Aspects of the Development of Competence

By W. Andrew Collins; Minnesota Symposia on Child Psychology | Go to book overview
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6 A Model of Mastery Motivation in Children: Individual Differences and Developmental Change

Susan Harter University of Denver

Motivational constructs have perennially been at the heart of our theorizing about human behavior. Most recently, the concept of intrinsic motivation has come into vogue. Two general approaches to this topic can be identified. Within the social-psychological camp, experimentalists such as Lepper (this volume) and Deci ( 1975) and their proponents as well as opponents have focused on a programmatic effort to examine the conditions under which extrinsic rewards undermine intrinsic motivation. In these attributional models, closely wed to a growing data base, a number of parameters that govern the relationship between extrinsic rewards and one's motivation to perform a given behavior have been identified.

One also finds the concept of intrinsic motivation in broad theoretical formulations that have focused on mastery and competence (see Deci review of these positions in his book Intrinsic Motivation, 1975). Robert White's ( 1959) classic paper, "Motivation Reconsidered: The Concept of Competence" represented a very provocative, scholarly attempt to reorient our thinking to include the concept of intrinsically motivated behavior. White did not merely urge us to find a niche for this construct, but to consider it as the very cornerstone of our theorizing about what motivated an organism to act.

White's thesis was that the traditional drive theories, as well as Freud's psychoanalytic instinct theory, were incomplete or inadequate models of both human and animal behavior. To support this contention, White culled data from such seemingly diverse sources as animal laboratory studies, Piaget's observations of infant and child development, and psychoanalytic ego psychology. In voicing his discontent with traditional drive theories of motivation, White marshaled a compelling array of evidence suggesting that

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