, Volume 32, Issue 4, pp 310-322
Date: 09 Sep 2008

Challenge seeking: The relationship of achievement goals to choice of task difficulty level in ego-involving and neutral conditions

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Abstract

We investigated Nicholls’ (Psychol Rev 91:328–346, 1984) predictions concerning the impact of achievement goals (manipulated and measured) on risk-taking behavior. Participants were given ego-involving or neutral instructions and chose the difficulty levels for 10 nonverbal cognitive problems they performed. Consistent with Nicholls’ prediction, a moderate level of difficulty was initially preferred following neutral instructions. In contrast, following ego-involving instructions, women tended to select a lower level of difficulty and men a higher level of difficulty, reflecting the fact that men reported higher levels of perceived ability than women. Endorsements of mastery- and performance-approach goals were generally positively related to the levels of difficulty selected across trials. Endorsement of performance-avoidance goals was negatively related to the levels of difficulty selected, but the relationship diminished in later trials. During the later trials, participants given ego-involving instructions selected higher levels of difficulty than those given neutral instructions and men selected higher levels of difficulty than women.

An earlier version of this manuscript was presented at the Annual Meeting of the Society for Industrial and Organizational Psychologists, Los Angeles, CA, 2005.