For over a decade Argentina has been going through an economic and social crisis that reached its climax between 1999 and 2002. Adolescents are among those affected by it, as educators point out. They have noted a general lack of motivation, especially regarding school tasks, absence of guidance and uncertainty about the future, a marked "live-in-the-present" attitude associated with diminished capacity for delayed gratification, and lack of perseverance and capacity for effort. Undoubtedly this situation is closely related to adolescents' possibility of conceiving life goals capable of sustaining present action and providing it with meaning.
Contemporary motivation research provides valid answers to teachers' questions about how to intervene effectively in this respect. Two important theoretical approaches stand out in the literature of the last four decades: (1) achievement motivation theory (Atkinson, 1966), and (2) future time perspective theory. The former explains motivation as a function of the value of what is aimed at and the individual's expectations of success. Both have been abundantly explored, giving rise to various theoretical constructs. These relate to goal value (Wigfield & Eccles, 1992; Eccles & Wigfield, 1995), to the different types of goals--learning goals, performance goals (Dweck, 1986), task or ego-involved goals (Nichols, 1984), mastery goals (Ames & Archer, 1988)--and to the role of beliefs in expectations of success (Wolters & Pintrich, 1996). This last factor originates in the locus of control concept (Rotter, 1966) and attribution theory (Weiner, 1984). The latter has led to the exploration of causality judgements about the results of a person's own actions, considering them as variables of the motivational process that condition expectations and self-regulation processes. Future time perspective theory stems from Lewin's (1935) psychology, according to which human behavior integrates into the present both the past and the future, which is the site of plans and goals. The relationship between the purposiveness of human behavior and its time horizon is discussed by Fraisse (1963) and Nuttin (1953), whose theory of human personality centers on the recognition of the role of time, especially the future dimension.
This perspective has guided our experimental work, since we believe it can provide an answer to the problem of motivation. In raising the issue of adolescents' motivational crisis we must consider an objective pole, i.e., an object-goal, and a subjective pole encompassing the processes through which the goal is conceived. The nature of these processes is both dynamic and cognitive insofar as the individual is required to discern the intrinsic worth of the goal in order to be moved to pursue it and carry on in spite of difficulties. Nuttin (1973) puts cognitive processes in their rightful place as a condition of goal-setting. He also provides a sound theoretical basis for classifying goals according to their objective content. In his relational theory of motivation he includes the most valuable contributions of contemporary cognitive psychology, considering them within the broader framework of a humanist conception of behavior. This is essentially characterized by its orientation toward goals that are the outcome of cognitive need-processing, which he calls "purposiveness."
The basic motivational phenomenon is "the active, persistent and selective orientation characterizing behavior" (Nuttin, 1973). Motivation is defined not only by tendency arousal, but also by its orientation, and therefore by the intervention of the cognitive function, because the goal should be cognitively and volitionally anticipated as intention.
Therefore, although needs account for tendency activation, tendencies are guided by knowledge: the goal-development process is crucial to motivation, just as knowledge of the results of one's action is crucial to setting new goals. …