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

By David Messer | Go to book overview

Chapter 4

The development of mastery and its perception within caretaker-child dyads

Jutta Heckhausen

This chapter discusses the early development of mastery in infancy in the light of a new life-span model of primary and secondary control. Mastery of behaviour-event contingencies, that is primary control, is conceived as a fundamental concern in human functioning. The striving for and development of primary control are promoted by self-evaluative aspects of mastery motivation. However, self-evaluation in case of repeated failure can also endanger basic motivational and emotional resources, and thus jeopardize primary control. In order to buffer such detrimental effects of failure, the individual needs self-protective strategies of secondary control, which probably start evolving in childhood.

Within this conceptual framework, the chapter is focused on three issues. First, the functional significance of mastery motivation for effective action regulation is discussed from a phylogenetic and ontogenetic viewpoint. Second, the role of social interactions with caretakers in the early development of action and mastery motivation is examined. Relevant findings from a longitudinal study on task-centred interactions of 1-2-year-old infants and their caretakers are reported and discussed. Third, research perspectives for the evolution of strategies to cope with failure are presented in view of the concept of secondary control.


FUNCTIONAL SIGNIFICANCE OF MASTERY MOTIVATION

To strive for mastery is a fundamental human predisposition. Its phylogenetic roots lie in the need for competence, comprising non-consummatory drives for exploration, activity and particularly manipulation, which have been identified in various mammal and even submammal species (White 1959). An abundance of studies employing operant conditioning paradigms demonstrated that various mammal species prefer behaviour-event contingencies to event-event contingencies, even when consummatory responses are prevented or not involved (see review by White 1959). Chimpanzees will spend more time with objects that can be moved, changed and made to emit sounds and light than with other

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