Mastery Motivation in Early Childhood: Development, Measurement, and Social Processes

By David Messer | Go to book overview

Chapter 1

Mastery motivation

An introduction to theories and issues

David J. Messer

Motivation to achieve and to improve skills is an important characteristic of our and other species. One can think of many vignettes of young organisms struggling to master problems: the young fledgling flapping its wings, jumping and hopping in its attempts to start to fly; the baby pulling herself or himself up on to chairs in the first attempts to start to walk, or the concentration and sometimes frustration of the toddler attempting to solve a puzzle. In all cases there is a strong motive directing behaviour, and the motive is not related to any immediate physical reward. Instead, the mastery of the task appears to be a reward in itself. The fascination of this type of behaviour provides the basis for the present volume.

The first section of this chapter provides an historical perspective about the growth of interest in mastery motivation. The classic papers by White, Hunt, Harter and others are outlined and discussed; differences between the formulations are highlighted. The second section considers more recent advances in the study of mastery motivation which are considered in the contributions to this volume.


THE GROWTH OF INTEREST IN MASTERY MOTIVATION

A number of terms have been used to refer to children’s motivation to achieve objectives: mastery motivation, intrinsic motivation, competence motivation and, with older children, achievement motivation. These terms sometimes have been used interchangeably, but different perspectives can be identified within the literature. For this reason I will describe the ways in which these terms have been employed and consider distinctions between them. In doing so, I will outline the theories of White, Hunt, Harter and Yarrow. Particular attention is paid to four issues: the conceptualizations of the goal-directed nature of motivation, the description of the relationship between intrinsic and extrinsic sources of motivation, the relationship between motivation and cognition, and the types of behaviour influenced by motivation.

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