Psychological Resistance in Task Motivation and Performance
W. Curtis Banks
There exists in the domain of motivation and performance an enigmatic phenomenon that is much encountered but little acknowledged. Much work in the field of psychology implicitly alludes to it. The issue is, why is it that some individuals with sufficient ability and strong motivation nonetheless do not produce under certain supervisory conditions? The name of this phenomenon is resistance.
My students and I were led to this acknowledgment by two different streams of work: one on self-concept in Blacks, which led us to some experimentation on resistance that we refer to here; the other, a program of research on comparative motivation in children, across gender and across race. This latter stream of work helped us to realize how significant such a process might be in shaping performance orientations. It had already occurred to psychologists that oftentimes an absence of performance can occur in the presence of ability. This realization, at the time, seemed like something of an ideological (if not a theoretical) breakthrough in our thinking about minority academic success. What this led to, however, was the notion that absence of performance denotes an absence of motivation. But our research suggested this might not necessarily be the case.
We had already established ( Banks, McQuater, & Hubbard, 1977) that the new trait deficiency (deficiency of intrinsic motivation in Blacks) was invalid, through a cynical radical behaviorist twist of the concept of motivation. We argued that motivation, as a quality of the person, may not actually exist at all, that its existence is merely a figment of our language. As such, it is nothing more than the fiction we invoke to explain observations whose causes are not apparent-performance in the absence of reinforcers. This practice persists, we argued, largely because we are unaware of the acquired reinforcement properties of many of the stimulus features in task situations, chief among them the rein-