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Goal orientation (G.O.) is a "disposition toward developing or demonstrating ability in achievement situations".[1] Previous research has examined goal orientation as a motivation variable useful for recruitment, climate and culture, performance appraisal, and selection.[2] Studies have also used goal orientation to predict sales performance, goal setting, learning and adaptive behaviors in training, and leadership.[2] Due to the many theoretical and practical applications of goal orientation, it is important to understand the construct and how it relates to other variables. In this entry, goal orientation will be reviewed in terms of its history, stability, dimensionality, antecedents, its relationship to goal setting and consequences, its relevance to motivation, and future directions for research.

Historical perspective

Early conceptualizations

The earliest conceptualizations of goal orientation were proposed in the 1970s by the educational psychologist J.A. Eison. Eison [3] argued that students who approached college as an opportunity to acquire new skills and knowledge possessed a learning orientation while students who approached college with the goal to exclusively obtain high grades possessed a grade orientation. Eison originally believed that these two orientations were two ends of the same continuum and developed the Learning Orientation-Grade Orientation Scale to measure the continuum. At about the same time, J.G. Nicholls [4][5][6] was developing a related theory that achievement motivation would lead grade school children to set high task related goals. Nicholls [4] found that when some high-ability children encountered difficult tasks, they would use maladaptive strategies, leading to eventual feelings of helplessness, while others would use more productive coping strategies. Nicholls later conceptualized these differences as two types of achievement goals: (a) task involvement: where individuals seek to develop their competence relative to their own abilities and (b) ego involvement: where individuals seek to develop their competence relative to the abilities of others.[4] Nicholls's early work set up Dweck's highly cited [7] proposition of two types of goal orientation: learning orientation and performance orientation.

Dweck postulated that children with learning goals were believed to approach situations with the goal to master the acquisition of new skills, while children with performance goals were believed to approach situations with the goal of gaining approval from peers and teachers. Similar to Eison, Dweck [7] conceptualized goal orientation as a two-dimension construct. Individuals with a learning goal orientation (sometimes referred to as mastery goal orientation), seek to develop their competence by acquiring new skills and mastering new situations. They are not concerned about their performance relative to others, but rather with furthering their understanding of a given topic or task.[8] Individuals with a performance goal orientation seek to demonstrate and validate the adequacy of their competence in order to receive favorable judgments and avoid negative judgments. Although Dweck's work in this area built on the foundation laid by Nicholls, the fundamental difference between the two scholars' works was the attribution of an individual's goal orientation. Nicholls believed that the goal orientation held by an individual was a result of the possession of either an external or external referent, while Dweck considered the adoption of a particular goal orientation to be related to the theory of intelligence held by that individual.

Subsequent work by Eison and colleagues led to a change in the conceptualization of these orientations from two ends of a continuum to two separate constructs.[9] More recently, researchers have embraced the idea that individuals can adopt the two orientation style simultaneously: persons can be high in both learning and performance orientations, low in both learning and performance orientations, or high in one orientation and low in the other. Ultimately, individuals can entertain multiple competing goal orientations at the same time, striving to both outperform competitors and improve their own performance. This led to the conceptualization of two separate continuums, one for learning goal orientation and one for performance goal orientation.[10]

Recent conceptualizations

Just over a decade after Dweck conceptualized the two-factor model of goal orientation, VandeWalle [1] proposed that goal orientation is better conceptualized as a three-factor model, further dividing performance goal orientation into the dimensions of avoidant performance goal orientation (APGO) and prove performance goal orientation (PPGO). APGO is centered around the goal of avoiding failure and negative judgment from others centered around lack of competence while PPGO is centered around demonstrating performance to prove competence. Learning goal orientation has also been separated into two categories learning approach orientation and learning avoid orientation,[11] however, this conceptualization is neither widely accepted nor substantially proven. According to VandeWalle, Cron & Slocum,[12] APGO and PPGO have differing relationships with various outcome variables, supporting the argument that a three-factor model should be used in place of the originally conceptualized two-factor model.

Application of goal orientation

One of the critical applied questions regarding the use of GO revolves around its ability to predict work-related outcomes. Research suggests that GO can impact a wide variety of training outcomes and subsequent performance, to include training,[13][14] adaptability,[15] leadership styles,[16] general performance,[17] and team building effects.[18] Recent reviews[19][20] and a meta-analysis[21] of the GO literature have succinctly integrated its diverse conceptual perspectives as a prime self-regulation process and provided useful summative effects across antecedents and consequences of its primary dimensions.

