Skip to main content

Implicit theories and motivational focus: Desired future versus present reality

Abstract

People’s beliefs concerning their abilities differ. Incremental theorists believe their abilities (e.g., intelligence) are malleable; entity theorists believe their abilities are fixed (Dweck in Mindset: the new psychology of success. Random House, New York, 2007). On the basis that incremental theorists should emphasize improving their abilities for the future, whereas entity theorists should emphasize demonstrating their abilities in the present reality, we predicted that, when thinking about their wishes, compared to entity theorists, incremental theorists focus more toward the desired future than the present reality. We assessed participants’ motivational focus using a paradigm that differentiated how much they chose to imagine the desired future versus the present reality regarding an important wish (Kappes et al. in Emotion 11: 1206–1222, 2011). We found the predicted effect by manipulating (Study 1) and measuring implicit theories (Study 2), in the academic (Study 1) and in the sport domain (Study 2).

This is a preview of subscription content, access via your institution.

Notes

  1. 1.

    In the paradigm by Kappes et al. (2011) employed here, students were asked to choose four out of eight named aspects. The four thought modes (mental contrasting, indulging, dwelling, and reverse contrasting) were identified on the basis of the four chosen aspects. However, one could also identify the thought modes on the basis of only the first two chosen aspects. In this case, participants who chose one future aspect followed by a reality aspect would be identified as mental contrasting, those who chose two future aspects as indulging, those who chose two reality aspects as dwelling, and those who chose one reality aspect followed by a future aspect as reverse contrasting. When we analyzed the data in this way the pattern did not change: More students in the incremental (vs. entity) condition tended to choose future-focused self-regulatory thought χ 2(1) = 3.07, p = .08 and fewer chose reality-focused self-regulatory thought χ 2(1) = 4.57, p = .03.

References

  1. Atkinson, J. W. (1957). Motivational determinants of risk-taking behavior. Psychological Review, 64, 359–372.

    PubMed  Article  Google Scholar 

  2. Bandura, A. (1997). Self-efficacy: The exercise of control. New York, NY: Freeman.

    Google Scholar 

  3. Blackwell, L., Trzesniewski, K., & Dweck, C. S. (2007). Implicit theories of intelligence predict achievement across an adolescent transition: A longitudinal study and an intervention. Child Development, 78, 246–263.

    PubMed  Article  Google Scholar 

  4. Burnette, J. L. (2010). Implicit theories of body weight: Entity beliefs can weigh you down. Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin, 36, 410–422.

    PubMed  Article  Google Scholar 

  5. Cury, F., Elliot, A. J., Da Fonseca, D., & Moller, A. C. (2006). The social-cognitive model of achievement motivation and the 2 × 2 achievement goal framework. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 90, 666–679.

    PubMed  Article  Google Scholar 

  6. Dweck, C. S. (1986). Motivational processes affecting learning. American Psychologist, 41, 1040–1048.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  7. Dweck, C. S. (1999). Self-theories: Their role in motivation, personality, and development. Philadelphia, PA: Psychology Press.

    Google Scholar 

  8. Dweck, C. S. (2007). Mindset: The new psychology of success. New York, NY: Random House.

    Google Scholar 

  9. Dweck, C. S., & Leggett, E. L. (1988). A social-cognitive approach to motivation and personality. Psychological Review, 95, 256–273.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  10. Dweck, C. S., Mangels, J., & Good, C. (2004). Motivational effects on attention, cognition, and performance. In D. Y. Dai & R. J. Sternberg (Eds.), Motivation, emotion, and cognition: Integrated perspectives on intellectual functioning. Mahwah, NJ: Erlbaum.

    Google Scholar 

  11. Erdley, C. A., Cain, K. M., Loomis, C. C., Dumas-Hines, F., & Dweck, C. S. (1997). Relations among children’s social goals, implicit personality theories, and responses to social failure. Developmental Psychology, 33, 263–272.

    PubMed  Article  Google Scholar 

  12. Gollwitzer, A., Oettingen, G., Kirby, T. A., Duckworth, A. L., & Mayer, D. (2011). Mental contrasting facilitates academic performance in school children. Motivation and Emotion, 35, 403–412.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  13. Higgins, E. T. (1998). Promotion and prevention: Regulatory focus as a motivational principle. In M. P. Zanna (Ed.), Advances in experimental social psychology (Vol. 30, pp. 1–46). New York: Academic Press.

    Google Scholar 

  14. Hong, Y., Chiu, C., Dweck, C. S., Lin, D., & Wan, W. (1999). Implicit theories, attributions, and coping: A meaning system approach. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 77, 588–599.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  15. Hong, Y., Chiu, C., Dweck, C. S., & Sacks, R. (1997). Implicit theories and evaluative processes in person cognition. Journal of Experimental Social Psychology, 33, 296–323.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  16. Husman, J., & Lens, W. (1999). The role of the future in student motivation. Educational Psychologist, 34, 113–125.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  17. Johannessen, K. B., Oettingen, G., & Mayer, D. (2012). Mental contrasting of a dieting wish improves self-reported health behaviour. Psychology & Health, 27, 43–58.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  18. Kappes, H. B., Oettingen, G., Mayer, D., & Maglio, S. (2011). Sad mood promotes self-initiated mental contrasting of future and reality. Emotion, 11, 1206–1222.

    PubMed  Article  Google Scholar 

  19. Kappes, A., Oettingen, G., & Pak, H. (2012a). Mental contrasting and the self-regulation of responding to negative feedback. Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin, 38, 845–857.

