent study in the Journal of Educational Psychology says achievement emotions play just as important a role.

With the exception of test anxiety, achievement emotions have been neglected in the research on motivation and academic performance, say the authors of this study. Students experience achievement emotions during task preparation and task engagement and those emotions can be predicted by students’ achievement goal orientations (e.g., a mastery orientation, a performance orientation or an avoidance orientation toward tasks), say researchers of this study of 218 undergraduates (147 females and 71 males). Together, achievement goals and orientations and achievement emotions influence students’ academic performance, they say.

“Although the two perspectives emphasize different variables as focal constructs (goals vs. emotions), they are best viewed as complementary rather than mutually exclusive,” the authors write. “When integrated, they provide a more complete portrait of psychological functioning in achievement contexts than either perspective provides alone.”

Researchers assessed students’ achievement goals one week prior to a midterm exam and achievement emotions one day before the exam. Researchers controlled for gender, social desirability, positive and negative trait affectivity, and scholastic ability with the results of other assessments.  Above and beyond cognitive ability or motivation, researchers found that emotions (boredom, anger, enjoyment, hope, pride, anxiety, hopelessness and shame) affect performance in positive or negative ways.

Some of the effects are not the predictable ones–e.g. enjoyment of learning did not predict performance, the researchers say. It may be that the enjoyment associated with a mastery goal orientation led students to de-emphasize the rote-level learning necessary for performance. Also, while negative emotions of anger and shame can depress performance, they need not always do so. For some tasks and some individuals and under some circumstances, these emotions may have a positive effect on performance.

“Achievement Goals and Achievement Emotions: Testing a Model of Their Joint Relations With Academic Performance,” by Reinhard Pekrun et al., Journal of Educational Psychology, Volume 1001, Number 1, 2009, pp. 115-135.

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