What motivates someone to run a marathon, to go to university or even to become Prime Minister? These are not simple questions to answer, as there is no basic physiological need driving these behaviours. But there are many factors that motivate us to achieve, which vary with each individual.
In 1938 Henry Murray defined achievement motivation as the need for success, for doing better than others and mastering challenging tasks. We all have achievement motivation, as we all want to succeed at something, whether it is to be the best athlete in the world or to be a good mother. The individual assesses the importance of a goal, and therefore the motivation to achieve the goal.
However, in general, some people have a greater need to achieve than others. We’ll now do a little class survey to see how great your need to achieve is. So if we have a ring toss game and each of you will have to try and throw 5 rings onto the stand and there is no prize for getting them on. But you have 3 options, so think which one you would choose.
You can either stand 1 metre, 3 metres or 10 metres in front of the game to throw your rings? Who would stand 1 metre? 3 metres? 10 metres? Well, those who said 3 metres have the greatest need to achieve because if standing 1 metre away you have extremely high chances of succeeding at the task but the sense of achievement you feel will be fairly low because the task was so easy. If you are playing from 10 metres if you do succeed, the feeling of achievement will be great but it is very unlikely you will achieve your goals because the task is so difficult. If you are playing from 3 metres the task is still challenging but the chances of succeeding are still quite good. The need for achievement is highest in these people as they pursue tasks which will them allow them to succeed at the task and feel a significant level of achievement.
Some characteristics of people with a high need for achievement are that they prefer moderately difficult tasks, are attracted to careers with competition and the opportunity to excel, chose tasks with a clear outcome and prefer being personally responsible for tasks. Therefore, these people like to be in control of their own achievements and are motivated by having the opportunity to succeed at a task in the near future. It seems that our need for achievement plays a role in career choice. People with a high need for achievement are reasoned to make good business executives, as they think about getting ahead and take personal responsibility for a task succeeding. You might also think a scientist would have to be highly motivated, which may be true, but the job does not require this high need to achieve because a scientist may work on a research project for a very long time not knowing if they are on the right track and having no immediate success within sight.
Therefore, a high need for achievement would not be fulfilled easily.
Whether we have a high need to achieve or not, we all experience two main types of motivation to achieve; intrinsic and extrinsic motivation. Intrinsic motivation comes from within the individual because they enjoy or gain satisfaction from engaging in an activity. An example of intrinsic motivation is going for a run because it makes you feel good. Spence and Helmreich identified 3 facets of intrinsic motivation, these are the want for mastery at a particular task, their drive to work and competitiveness. Despite similar ability levels people motivated by mastery and the drive to work achieve more than those motivated by competitiveness, as competitiveness is more motivated by being better than others rather than the want for personal competence and growth. Intrinsic motivation leads to high achievement and motivates much creative work.
Extrinsic motivation comes from outside the individual to encourage the person to engage in an activity through the promise of reward or for avoidance of punishment. An example of extrinsic motivation is going to work because you’re going to get paid. Extrinsic motivation is not necessarily successful in causing achievement, it depends on how much the motivation means to the person. For example if someone promised you a handful of manure for getting a distinction in psychology I don’t think that would motivate you to try harder. However, if you were promised $500 for getting a distinction, I think this would motivate you, as money is something commonly valued by students. However, extrinsic motivation can have the power to undermine intrinsic motivation. People who are paid or rewarded for doing a task they had previously done for fun, often lose enjoyment or interest in the task. An experiment was done with a group of pre-school kids to test the undermining power of extrinsic motivation. A group of kids that regularly chose to draw and enjoyed it, were split into three separate groups. The first group was promised a certificate for doing a drawing, the second group got an unexpected reward when they finished drawing and the third group did drawing without any reward. A few weeks later the amount of time the kids spent drawing in their spare time was observed and the group that got the certificate for drawing spent significantly less time drawing than the other two groups.
But why, you would think they like drawing and got rewarded so they should be more enthusiastic about drawing, but its not so. The critical factor influencing this is how they perceived their motivation for drawing. The children who got no reward or an unexpected reward drew because they liked doing it. However, the group who got promised the reward most probably perceived that they did the task for the reward. Therefore, decreasing their intrinsic motivation and enjoyment for drawing.
Although so far we have discussed the negative aspects of extrinsic motivation, it can be powerful in motivating achievement if used to reward or provide feedback about someone’s performance. This usually enhances the person’s enjoyment and motivates them to continue achieving at that task. For example, if you get back an assignment and it has some positive comments and constructive criticism from your tutor, you are likely to use this feedback to improve your achievement next time. However, if extrinsic motivation is used to control behaviour it usually is not successful in motivating long-term achievement. If you are paid to clean the house once, it is unlikely you will clean the house for your own satisfaction at another time. Both extrinsic and intrinsic motivation influence our achievements and decisions within our lives.
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