Highly competent children often do not display patterns of achievement motivation (Phillips, 1987). Research has shown that a child's perception of his or her competence is a better indicator of achievement motivation than the reality of his or her ability. (Bandura, 1977; Covington, 1984; Nicholls, 1982, Weiner, 1979). Not only does the child influence his achievement motivation but teachers and parents have a significant impact and influence on how the child views his or her abilities.
Research illustrating this theory of perception on achievement motivation has focused on highly skilled children who perceive their abilities as less than they are. Self-perception shows itself in factors of underachievement, low standards and learned helplessness. These children, although highly skilled, generally underachieve, hold themselves to lower standards and exhibit forms of learned helplessness because they see their abilities lower than what they actually are. Measelle, Ablow, & Cowan found that math and reading scores were related to the child's perception of their academic competence, showing underachievement in these talented children (1998). In addition, these children often have a self-protective strategy in which they have high standards of what they think they should be doing, but perceive their ability to be low and therefore choose less challenging tasks than their ability level would indicate and in so doing lower their expectations of what they can reasonable achieve. (Phillips, 1984; Harter, 1983). Also, John Weisz studied children's learned helplessness and discovered that when children perceive their skills negatively they will attribute their success to effort or luck rather than skill. (1979, 1981; Phillips, 1984).
Not only do children's perceptions of themselves influence achievement motivation, but teachers and parents, specifically mothers, have a considerable influence on a child's perception and motivation. A 1984 study found...
References: Bandura, Albert. (1977). Self-efficacy: Toward a unifying theory of behavioral change. Psychological Review, 84, 191-215.
Harter, Susan. (1983). Competence as a dimension of self-evaluation: Toward a comprehensive model of self-worth. In R. Leahy (ed.), The development of the self. New York: Academic Press.
Madon, Stephanie, Smith, Allison, & Jussim, Lee
Nicholls, John G. (1982). Conceptions of ability and achievement motivation. In R Ames & C. Ames (eds), Research in motivation in education: Student motivation. New York: Academic Press.
Phillips, Deborah A. (1987). Socialization of perceived academic competence among highly competent children. Child Development, 58(5), 1308-1320.
Phillips, Deborah A. (1984). The illusion of incompetence among academically competent children. Child Development, 55(6), 2000-2016.
Weiner, Barbara. (1979). A theory of motivation for some classroom experiences. Journal of Educational Psychology, 72, 861-865.
Weisz, John. (1979). Perceived control and learned helplessness among mentally retarded and nonretarded children: A developmental analysis. Developmental Psychology 15(3), 311-319.
Weisz, John. (1981). Illusory contingency in children at the state fair. Developmental Psychology 17(4), 481-489.
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