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Relating students' social and achievement goals.


There are many approaches to studying students' motivational belief. One approach is students' goal pursuit. Generally, two types of goals are considered, social and achievement. There has been dispute regarding the relationships between students' achievement goal orientations and their social goals. The present article correlates the constructs in one social goal model and one achievement goal model. Contrary to some previous research, it appeared that social and achievement goal orientations are separate constructs. Additionally, mastery-approach achievement goal oriented students are the most socially inclined.


Achievement motivation (the reasons why a student achieves) is a key determinant of classroom behavior and plays a critical role in academic achievement. There are a multitude of motivation theories and refinements to those theories, many definitions of motivation, and many constructs related to motivation. For example, students' beliefs about effort, ability, goal setting, and task difficulty play important roles in motivation, which in turn affect academic outcomes (e.g., Bandura, 1977; Elliot & McGregor, 2001; Weiner, 1985). These attributes of achievement are found in many theories of motivation. For example, self-efficacy theory (e.g., Bandura, 1977), attribution theory (e.g., Weiner, 1985), and goal orientation theory (e.g., Elliot & McGregor, 2001) each focus on some aspect of ability, effort, task difficulty, or goals. In this article, motivation is addressed in terms of goals.

Goal Orientations

Goal orientations are "a set of behavioral intentions that determine how students approach and engage in learning activities" (Meece, Blumenfeld, & Hoyle, 1988, p. 514). Across the past two decades, the goal orientations addressed in the achievement motivation literature have developed from a dichotomy (mastery versus performance, Dweck, 1986), to a trichotomy, (mastery, performance-approach, and performance-avoidance, Elliot & Harackiwiecz, 1996), to a quadripolar model of goal orientations (Elliot & McGregor, 2001).

The most current model of achievement goal orientations, the quadripolar model, includes an approach-avoidance distinction made for each of the mastery and performance goal orientations. Hence, there are the mastery-approach, mastery-avoidance, performance-approach, and performance-avoidance goal orientations. A mastery-approach goal orientation "represents a desire to develop competence and increase knowledge and understanding through effortful learning" (Murphy & Alexander, 2000, p. 28). The mastery-approach orientation is contrasted to the mastery-avoidance orientation, such that mastery-avoidant individuals attempt to avoid losing competency, skill, and appreciation, rather than attempting to gain it. In addition, Elliot (1999) theorizes that mastery-avoidance goal oriented individuals will avoid "self-referential or task-referential incompetence" (p. 181). Performance-approach and performance-avoidance constitute the performance goal orientations. Students characterized as performance-avoidance seek to avoid negative judgments of their performance in relation to other people (e.g., do not want to get lower grades than classmates do). This can be contrasted to the performance-approach oriented students who actively seek to gain positive judgments of their performance in relation to others (Elliot, 1999). Although the quadripolar model of motivation as goal orientations has proven useful in understanding students' achievement, Maehr (2001) argues that the approach/avoidance distinctions of mastery and performance goals do not alone account for the processes through which students engage in learning. He suggests that there are multiple ways to engage and that the additional ways ought to be considered. Consideration of goals in addition to the quadripolar model leads us to the inclusion of multiple goals, such as social goals. In the present article, social goals are examined in addition to achievement goals.

Social Goals

Social goals are cognitive representations of desired social outcomes. Social goal pursuit accounts for some variation in academic achievement outcomes (Anderman & Anderman, 1999). Social goals combined with achievement goals account for variability in academic achievement measures such as GPA (Wentzel, 1996). Success in school requires a combination of social goal pursuit and achievement goal pursuit (Wentzel, 1996). Evidence suggests that some balance between social and achievement goals is necessary to perform well academically. The relationship between social goals and other motivational constructs needs to be better established. For example, relationships with the goal orientations described above (mastery-approach, mastery-avoidance, performance-approach, and performance-avoidance)?

In the present article, social goals will be addressed using McCollum's (2005) model. Using factor analysis, McCollum (2005) identified seven dimensions of social goal pursuit of college students. His model was based on a comprehensive integration of social goals and social motivational research. In his research, the goal categories were social responsibility, social attractiveness, power, intimacy and interpersonal play, belongingness, receiving assistance, and giving advice. The dimensions are moderately intercorrelated (McCollum, 2005). Social responsibility and receiving assistance goals were positive predictors of college GPA. Additionally, the pursuit of power goals was negatively correlated with GPA. Moreover, giving advice was negatively correlated with SAT Verbal and Quantitative scores (McCollum, 2004). All of the constructs, except for power seeking, were also linked with the learning engagement constructs of peer-learning, help-seeking, and effort regulation (McCollum, 2005). This model of social goals and the social goals' correlations with GPA and learning engagement show that social goals play a role in students' achievement. This model of social goals was studied in the present article.

