Motivation and Emotion

, Volume 39, Issue 4, pp 477–488 | Cite as

Are mastery-avoidance achievement goals always detrimental? An adult development perspective

  • Corwin SenkoEmail author
  • Alexandra M. Freund
Original Paper


Achievement goal research consistently reveals that mastery-avoidance goals (i.e., striving to avoid losses) are maladaptive, especially in comparison to mastery-approach goals (i.e., striving for gains). Nearly all of it has been done with children or young adults, however. Lifespan theories of motivation posit that people in late adulthood are more likely than young adults to strive toward maintenance and loss-prevention rather than gains, and also that they sometimes profit from pursuing those goals. Integrating the two approaches, this experiment compared young and older adults’ experience and performance on a laboratory task when pursuing either mastery-approach or mastery-avoidance goals. Results show that young adults perceived the mastery-approach goal to be more attainable and therefore felt less pressure, enjoyed the task more, and performed better with it, whereas older adults showed this pattern with the mastery-avoidance goal. This matching effect replicates recent research on adult development and has broader implications for achievement goal theory and avoidance motivation in general.


Achievement goals Mastery-avoidance Gains Losses Adult age-differences 



We thank Monika Bieri and Juerg Graf for assistance in putting together the experimental materials. Financial support for this research was provided by a grant to Corwin Senko, while a Post-Doctoral researcher at the University of Zürich, from the Suzanne and Hans Biäsch Foundation for Applied Psychology.


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Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media New York 2015

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Department of PsychologyState University of New York – New PaltzNew PaltzUSA
  2. 2.Department of Psychology and University Research Priority Program, Dynamics of Healthy AgingUniversity of ZurichZurichSwitzerland

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