Goals Perspective Theory
Maehr & Nicholls (1980) defined three types of achievement motivation: ability-orientated motivation, task-orientated motivation and social approval-orientated motivation. Ability-orientated motivation is when ‘the goal of the behavior is to maximize the subjective probability of attributing high ability to oneself’ (Maehr and Nicholls 1980). Sometimes this is referred to as egoorientation.
In task-orientation motivation, according to Maehr and Nicholls (1980), ‘the primary goal is to produce an adequate product or to solve a problem for its own sake rather than to demonstrate
ability’. The third goal, social approval-orientated motivation is defined in terms of demonstration of conformity to norms or virtuous intent.
The first two are dependent on how people construe competence. In task-orientation cues are effort and task completion and hence self-referenced but with ego-orientation competence is usually judged relative to others and ability and effort are differentiated as causes of outcomes. This is an externally referenced view. The orientation affects not only attitude to goals, but also the nature of the goals that are set.
It is useful to understand the relationship between an individual’s goal orientation and their intrinsic/extrinsic motivational constructs, and their perception of ability, and its relative necessity. Underlying belief structures and goal behaviour will be affected by and will affect situational achievement. Also, task and ego orientation are not mutually exclusive. An individual may be generally high in one and low in the other, or high in both or low in both. Similarly with contextual or situational motivation any combination is possible, and variable.
Research has shown that high task orientation is positive, whether combined with high ego-orientation or not. Studies have been undertaken to discover where orientation is developed, but for our purposes this is of less interest than knowing how to ascertain what orientations are, and how to work with these to increase motivation.