Social, Performance, and Mastery Goals

The distinction between social, performance, and mastery goals is unclear. The research on these constructs has led to a muddy picture of their relationships. For example, some motivational theorists defined performance and social goals the same way (see Nicholls, Patashnick, and Nolen, 1985). In addition, Meece and Holt (1993) referred to seeking to show one's ability or trying to please the teacher (a social goal), as an ego and social goal (akin to performance goals). Blumenfeld (1992) also suggested that gaining approval from teachers or parents was an achievement goal, rather than a social goal. Moreover, Farmer, Vispoel, and Maehr (1991) researched three achievement values--intrinsic/mastery (do something for its own sake), extrinsic/social approval (akin to performance) and altruism (achievements contributing to society). Again, these researchers combined the concept of performance and social goals. Also, Dweck (1986) suggested the characteristics of seeking approval or being liked were very highly related to performance goals. Anderman and Anderman (1999) found that relationship oriented social goals and social status goals were indicative of increases in performance approach goals. Furthermore, Hicks (1997) flamed social status goal orientation as highly similar to, if not the same as, a performance goal orientation.

However, there is research that contradicts the belief that students' performance and social goals are a single construct. Wentzel (1996) found a statistically non-significant correlation between social goals and performance goals. Past researchers combined blurred the distinction between performance goals and social goals. Altogether, the discrimination between performance goals and social goals is unclear. In the present article, correlations will be used to establish greater clarity between the performance goals and the multiple types of social goals in McCollum's (2005) model.

There has also been research examining the relationship between mastery goals and social goals. Anderman and Anderman (1999) found that social responsibility goals and classroom belongingness were predictive of greater mastery goal orientation. Dweck (1986) also put forward that attempts to develop close personal relationships might be akin to learning (mastery) goals. An important component of mastery orientation is the development of networks of long-lasting friends (Dweck & Leggett, 1988), which clearly reflects beliefs about prosocial behavior. Social goals may help students to achieve more fully, such that there is more in a learning situation than academic performance. The relationship between beliefs about prosocial behavior and mastery orientation may be reflective of this. In the present article, correlations will be used to establish the relationship between mastery goals and the multiple types of social goals in McCollum's (2005) model.

Research Questions

What is the relationship between social goals and achievement goal orientations? (Are the constructs separate?) Are mastery orientations more socially inclined (more belonging goals and social responsibility goals) than the other goal orientations? What are the relationships between the multiple goal types and GPA?



Participants in this study included 322 college undergraduates from a major Northeastern university. In the sample, there were 260 (80.7%) females and 62 (19.3%) males. There were 293 (91.0%) Caucasian, 17 (5.3%) Asian, six (1.9%) African American, and four Hispanic (1.2%) participants. Two (0.6%) participants did not report their race. The sample consisted of 319 (99.0%) single individuals, two (0.6%) married people, and one (0.4%) participant was separated. One hundred thirty three (41.3%) participants were first-year students, 115 (35.7%) were sophomores, 45 (14.0%) were juniors, and 29 (9.0%) were seniors. The mean age of the participants was 19.63 (SD = 1.89). All of the students in the sample were Education majors.


McCollum's (2005) Social Goals Questionnaire (SGQ) was administered along with the quadripolar achievement goal orientation measure created by Elliot and McGregor (2001). Each scale presents construct and predictive validity evidence and has good reliability. For example, each scale has a established factor structure and has been linked with academic outcomes such as GPA and SAT scores (see McCollum, 2005; Elliot & McGregor, 2001).


Participants received a packet of materials. The packet included two copies of an informed consent form--one for the participant and one for the researcher. A set of instructions for completing the questionnaires was included. In the packet were a demographic survey, the SGQ, and the quadripolar goals instrument. First, participants completed and returned the informed consent form. Next, they completed both questionnaires. Upon completion of the questionnaires, the materials were returned to the researcher. Each of 20 sessions was completed in approximately 20 to 30 minutes. The number of participants in each testing session varied.

Results and Discussion

Although some are statistically significant, all of the correlations between social goals and achievement goal orientations are low enough to warrant the conclusion that the constructs are separate, in contrast to the claims of some previous researchers. Social responsibility was correlated with mastery-approach (r = .42, p < .01), mastery-avoidance (r = .29, p < .01), and performance-approach (r = .24, p < .01), but not with performance-avoidance (r = .10, p > .05). Social attractiveness was correlated with performance approach (r = .31, p < .01) and performance-avoidance (r = .13, p < .05), but not with mastery-approach (r = .10, p > .05) or mastery-avoidance (r = .11, p > .05). Power was significantly correlated with mastery-avoidance and performance-approach, in both cases r = .12, p < .05. However, power was uncorrelated with mastery-approach (r = .06, p > .05) and performance-avoidance (r = 0, p > .05). Intimacy and interpersonal play goals did not have a significant correlation with any of the goal orientation constructs. Receiving assistance was correlated with mastery-avoidance (r = .26, p < .01), mastery-approach (r = .12, p < .05), performance-approach (r = .24, p < .01 ), and performance-avoidance (r = .19, p < .01). Belongingness was correlated with mastery-avoidance (r = .22, p < .01), mastery-approach (r = .25, p < .01), and performance-approach (r = .16, p < .01), but uncorrelated with performance-avoidance (r = .08, p > .05). Last, giving was correlated with mastery-avoidance (r = .26, p < .01), mastery-approach (r = .31, p < .01 ), performance-approach (r = .21, p < .01) and performance-avoidance (r = .27, p < .01). Overall, the largest correlation between a social goal and an achievement goal was .42--thus, based on these data, it is fair to claim that the constructs are separate. However, there are some interesting patterns in the correlations.

