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Open Access Publications from the University of California

Modeling the Relationship Between Students’ Self-Perceptions, Goals, and Achievement Motivation

  • Author(s): Christian, Melissa
  • Advisor(s): Murray, Carolyn B
  • et al.
Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivatives 4.0 International Public License

Research has shown that cognitive theories of motivation play a key role in students’ academic motivation and achievement. However, the current literature only tests limited aspects of these cognitive theories, and the findings sometimes contradict the original hypotheses. Therefore, the purpose of the present study is to test a causal model combining seven current cognitive theories of motivation – beliefs about intelligence, academic self-efficacy, goal orientation, stereotype threat, stereotype vulnerability, causal uncertainty, and self-handicapping – in terms of college students’ achievement. Such causal modeling methods are important because they allow for testing the complex conceptual model as a whole and go beyond the basic investigation of relationships between two sets of variables.

To determine the relationships between these factors, undergraduate students were chosen as the sample population because the college environment provided an ideal setting for examining the implications of these cognitive theories of motivation for achievement behaviors. Three hundred and sixty-seven undergraduates participated in an online survey designed to measure their self-perceptions of the seven cognitive factors.

Based on the hypothesized model it was predicted that: (1) theories of intelligence (entity and incremental) would directly predict academic self-efficacy, (2) academic self-efficacy would directly predict achievement goal orientations (mastery, performance-approach, and performance-avoidance), (3) performance-avoidance goals would directly predict both causal uncertainty and stereotype vulnerability, (4) stereotype vulnerability and causal uncertainty would directly predict both stereotype threat and self-handicapping, and (5) mastery goals, stereotype threat, and self-handicapping would directly predict students’ achievement (i.e. GPA). Also based on the model, it was hypothesized that theories of intelligence would indirectly predict student achievement (i.e., GPA) with academic self-efficacy, goal orientation, stereotype threat, stereotype vulnerability, causal uncertainty, and self-handicapping acting as mediators.

Results from structural equation modeling indicated that these constructs are all appropriate for predicting academic achievement in undergraduate students. Results revealed overall support for the hypothesized model with the exception of two constructs: (1) the mediating effects of academic self-efficacy on entity intelligence beliefs and performance goals, and (2) the adaptive nature of performance-approach goals.

These results, along with other findings from the present study, suggest that college students’ beliefs about intelligence, level of academic self-efficacy, goal orientation, susceptibility to stereotype and causal uncertainty, as well as their use of self-handicapping strategies, can predict students’ academic performance. Overall, the findings are consistent with those of previous studies that identified two general patterns of achievement motivation, maladaptive and adaptive, patterns, which may encompass these cognitive constructs.

One goal of examining these constructs is to better understand how to help students function and adapt to academic demands. The implications are also of applied significance to practitioners. Recognizing potential discrepancies between the broader implicit theories and the students’ personal beliefs can help in the creation of interventions and training.

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