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Goal Internalization and Outcome Expectancy in Adolescent Anxiety


Anxiety has been conceptualized in terms of increased avoidance motivation and higher expectancies of undesirable outcomes. However, anxiety research has hitherto not examined an important qualitative aspect of motivation: the degree to which reasons for goal pursuit are experienced as controlling and originating outside the core self. We asked 70 adolescents (34 boys, 36 girls; aged 16–18 years) to list their important approach and avoidance goals, and rate the extent to which they pursued each goal for intrinsic, identified, introjected and external reasons. Participants also rated goal importance, expectancies for goal outcomes, and completed an anxious symptom measure. Broadly in line with predictions, anxiety was significantly associated with introjected reasons for pursuing approach goals and external reasons for pursuing avoidance goals but not with autonomous reasons for goal pursuit. As predicted, anxiety was significantly associated with heightened expectancies of undesirable avoidance goal outcomes, but not with expectancies for desirable approach goal outcomes. Results suggest that the salient role of avoidance-based motivation in anxiety extends to introjected reasons underlying approach goal pursuit. Our findings point to the theoretical and clinical importance of addressing controlled reasons for goal pursuit in adolescent anxiety.

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    Some researchers (e.g., Koestner et al. 2008) have created autonomous and controlled motivation composites by aggregating over the intrinsic and identified items to create an index of autonomous motivation and aggregating over the introjected and external items to create an index of controlled motivation. When we did this, anxiety symptoms were significantly associated with greater controlled motivation for both approach (r = 0.34, p = 0.004) and avoidance (r = 0.33, p = 0.006) goals, whereas anxiety symptoms were not significantly associated with autonomous motivation for either approach (r = 0.08) or avoidance (r = 0.11) goals.


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We would like to thank Professor Glen Bates for supporting this research. Nicholas J. Moberly was supported by a research fellowship from the Economic and Social Research Council (RES-063-27-0254).

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Correspondence to Joanne M. Dickson.

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Dickson, J.M., Moberly, N.J. Goal Internalization and Outcome Expectancy in Adolescent Anxiety. J Abnorm Child Psychol 41, 389–397 (2013). https://doi.org/10.1007/s10802-012-9685-9

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  • Anxiety
  • Avoidance
  • Goals
  • Expectancies
  • Self-regulation
  • Motivation