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Child Achievement and Problem-Solving: Two Experimental Studies - Happier Human
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Child Achievement and Problem-Solving: Two Experimental Studies

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What goal types are most effective for encouraging performance and happiness in children?

In this study, two personality variables and three experimental conditions were investigated. Those with a high motive to achieve success performed better and reported higher satisfaction and happiness than those with a high motive to avoid failure. In addition, those with a high motive to avoid failure reported higher anxiety and worry. As personality variables are difficult to change, while this information is interesting, it is not yet useful.

Of the three experimental conditions, those who were told to write a mastery goal did the best. Compare the mastery instructions with the performance instructions:

MasteryPerformance
‘‘The problems you have the opportunity to answer today were constructed in a way which will allow you to discover new ways and strategies to solve them if you are working carefully on them. What we are interested in is how much you improve your skills by working with this type of problem. When you have finished, you will have the opportunity to learn whether you did well and made progress toward mastering these tasks.’’‘‘The problems you have the opportunity to answer today were constructed in a way which will allow you to compare your results with others. What we are interested in is how well you perform on the tasks as compared with other sixth-graders. When you have finished, you will have the opportunity to know how well you performed compared with others.’’

However, the personality type of participants impacted the effect of goal type (performance vs. mastery). Those high in motive to achieve success performed better in the mastery than in the performance conditions, and those with a high motive to avoid failure did even worse in the performance-avoidance condition.

Study Variables

Participants – 314 Norwegian elementary school kids.

Independent Variables

Motive to Achieve Success (AMS Scale) – Extent of positive disposition towards situations where success is uncertain, “I feel pleasure working on tasks that are fairly difficult for me.”

Motive to Avoid Failure – Extent of negative disposition towards situations where success is uncertain, “I become anxious when I meet a problem I don’t understand at once.”

Performance Goal & Mastery Goal – See above.

Performance Approach Goal – Similar to the performance goal, but with the following change at the end, “[the problem-solving session will provide the opportunity] to demonstrate that you are an exceptional problem solver.’’

Performance Avoidance Goal – Similar to the performance goal, but with the following change at the end, “previous tests had indicated that most sixth-graders are fairly similar in their ability to solve problems, but that some pupils stand out because they do so poorly. Thus, the session would provide some insight into whether they were a poor problem- solver.”

Performance Goals or Mastery Goals

Outcome Variables

Performance – Participants were asked to complete anagrams and multiple choice questions (e.g. which word is the antonym?).

Satisfaction During Problem-Solving (SDPS) – A five-item, Likert scale test which measures satisfaction with having taken part of the study, e.g. “Looking back, the last half hour has been fine.

Pleasant Affect – Likert scale items which asked participants how much of each feeling they felt during the study, e.g. “happy,” “contended,” and “inspired.”

State Test Anxiety (STA) – Asks participants how they felt during the study, e.g. “I worried about getting too many answers wrong while I was solving the problems,” and “Once in a while my heart pounded hard while I was solving the problems.”

Full study here.

Bjørnebekk, G., Gjesme, T., & Ulriksen, R. (2011). Achievement motives and emotional processes in children during problem-solving: Two experimental studies of their relation to performance in different achievement goal conditions. Motivation and Emotion35(4), 351-367.

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