Perceived Instrumentality and Academics: The Link to Task Valuing

By Miller, Raymond B.; DeBacker, Teresa K. et al. | Journal of Instructional Psychology, December 1999 | Go to article overview
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Perceived Instrumentality and Academics: The Link to Task Valuing


Miller, Raymond B., DeBacker, Teresa K., Greene, Barbara A., Journal of Instructional Psychology


We examined the theoretical claim that personally valued future goals serve to increase the incentive value of proximal tasks when those proximal tasks are perceived as instrumental to attainment of the future goals. The relationships between 180 college students' perceptions of the incentive value of course work and their beliefs that course performance was instrumental was examined with a 51-item survey that measured learning goals, performance goals, perceived instrumentality, intrinsic valuing and extrinsic valuing. Consistent with the theoretical claim, regression analyses indicated that perceived instrumentality was a significant predictor of both intrinsic and extrinsic valuing, even when controlling for learning and performance goals. Also consistent with theory, performance goals were found to have no reliable relationship to perceived instrumentality. These findings support the important role played by students' perceptions of the connection between academic tasks and their valued future goals, and suggest that facilitating perceptions of the instrumentality of school work may be critical to fostering increased proximal motivation for academics.

Key words: achievement motivation: achievement goals; task valuing; perceived instrumentality

The purpose of the present study was to determine whether students' perceptions of the incentive value of course work were related to their beliefs that course performance was instrumental to the attainment of personally valued future goals. The rationale behind this study lies in an extension of the social cognitive perspective of self-regulation proposed by Bandura (1986, 1991). Bandura (1986) has characterized self-regulation as involving three component processes: (a) self-observation or behavioral monitoring, (b) self-evaluation of progress or self-judgment, and (c) self-reaction, including both affective and tangible self-initiated consequences. The operation of each of these components occurs in response to an individual's commitment to pursue a valued outcome. The anticipated outcome is hypothesized to provide an incentive for task initiation and engagement in self-regulation. It is this theoretical claim that is the focus of our investigation.

In the social cognitive account of self-regulation the ideal goals are characterized as proximal or relatively close at hand (Bandura, 1986; Locke & Latham, 1990). Yet other theorists have placed personally valued, distant (future) goals at the center of their thinking about motivation and action (Markus & Nurius, 1986; Nuttin, 1984, 1985; Raynor & Entin, 1982). Like them, we believe future goals serve at least two important functions which tend to be overlooked in much of the current research on motivation: (1) future goals provide the impetus for the formation of systems of proximal subgoals; and (2) future goals represent important incentives for present action, but only when current tasks are perceived as instrumental to attainment of those future goals.

The future goals to which we refer are the self-relevant, self-defining goals that govern important aspects of peoples lives. These goals include, but are not limited to, important personal aspirations such as earning specific educational degrees, striving for a career, developing intimate relationships, making a contribution to society, and becoming an educated person (Cantor & Kihlstrom, 1987; Nurmi, 1991). They are future-oriented in that successful performance on the current task will not, in itself, produce the desired consequence. In fact some goals, such as becoming educated or making a contribution to society, may have open ended futures in which the ultimate goal is never fully reached (Emmons, 1989). Others have referred to such future-oriented goals as life tasks (Cantor & Kihlstrom, 1987), personal strivings (Emmons, 1989), current concerns (Klinger, 1977), personal projects (Little, 1987), possible selves (Markus & Nurius, 1986), future consequences (Miller, Greene, Montalvo, Ravindran, & Nichols, 1996); and behavioral projects (Nuttin, 1985).

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