While mastery motivation during child and adulthood may be viewed as differentiated into various motives, this differentiation is not thought to occur until post-infancy (Dweck and Elliot 1983; White 1959). Hence, infant mastery motivation has traditionally been considered to be a global individual characteristic. Given the predominance of this global viewpoint it is not surprising that research on infant mastery motivation has focused primarily on object-mastery behaviours (e.g. Jennings et al. 1979; Yarrow et al. 1975, 1982, 1983, 1984).
In terms of alternative types of mastery motive, Harter (1981) has proposed that mastery motivation should be examined separately in the cognitive, social and physical domains. While Harter was speaking primarily about school-aged children, Wachs and Combs (in press) have argued that separate social and object dimensions of mastery motivation are also identifiable during infancy. Their argument is based on evidence suggesting that early object and social mastery motivation have independent developmental courses, independent developmental correlates and independent environmental predictors. While existing evidence suggests that mastery motivation is differentiated into social and object mastery during infancy, the strength of this evidence is limited by ambiguity in the measurement and conceptualization of the social mastery construct. These ambiguities are considered in the following sections.
MacTurk et al. (1985) defined social mastery motivation as ‘the motivation to generate, maintain, and influence the course of social interactions’, while Wachs (1987) defined it as the persistence of children’s attempts to obtain adult attention. Common to both definitions are measures of the amount of social interaction that a toddler displays in a standard situation. The greater the amount of social interaction, the higher the judged level of social mastery motivation. The relation of context to this type of behaviour is not yet clear.