First, the performance orientations, both approach and avoidance, are positively correlated with social attractiveness, with the approach orientation being stronger than the avoidance orientation. Performance-approach has the highest correlation with social attractiveness. This reflects the concerns with their appearance to others that performance-oriented students have. Second, performance-avoidance is unrelated to belongingness, whereas each of the other goals orientations has a positive correlation with the belongingness measure. It appears that performance-avoidance oriented students do not want to work with others or be a good group member. Likewise, performance-avoidance is also unrelated to social responsibility, whereas all of the other goal orientations have positive correlations with the social responsibility construct. It seems that performance-avoidance oriented students, while being the weakest achievers in previous research, also appear to be the least socially inclined.

Third, in this sample, giving is positively associated with all four goal orientations. The giving nature of students in the helping professions, as those in this sample (primarily education majors), may confound this result. Mastery-approach has the highest correlations with social responsibility, belongingness and giving. That is, the social goals constructs that are most indicative of positive relationships with others are most highly associated with the mastery students who are seeking to learn and understand. This relationship between social goals that reflect working with others, was expected to be correlated with mastery goal orientations, as reflected in the claims of previous researchers--such as Anderman and Anderman (1999).

Receiving assistance is positively associated with all of the goal orientations and is significantly correlated with achievement (r = .15, p < .01)). Social responsibility and GPA were also significantly correlated (r = .14, p < .05). Power and GPA were significantly, negatively correlated (r = -.15, p < .01 ). While these correlations are significant, they are weak and generally weaker than the achievement goal orientations correlations with GPA. Mastery-avoidance (r = .15, p < .01), mastery-approach (r = .20, p < .01 ), performance-approach (r = .34, p < .01 ), and performance-avoidance (r = -.12, p < .05) are all correlated with GPA. The achievement goal orientations are a better indicator of academic achievement than are the social goals. However, as Maehr (2001) said, it may take some combination of achievement and social goal pursuit to achieve academically. Based on the results here, future research may include multiple regression studies to look at the combined predictive worth of social goals and goal orientations in determining academic achievement. Clearly, the social and achievement goal constructs are separate and each set of student cognitions plays some role in their achievement.


The primary purpose of this research was to establish the relationship between social goals and achievement goal orientations--in particular, determining if these constructs are separate. Based on the low correlations between the constructs identified in this article, the constructs are separate. A second purpose of this research was to identify the social inclination of mastery oriented students. From the correlations shown above, it appeared that mastery orientations are more socially inclined than the other goal orientations. Identifying the relationships between social goals, goal orientations and GPA was the final purpose of this study. Goal orientations especially mastery-approach and performance-approach, were more highly correlated with GPA than were social goals. Overall, the quadripolar goal orientations were separate from social goals. Mastery orientations tended to be more socially inclined than other goal orientations. Finally, quadripolar goals better predicted academic success than did social goals.


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Blumenfeld, P. C. (1992). Classroom learning and motivation: Clarifying and expanding goal theory. Journal of Educational Psychology, 84, 272-281.

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Elliot, A. J. & McGregor, H. A. (2001). A 2 x 2 achievement goal framework. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 80, 501-519.

Farmer, H. S., Vispoel, W., & Maehr, M. L. (1991). Achievement contexts: effect on achievement values and causal attributions. Journal of Educational Research, 85, 26-38.

Hicks, L. (1997). Academic motivation and peer relationships-how do they mix in an adolescent's world? Middle School Journal, 28, 18-22.

Maehr, M. L. (2001). Goal theory is not dead--not yet, anyway: A reflection on the special issue. Educational Psychology Review, 13(2), 177-185.

McCollum, D. L. (2004). Development of an integrated taxonomy of social goals. Unpublished Dissertation.

McCollum, D. L. (2005, forthcoming). College Students' Social Goals and Learning Engagement Outcomes. College Student Journal, 39.

Meece, J. L., & Holt, K. (1993). A pattern analysis of students' achievement goals. Journal of Educational Psychology, 85(4), 582-590.

Murphy, K. P., & Alexander, P. (2000). A motivated exploration of motivation terminology. Contemporary Educational Psychology, 25, 3-53.

Nicholls, J. G., Patashnick, M., & Nolen, S. B. (1985). Adolescent theories of education. Journal of Educational Psychology, 77(6), 683-692.

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Wentzel, K. R. (1996). Social and academic motivation in middle school: Concurrent and long-term relations to academic effort. Journal of Early Adolescence, 16(4), 390-406.

Daniel L. McCollum, University of Houston-Clear Lake

Daniel L. McCollum, Ph.D. is an Assistant Professor of Educational Foundations Research, in the School of Education.
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Author:McCollum , Daniel L.
Publication:Academic Exchange Quarterly
Date:Mar 22, 2005
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