Achievement Motivation

3/13/2020 PSY105 & PSY101 – Page 7.4 – Achievement Motivation 1/3


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Achievement Motivation

What is achievement motivation?

Some motives seem to have little obvious survival value. Billionaires may be motivated to make ever more money, reality TV stars to attract ever more social media followers, politicians to achieve ever more power, daredevils to seek ever greater thrills. Such motives seem not to diminish when they are fed. The more we achieve, the more we may need to achieve. Psychologist Henry Murray (1938) defined achievement motivation as a desire for significant accomplishment, for mastering skills or ideas, for control, and for attaining a high standard.

The point to remember People with high achievement motivation do achieve more.

Thanks to their persistence and eagerness for challenge, people with high achievement motivation do achieve more. One study followed the lives of 1,528 California children whose intelligence test scores were in the top 1 percent. Forty years later, when researchers compared those who were most and least successful professionally, they found a motivational difference. Those most successful were more ambitious, energetic, and persistent. As children, they had more active hobbies. As adults, they participated in more groups and sports (Goleman, 1980). Gifted children are able learners. Accomplished adults are tenacious doers. Most of us are energetic doers when starting and when finishing a project. It’s easiest—have you noticed?—to get stuck in the middle. That’s when high achievers keep going (Bonezzi et al., 2011).

Multiple-Choice Question

Which of the following is TRUE of people with high achievement motivation?

They have more talent than discipline. They do more and achieve more. They start many tasks without finishing them. They are more stressed and less happy.



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Correct. People high in achievement motivation are not simply more motivated by their goals; they’re more likely to set higher goals and reach them.

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In other studies of both secondary school and university students, self-discipline has surpassed intelligence test scores to better predict school performance, attendance, and graduation honors. When combined with positive enthusiasm, sustained effort predicts success for teachers, too—with their students making good academic progress (Duckworth et al., 2009). For school performance, “discipline outdoes talent,” concluded researchers Angela Duckworth and Martin Seligman (2005, 2006).

Discipline also refines talent. By their early twenties, top violinists have accumulated thousands of lifetime practice hours—in fact, double the practice time of other violin students aiming to be teachers (Ericsson, 2001, 2006, 2007). A study of outstanding scholars, athletes, and artists found that all were highly motivated and self-disciplined, willing to dedicate hours every day to the pursuit of their goals (Bloom, 1985). As child prodigies illustrate (think young Mozart composing at age 8), native talent matters, too (Hambrick & Meinz, 2011; Ruthsatz & Urbach, 2012). In sports, music, and chess, for example, people’s practice-time differences, while significant, account for a third or less of their performance differences (Hambrick et al., 2014a,b; Macnamara et al., 2014). Superstar achievers are, it seems, distinguished both by their extraordinary daily discipline and by their extraordinary natural talent.

Duckworth and Seligman have a name for this passionate dedication to an ambitious, long-term goal: grit. When combined with self-control (regulating one’s attention and actions in the face of temptation), gritty goal-striving can produce great achievements. “If you want to look good in front of thousands,” the saying goes, “you have to outwork thousands in front of nobody.”

The point to remember Achievement involves much more than raw ability.

Although intelligence is distributed like a bell curve, achievements are not. That tells us that achievement involves much more than raw ability. That is why organizational psychologists seek ways to engage and motivate ordinary people doing ordinary jobs. And that is why training students in hardiness—resilience under stress—leads to better grades (Maddi et al., 2009).

Multiple-Choice Question



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According to psychological research, which of the following is MOST important for academic achievement?

raw talent intelligence self-discipline vocabulary

Correct. Self-discipline is a more reliable gauge of academic performance than intelligence or talent are. If someone has a natural gift for math but lacks the discipline to apply that talent, he or she will likely be outdone by someone with less skill but more dedication.

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