In several influential papers, Robert White (1959, 1963) offered a critique of traditional drive theories of motivation and conceptualized the existence of an intrinsic drive to engage and control the environment. This drive toward competence, which he termed effectance motivation, sparked efforts to operationalize the concept and to develop an appropriate methodology, beginning in the early 1970s. Some preliminary studies of effectance motivation in school-aged children were conducted in the early 1970s by Susan Harter and colleagues (Harter 1975; Harter and Zigler 1974), but it was not until the late 1970s that a concerted effort was made to operationalize the concept and develop a methodology appropriate for the study of the motivational characteristics of young infants. The results of these efforts, with normally developing hearing infants and with developmentally delayed hearing infants, served to validate a methodology by showing moderate relationships to standardized measures of competence (Messer et al. 1986; Yarrow et al. 1983), and by linking parental behaviours to their infant’s motivation to master the environment (Jennings et al. 1979; McCarthy and McQuiston 1983; Yarrow et al. 1982, 1984).
Two aspects of this series of investigations are relevant here. First, their primary focus was on the infants’ motivation to explore the inanimate environment, with relatively little attention paid to social motivation or socially mediated expressions of motivated behaviour. Second, the focus of the validation studies employed samples of infants with known or suspected cognitive and/or physical impairments.
The infant’s early experience with the social environment is considered to be the foundation upon which subsequent developmental competence is built. Over the years, a rich literature has been developed which charts the infant’s acquisition of social skills, their correlates, and consequences of variations in the social environment on later development. Despite this background, the social facets of mastery motivation have been addressed only infrequently. Although the situation in which mastery motivation was assessed minimized social interaction with the tester and