Achievement Goal Theory

Articles > Motivation > Achievement Goal Theory
Achievement goals are competence-based aims that individuals target in evaluative settings, i.e. in sport. Originally, two distinctive achievement goals were identified based on the definition of personal competence: task and ego goals (Nicholls 1984; Nicholls 1989) or, in other words, mastery and performance goals (Dweck 1986; Dweck & Leggett 1988).

Specifically, task (mastery) goals reflect perceived competence in terms of absolute evaluative standards or task mastery. When someone is task-involved, her primary goal is learning and mastery of the task for its own sake. Task involvement appears when the athlete is intrinsically interested in the activity and judges herself in a self-referenced manner. Therefore, task oriented goals rely on comparisons with requirements of the task and/or internal comparisons with one’s past attainment or one’s maximum potential attainment. There is a focus on effort and improvement.

Ego (performance) goals reflect competence perception relative to the performance of others. Therefore, ego oriented athletes define their competence in terms of interpersonal and normative comparisons.

These two goal orientations determine different consequences in achievement context. In general, task orientation is regarded as more adaptive than ego orientation. Task orientation is related to selection of challenging tasks, effective study strategies, positive attitudes toward learning, and positive emotions, whereas quite often ego orientation is associated with selection of easier tasks, trivial learning strategies, concern for social status, and thoughts of escape and behavioral withdrawal when difficulties are encountered (Dweck & Leggett 1988; Biddle, Wang, & Kavussanu, 2003; Kaplan & Maehr 2007; Bortoli, Bertollo, Comani, & Robazza, 2011). However, if high perceived competence is combined with high task orientation, then ego orientation supports positive achievement outcomes (Fox, Goudas, Biddle, Duda, & Armstrong, 1994; Standage & Treasure 2002; Xiang, McBride, Bruene, & Liu, 2007).



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