Achievement Goal Theory refers to an area of psychological research devoted to studying our motivation to achieve goals. It is particularly focused on situations where the activities we do are evaluated in terms of success or failure in comparison with others. This could be at work, school or on the sports field.
There are two key components of Achievement Goal Theory. Task orientation and Ego orientation.
An individual who is task orientated is motivated by personal success and improvements on their previous efforts. Their aim is to develop competence in a given area and they define their success or failure in terms of how well they applied themselves.
Someone who is ego orientated is motivated by how well they outperform others. They aim to demonstrate confidence in front of others and define their success or failure on their perception of their ability. These differences are often documented in the behaviour of athletes.
It is possible to be motivated by both at the same time. People who have a high level of both task and ego driven motivation often have the best results. In other words, they are motivated both by their desire for self improvement and by performing better than their peers. Those with high task and low ego motivation can also perform very well. However those with low levels of both tend to perform more poorly and be more critical of themselves.
The motivational climate is also considered in Achievement Goal Theory. The environment and people around us at the time can have a huge influence on the outcome of our goals. For example children from households where they are encouraged to be self-directed and intrinsically motivated tend to have more success as adults. However children who are surrounded by negative influences tend to lack self-confidence and may end up more extrinsically motivated.
Achievement Goal Theory also looks at the difference between being motivated by approaching a positive situation and avoiding a negative one. For example, a student might be energized by the thought of completing their course whereas another student might cram at the last minute to avoid failing.
Our goals guide our beliefs and resulting behaviour. They determine our level of engagement (how much time and effort we choose to put in) and whether we respond to the results in a positive or negative way. We approach goals with different plans of action that reflect our personal beliefs about the goals. These then affect our subsequent success or failure.