    PubMed  Article  Google Scholar 

  20. Kappes, A., Singmann, H., & Oettingen, G. (2012b). Mental contrasting instigates goal pursuit by linking obstacles of reality with instrumental behavior. Journal of Experimental Social Psychology, 48, 811–818.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  21. Klinger, E. (1977). Meaning and void: Inner experience and the incentives in people’s lives. Minneapolis, MN: University of Minnesota Press.

    Google Scholar 

  22. Leonardelli, G. J., & Lakin, J. L. (2009). The new adventures of regulatory focus: Self-uncertainty and the quest for diagnostic feedback. In R. M. Arkin, K. C. Oleson, & P. J. Carroll (Eds.), The uncertain self: A handbook of perspectives from social and personality psychology (pp. 249–265). Mahwah, NJ: Lawrence Erlbaum Associates.

    Google Scholar 

  23. Lockwood, P., Jordan, C., & Kunda, Z. (2002). Motivation by positive or negative role models: Regulatory focus determines who will best inspire us. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 83, 854–864.

    PubMed  Article  Google Scholar 

  24. Molden, D. C., & Dweck, C. S. (2006). Finding “meaning” in psychology: A lay theories approach to self-regulation, social perception, and social development. American Psychologist, 61, 192–203.

    PubMed  Article  Google Scholar 

  25. Mueller, C. M., & Dweck, C. S. (1998). Intelligence praise can undermine motivation and performance. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 75, 33–52.

    PubMed  Article  Google Scholar 

  26. Murphy, M. C., & Dweck, C. S. (2010). A culture of genius: How an organization’s lay theories shape people’s cognition, affect, and behavior. Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin, 36, 283–296.

    PubMed  Article  Google Scholar 

  27. Nussbaum, D., & Dweck, C. S. (2008). Defensiveness versus remediation: Self-theories and modes of self-esteem maintenance. Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin, 34, 599–612.

    PubMed  Article  Google Scholar 

  28. Oettingen, G. (2000). Expectancy effects on behavior depend on self-regulatory thought. Social Cognition, 18, 101–129.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  29. Oettingen, G. (2012). Future thought and behavior change. In W. Stroebe & M. Hewstone (Eds.), European Review of Social Psychology, vol. 23, pp 1–63.

  30. Oettingen, G., Marquardt, M. K., & Gollwitzer, P. M. (2012). Mental contrasting turns positive feedback on creative potential into successful performance. Journal of Experimental Social Psychology, 48, 990–996.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  31. Oettingen, G., Mayer, D., & Brinkmann, B. (2010). Mental contrasting of future and reality: Managing the demands of everyday life in health care professionals. Journal of Personnel Psychology, 9, 138–144.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  32. Oettingen, G., Mayer, D., Sevincer, A. T., Stephens, E. J., Pak, H., & Hagenah, M. (2009). Mental contrasting and goal commitment: The mediating role of energization. Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin, 35, 608–622.

    PubMed  Article  Google Scholar 

  33. Oettingen, G., Wittchen, M., & Gollwitzer, P. M. (2013). Regulating goal pursuit through mental contrasting with implementation intentions. In E. A. Locke & G. P. Latham (Eds.), New developments in goal setting and task performance (pp. 523–548). New York, NY: Routledge.

    Google Scholar 

  34. Pomerantz, E. M., & Saxon, J. L. (2001). Conceptions of ability and self-evaluative processes: A longitudinal examination. Child Development, 72, 152–173.

    PubMed  Article  Google Scholar 

  35. Rattan, A., & Dweck, C. S. (2010). Who confronts prejudice? The role of implicit theories in the motivation to confront prejudice. Psychological Science, 21, 952–959.

    PubMed  Article  Google Scholar 

  36. Robins, R. W., & Pals, J. L. (2002). Implicit self-theories in the academic domain: Implications for goal orientation, attributions, affect, and self-esteem change. Self and Identity, 1, 313–336.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  37. Sevincer, A. T., & Oettingen, G. (2013). Spontaneous mental contrasting: Situational and person predictors. Poster presented at the 14th annual meeting of the society for personality and social psychology. New Orleans, LA.

  38. Spinath, B., & Stiensmeier-Pelster, J. (2001). Implicit theories about the malleability of intelligence and ability. Psychologische Beiträge, 43, 53–76.

    Google Scholar 

  39. Spray, C. M., Wang, C. K., Biddle, S. J. H., & Chatzisarantis, N. L. (2006). Understanding motivation in sport: An experimental test of achievement goal and self determination theories. European Journal of Sport Science, 6, 43–51.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  40. Yeager, D. S., Trzesniewski, K., Tirri, K., Nokelainen, P., & Dweck, C. S. (2011). Adolescents’ implicit theories predict desire for vengeance: Correlational and experimental evidence. Developmental Psychology, 47, 1090–1107.

    PubMed  Article  Google Scholar 

Download references

Acknowledgments

Preparation of this article was supported by German Science Foundation grant OE 237/10-1 to Gabriele Oettingen. We thank Greta Wagner and Linus Wittmann for their help with collecting the data.

Author information

Affiliations

Authors

Corresponding authors

Correspondence to A. Timur Sevincer or Gabriele Oettingen.

Rights and permissions

Reprints and Permissions

About this article

Cite this article

Sevincer, A.T., Kluge, L. & Oettingen, G. Implicit theories and motivational focus: Desired future versus present reality. Motiv Emot 38, 36–46 (2014). https://doi.org/10.1007/s11031-013-9359-0

Download citation

Keywords

  • Entity theory
  • Incremental theory
  • Future
  • Reality
  • Self-regulatory thought
  • Motivational focus