Motivational Processes Affecting Learning
Carol S. Dweek
University of Illinois
ABSTRACT: Motivational processes influence a child's acquisition, transfer, and use of knowledge and skills, yet educationally relevant conceptions of motivation have been elusive. Using recent research within the social-cognitive framework, Dweck describes adaptive and maladaptive motivational patterns and presents a research-based model of motivational processes. This model shows how the particular goals children pursue on cognitive tasks shape their reactions to success and failure and influence the quality of their cognitive performance. Dweck argues that this approach has important implications for practice and the design of interventions to change maladaptive motivational processes. She presents a compelling proposal for explaining motivational influences on gender differences in mathematics achievement and observes that empirically based interventions may prevent current achievement discrepancies.--The Editors Most research on effective learning and performance of cognitive tasks analyzes the particular cognitive skills required to succeed at those tasks. In contrast, the focus here is on motivational processes that affect success on cognitive tasks. That is, the focus is on psychological factors, other than ability, that determine how effectively the individual acquires and uses skills. It has long been known that factors other than ability influence whether children seek or avoid challenges, whether they persist or withdraw in the face of difficulty, and whether they use and develop their skills effectively. However, the components and bases of adaptive motivational patterns have been poorly understood. As a resuit, commonsense analyses have been limited and have not provided a basis for effective practices. Indeed, many "commonsense" beliefs have been called into question or seriously qualified by recent research--for example, the belief that large amounts of praise and success will establish, maintain, or reinstate adaptive patterns, or that "brighter" children have more adaptive patterns and thus are more likely to choose personally challenging tasks or to persist in the face of difficulty. In the past 10 to 15 years a dramatic change has taken place in the study of motivation. This change has resulted in a coherent, replicable, and educationally relevant body of findings--and in a clearer understanding of motivational phenomena. During this time, the emphasis has shifted to a social-cognitive approachwaway from external contingencies, on the one hand, and global, internal states on the other. It has shifted to an emphasis on cognitive mediators, that is, to how children construe the situation, interpret events in the situation, and process 1040
information about the situation. Although external contingencies and internal affective states are by no means ignored, they are seen as part of a process whose workings are best penetrated by focusing on organizing cognitive variables. Specifically, the social-cognitive approach has allowed us to (a) characterize adaptive and maladaptive patterns, (b) explain them in terms of specific underlying processes, and thus (c) begin to provide a rigorous conceptual and empirical basis for intervention and practice.
Adaptive and Maladaptive Motivational Patterns
The study of motivation deals with the causes of goaloriented activity (Atkinson, 1964; Beck, 1983; Dollard & Miller, 1950; Hull, 1943; Veroff, 1969). Achievement motivation involves a particular class of goals--those involving competence--and these goals appear to fall into two classes: (a) learning goals, in which individuals seek to increase their competence, to understand or master something new, and (b) performance goals, in which individuals seek to gain favorable judgments of their competence or avoid negative judgments of their competence (Dweck & Elliott, 1983; NichoUs, 1984; Nicholls & Dweck, 1979). l Adaptive...
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