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Analyzing student motivation at the confluence of achievement goals and their underlying reasons: an investigation of goal complexes


This research investigated the interrelations among achievement goals and the underlying reasons for pursuing them. To do so, it utilized the framework of goal complexes, which are regulatory constructs defined at the intersection of aims and reasons. Data from two independent large samples of New Zealand university students showed that across types of reasons, namely development versus demonstration of competence/ability, and approach-avoidance tendencies pertaining to aims and reasons, respectively, participants rated lowest items mapping normative aims. Additionally, for most non-normative achievement goals, which in this study were related to task and own past performance, students endorsed more strongly items pertaining to the development rather than the demonstration of competence/ability. This pattern of results was reversed for approach—but not avoidance—related reasons associated with normative aims. These findings are largely consistent with the tenets of cognitive dissonance theory and have important implications for pedagogical practice, policy development, and the study of self-evaluation and cognitive processes. In addition, they delineate new directions for fruitful future research.

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This research was supported in part by Victoria University of Wellington Faculty Research Grant Number 113976. The first author is grateful for the important help that Kevin Grimm and Keith Widaman provided with clarifying some ideas in earlier stages of the research.

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Correspondence to Flaviu A. Hodis.

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Hodis, F.A., Tait, C., Hodis, G.M. et al. Analyzing student motivation at the confluence of achievement goals and their underlying reasons: an investigation of goal complexes. Soc Psychol Educ 19, 643–660 (2016). https://doi.org/10.1007/s11218-016-9351-0

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  • Motivation
  • Achievement goals
  • Reasons
  • Goal complexes