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

By David Messer | Go to book overview

manipulative powers when exploring non-instinct-driven contingencies, human care-givers provide their infants with salient and rich contingency experiences. Long before human infants can produce behaviour-event contingencies themselves, they are integrated in manifold contingencies with their caretakers’ behaviour. This gives rise to an early evolution of generalized contingency awareness, the developmental precursor of mastery motivation. On the basis of generalized contingency expectation, the infant will strive for action-contingent outcomes, and in doing this is scaffolded by the adult caregiver. During the first half of the second year, the caretaker will extend the emotional appreciation of joint goal attainments from sheer enjoyment of action effects to a positive evaluation of the child’s competence, thus adding a secondary motive to primary control. Becoming aware of one’s own competence as a categorical feature is the source of autonomously motivated behaviour. The anticipation of a positive evaluation of oneself after success becomes a major motivator of mastery behaviour, and thereby sets the individual free from extrinsic gratifications or indeed social scaffolding. However, the evolution of a concept of one’s own competence also has its costs. Repeated failure experiences at this stage may have long-term detrimental consequences for future mastery behaviour. Therefore, ‘secondary control strategies’ are required for buffering self-esteem against losses in primary control. These strategies are directed to the internal world (goals, attributions, evaluations) rather than the external one. They help the child, for instance, to find self-defensive attributions for failure, rearrange his or her goal hierarchy and level of aspiration, and make comparisons with similar or less fortunate others. Individual preferences for particular secondary control strategies may result from the different socialization of adult caretakers. Such preferences may have long-term consequences, in that they could promote or damage the development of primary control and mastery. The evolution of individual preferences for certain control strategies and their long-term impact on mastery across the life span should become a key interest of life-span developmental research.


REFERENCES

a
Alloy, L.B. and Abramson, L.Y. (1979) ‘Judgement of contingency in depressed and non-depressed students: sadder but wiser?’, Journal of Experimental Psychology 108, 441-85.
Altshuler, J.L. and Ruble, D.N. (1989) ‘Developmental changes in children’s awareness of strategies for coping with uncontrollable stress’, Child Development 60, 1337-49.

b
Band, E.B. and Weisz, J.R. (1988) ‘How to feel better when it feels bad: children’s perspectives on coping with everyday stress’, Developmental Psychology 24, 247-53.

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