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When and why performance goals predict exploitation behaviors: An achievement goal complex analysis of the selection function of assessment


We adopted an achievement goal complex framework (studying achievement goals and reasons connected to goals) to determine when and why performance goals predict exploitation of others’ knowledge. We hypothesized that: (i) when selective assessment is used (exams aiming to select a limited number of individuals), the link between performance goals and exploitation orientation is stronger; (ii) the reason why is that selective assessment fosters performance goals regulated by controlled reasons. Study 1 (N = 166) supported these hypotheses in a “real world” environment, comparing students enrolled in programs using non-selective versus selective assessment (but having a majority of common courses). Then, an experimental causal-chain-like design was used. In Study 2 (N = 187), presenting an intelligence test as selective (vs. [self-]evaluative) predicted controlled reasons connected to performance goals. In Study 3 (N = 192), inducing performance goals using controlling (vs. autonomy-supportive) language predicted exploitation orientation, indirectly impairing information-sharing behaviors. The results contribute to the understanding of both the structural antecedents and interpersonal consequences of achievement goal complexes.

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  1. 1.

    Study 1 was part of a student research project. For pedagogical reasons, students were encouraged to proposed their own ideas of variables to add to the questionnaire. Self-efficacy, social dominance goals, and reciprocity orientation (i.e., confidence that others will provide one with good information) were therefore additionally assessed. As these variables are not directly relevant to our research question, they are not included in the main analysis. For the sake of transparency, the variables are described in Supplementary Materials.

  2. 2.

    Different views were expressed regarding the conceptual status of this variable. Vansteenkiste et al. (2010a) initially conceived it as “underlying reasons of performance-approach goals” (p. 223; see also, Delrue et al. 2016; Vansteenkiste et al. 2014a; Michou et al. 2016). Recently, other scholars have challenged this position, arguing that the variable includes both a goal and a reason component and would be better conceived as an achievement goal complex (Sommet and Elliot 2017; see also Senko and Tropiano 2016). We designed and conducted this set of studies before this debate; here, we conceive the variable as pertaining to reasons connected to achievement goals, and we conceive an achievement goal complex as corresponding to an interaction between this variable and the strength of the achievement goal (as in Gaudreau 2012; Gaudreau and Braaten 2016).

  3. 3.

    The observation was both a statistical outlier (studentized deleted residuals above 4) and an influential case (Cooks’ Ds > 0.1) on several outcome variables. However, if the participant had not been excluded, the hypothesized interaction between the planned contrast and performance goals would have remained significant, B = 0.26 CI [0.04, 0.48], p = .020, η2p = .03.

  4. 4.

    For this analysis, five participants had to be excluded due to missing values on the ranking provided to the other participants. Despite finishing the study (i.e., providing a final ranking), these five participants did not give any answer to the bogus other. Interestingly, four of them were in the controlled reasons condition.


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Sommet, N., Nguyen, D., Fahrni, K. et al. When and why performance goals predict exploitation behaviors: An achievement goal complex analysis of the selection function of assessment. Motiv Emot 43, 266–284 (2019).

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  • Achievement goals
  • Self-determination theory
  • Achievement goal complex
  • Exploitation orientation
  • Selective assessment