Journal of Youth and Adolescence

, Volume 46, Issue 8, pp 1821–1838 | Cite as

Does Everyone’s Motivational Beliefs about Physical Science Decline in Secondary School?: Heterogeneity of Adolescents’ Achievement Motivation Trajectories in Physics and Chemistry

  • Ming-Te Wang
  • Angela Chow
  • Jessica Lauren Degol
  • Jacquelynne Sue Eccles
Empirical Research


Students’ motivational beliefs about learning physical science are critical for achieving positive educational outcomes. In this study, we incorporated expectancy-value theory to capture the heterogeneity of adolescents’ motivational trajectories in physics and chemistry from seventh to twelfth grade and linked these trajectories to science-related outcomes. We used a cross-sequential design based on three different cohorts of adolescents (N = 699; 51.5 % female; 95 % European American; M ages for youngest, middle, and oldest cohorts at the first wave = 13.2, 14.1, and 15.3 years) coming from ten public secondary schools. Although many studies claim that physical science motivation declines on average over time, we identified seven differential motivational trajectories of ability self-concept and task values, and found associations of these trajectories with science achievement, advanced science course taking, and science career aspirations. Adolescents’ ability self-concept and task values in physics and chemistry were also positively related and interlinked over time. Examining how students’ motivational beliefs about physical science develop in secondary school offers insight into the capacity of different groups of students to successfully adapt to their changing educational environments.


Expectancy-value theory Science motivation Physics and chemistry Ability self-concept Task values 



This project was supported by Grant DRL1315943 from the National Science Foundation and Grant HD074731-01 from the Eunice Kennedy Shriver National Institute of Child Health and Development (NICHD).

Authors’ Contributions

MTW conceived of the study, participated in its design and coordination and drafted the manuscript; AC participated in the design and interpretation of the data and performed the statistical analysis; JLD participated in the interpretation of the data and drafted the introduction and discussion sections of the manuscript; JSE participated in the design. MTW, AC, and JLD made equal intellectual contribution to the manuscript. All authors read and approved the final manuscript.

Compliance with Ethical Standards

Conflict of Interest

The authors declare that they have no competing interests.

Ethical Approval

A review conducted by the Institutional Review Board approved the study to be consistent with the protection of the rights and welfare of human subjects and to meet the requirements of the Federal Guidelines. All procedures performed in studies involving human participants were in accordance with the ethical standards of the institutional and/or national research committee and with the 1964 Helsinki declaration and its later amendments or comparable ethical standards.

Informed Consent

Informed consent was obtained from all individual participants included in the study.


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Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media New York 2016

Authors and Affiliations

  • Ming-Te Wang
    • 1
  • Angela Chow
    • 2
  • Jessica Lauren Degol
    • 1
  • Jacquelynne Sue Eccles
    • 3
  1. 1.University of PittsburghPittsburghUSA
  2. 2.Indiana UniversityBloomingtonUSA
  3. 3.University of California-IrvingIrvineUSA

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