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

By David Messer | Go to book overview

Chapter 3

Mastery motivation and the formation of self-concept from infancy through early childhood

Kay Donahue Jennings

Mastery motivation is a major impetus in the formation of children’s early self-concept. In the self-concept literature, a fundamental distinction is made between the self as actor and the self as an object to be known by others and evaluated. This distinction is frequently referred to as ‘the I’ and ‘the me’ (Harter 1983; James 1890; Lewis and Brooks-Gunn 1979). It is through acting upon the environment that the infant becomes aware of the self as agent, which is one of the first steps in self-concept formation (the self as ‘I’); this begins in the first year of life. The self as ‘me‘ develops later—beginning in the second year of life.

Mastery motivation is concerned with infants’ active attempts to interact with the world. This chapter examines how infants’ experiences prompted by mastery motivation affect the construction of self-concept, and, conversely, how the development of self-concept affects the expression of mastery motivation.

The chapter places mastery motivation in a broader theoretical context than is usually considered. It begins with brief overviews of the constructs of self-concept and mastery motivation. These constructs are usually viewed in isolation; instead, the focus here is on the overlap and relationship between the two. Models are presented that graphically illustrate the interplay of self-concept and mastery motivation in development. These models change with age, and possible mechanisms of change are presented.


OVERVIEW OF SELF-CONCEPT

The self as actor or subject—the ‘I’

This aspect of self has been described as the existential self (Lewis and Brooks-Gunn 1979) or executive self (e.g. Kagan 1981) because the ‘I’ directly perceives and acts upon the environment and directly experiences the results of interaction. It is the ‘I’ that knows, feels, wants and does. As Epstein (1991) describes, scientific study of the ‘I’ has been problem-

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