Are you frustrated by an underachiever in your life?
If you’ve ever wondered how your child can spend hours on the computer, but only minutes on algebra, a newly released study may have the answer. It appears that those who are “chronically uninterested in achievement” are not operating out of a desire to do badly (or secretly put family members over the top), but may simply have different goals. Ones that involve FUN.
University of Illinois psychology professor Dolores Albarracín (photo), who conducted the “chronic achievement motivation” research with William Hart, of the University of Florida, discovered that those who value excellence and hard work generally do better than others on specific tasks when they are reminded of those values. But when a task is presented as fun, the same individuals often do worse than those who say they are less motivated to achieve.
For students, these findings suggest that how a teacher or parent encourages them to strive for excellence may spur on one person to try harder, while another could become less motivated.
“Those less motivated to achieve will excel on tasks seen as fun.”
The study, presented in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, suggests that those who are motivated to achieve will perform worse when achievement messages are combined with the concept of fun. The same cues, however, seem to enhance the desire – and ability – of people who lack achievement motivation. “It’s not that those with high achievement motivation always perform better,” Albarracín said. “You can also get the low achievement motivation folks to perform better than the highs when you present a task as enjoyable and fun.”
So, the next time you gear up to give your child a pep talk on good grades, keep in mind that people who are highly motivated to achieve differ dramatically from those who aren’t in their response to messages meant to inspire them to excel.
“The competitive mindset, the achievement mindset becomes a huge de-motivator for those who don’t necessarily value excellence as much as they value their well-being,” Albarracín said. “Perhaps the reason they don’t care to do well is because they want to do something else; they want to enjoy themselves – which is not a bad goal.”