Agency, Communion, and Achievement Motivation

By Strage, Amy | Adolescence, Summer 1997 | Go to article overview

Agency, Communion, and Achievement Motivation


Strage, Amy, Adolescence


Current models of achievement motivation suggest links among students' beliefs about the nature of intelligence, their perceptions of themselves, their perceptions of elements within the learning context, and the sorts of achievement-related attitudes and behaviors they adopt. (See, for example, Dweck, 1991, and Dweck & Leggert, 1988, for a review.) The goal of the present study was to examine the relationship among (1) two aspects of college students' self-concept - the degree to which they reported an agentic or communion orientation (Bakan, 1966; Bem, 1974), (2) two views of intelligence they might hold - entity, where intelligence is seen as fixed and immutable, and incremental, where it is seen as the sum of what one has learned, and so it is seen as malleable (Dweck & Elliot, 1983), and (3) students' tendencies to report adopting attitudes and behaviors consistent with a mastery or learned-helpless orientation (Covington, 1984; Diener & Dweck, 1978; Diener & Dweck, 1980; Nicholls, 1984; Schunk, 1995).

Agentic and communion orientation. As originally conceptualized by Bakan (1966), individuals characterized as high in agency tend to view themselves as independent, as autonomous, as leaders. Individuals characterized as high in communion, on the other hand, tend to view themselves as of service to others, as included in or connected to the agenda at hand.

Individuals high in agency have also been shown to be more capable, and more able to succeed at new tasks, while individuals high in communion tend to be viewed more as followers needing more guidance and clearly defined goals (Bem, 1974). Fassinger has suggested a link between young women's degree of agency and their orientation toward more prestigious and less traditionally female careers (Fassinger, 1990; O'Brien & Fassinger, 1993). And in her recent work on adolescent development, Baumrind (1991) has suggested an optimal level of competence and psychosocial maturity as one in which the individual is characterized by an integration of agency and communion: someone who is capable of leadership and decision-making, someone who has well developed self-regulatory and self-monitoring abilities, someone who is able to operate constructively and in a fairly self-sufficient manner within parameters of the structure of their everyday life. Thus, for example, they should be able to simultaneously criticize and sustain an attachment to their parents. Baumrind's findings, then, suggest that an appropriate mixture of agency and communion should enable adolescents to be ideally situated to approach the challenges that face them daily.

Entity and incremental views of intelligence. A systematic and thorough program of research by Dweck and her colleagues has led to the differentiation of two views about intelligence that a learner may hold. On the one hand, learners who hold what they have termed the entity view of intelligence tend to believe that intelligence is a fixed substance, something one is born with in greater or lesser quantity. According to this view, the amount of one's intelligence does not change over time, or as a result of learning. Instead, it remains fixed and delimits what or how much one will or will not be able to master. On the other hand, learners who hold what Dweck and her colleagues have termed an incremental view of intelligence, tend to believe that one's intelligence is the sum of what one has learned. And so, one can readily continue to increase one's intelligence for an entire lifetime by continuing to study. (See, for example, Cain & Dweck, 1989; Chiu, Hong, & Dweck, 1994; Dweck, 1986; Dweck, 1989; Dweck, 1991; Dweck & Leggert, 1988; Hendersen & Dweck, 1990; and Heyman & Dweck, 1992).

Dweck and her colleagues have also linked young learners' views of intelligence to their motivational profiles: They have reported that individuals with an incremental view of intelligence tend to adopt achievement-related attitudes and behaviors that are consistent with a mastery orientation, while individuals with an entity view of intelligence tend to adopt attitudes and behaviors more consistent with a learned-helpless profile (Chiu, Hong, & Dweck, 1994; Dweck, 1986; Dweck, 1989; Dweck, 1991; Dweck & Bempechat, 1983; Henderson & Dweck, 1990; Heyman & Dweck, 1992). …

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