Goal orientation dimensionality

Researchers have conceptualized GO from one dimension to a possible six dimensions; the most prominent number of dimensions used in the literature being two, closely followed by three.[22] While two or three dimensions are the most common ways to conceptualize GO, the actual dimensions used from study to study vary. The two most common dimensions utilized are mastery-oriented or learning-oriented, and performance-oriented or achievement-oriented. Button et al. (1996) define performance GO as the motivation to show one's competence or ability on a certain task or subject. They then define learning GO as the motivation to acquire new knowledge or attain a deeper understanding of a certain task or subject.

Performance GO may then be decomposed into two different dimensions, this process translates into the most-often encountered description of three levels of dimensionality. Researchers state that the motivation to perform can come in two different forms, performance–approach and performance–avoid.[23][24] Elliot and McGregor (2001) conceptualize the different dimensions of GO in terms of valence, or the attractiveness of a certain goal method, and in terms of the definition of competence, or referent that is used in the evaluation of performance. They state that valence can be thought of as positive, approaching success, or negative, avoiding failure; and that the competence referent can be thought of as intrapersonal/absolute or normative. The intrapersonal/absolute referent refers to an individual's own maximum potential for attainment, and the normative referent refers to the performance of others. Different combinations of these four categories lays out Elliot and Mcgregor's (2001) typology.

The first combination of valence and the referent is positive valence and a normative referent, performance–approach. The performance–approach GO encompasses the motivation to prove/demonstrate one's competence or ability on a certain subject or task. The second combination is negative valence and a normative referent, performance–avoid. The performance–avoid GO encompasses the motivation to avoid looking incompetent or showing inability of a certain task or subject. The most common method of dealing with the absolute/intrapersonal referent is to lump positive and negative valence together to end up with the more common single dimension of mastery-oriented GO. These three dimensions; performance–approach, performance–avoid, and mastery; is the second most common conceptualization of dimensions in the GO literature.[25][26]

Stemming from the three dimensions, slightly less common is the decomposition of the mastery GO into two subgroups of mastery–approach and mastery–avoid, translating into the conceptualization of four dimensions. Following the typology that Elliot and McGregor (2001) present, those that possess an absolute/intrapersonal referent and have positive valence are classified as mastery–approach, in other words they seek to gain all the knowledge or ability they are able to during the attainment of their goal. Those that possess an absolute/intrapersonal referent and have negative valence are classified as mastery–avoid, in other words they seek to avoid their knowledge regressing to a previous level of comprehension or competence.

Worth mentioning is the multiple goal perspective that takes into account the fact that utilizing both a mastery GO and performance GO might be beneficial above and beyond the normal view that a person can only take on a single GO. Barron and Harackiewicz (2001) show support for the multiple goal perspective by comparing students using a single GO versus the multiple GO approach. The benefits stemmed from showing that having a high-mastery GO was associated with a high level of interest and having a high-performance GO was associated with a high level of performance on the task.

Dominant conceptualizations

There are many different conceptualizations and operationalizations of the GO construct, some researchers point out the wide array of GO definitions a reviewer might find when reading the GO literature. However, a closer look into the literature reveals that when defining GO there are five distinct categories on how to define the construct, and these categories pertain to the different methods/areas of research on the topic. These categories represent the most common themes and perspectives on GO that various researchers utilize when conducting their research. The following summary of the five categories is taken from DeShon & Gillespie's (2005) article on GO.

The first, and most common, approach when defining GO is the "goal" approach, and in this approach researchers see GO as the pursuit and attainment of goals in an achievement context. For example, Elliot and Harackiewicz (1996) use completion of puzzle tasks as an outcome of whether or not the participant attained their goals.

The second approach when defining GO is the trait method. With the trait method GO is deemed a disposition or personality variable that an individual may possess that effects that individual's achievement of goals in a goal-attainment situation. With this approach researchers can measure a GO several times throughout an experiment or study to show the stability of GO, lending support to the dispositional outlook on GO.[27]

The third approach when defining GO is the quasi-trait method. The quasi-trait method is similar to the previous trait method except those that prescribe to the quasi-trait method state that when there is a high enough situational strength GO may be modified or changed. Button et al. (1996) showed that when looking at the reports of students on their attainment of goals there is a general disposition in GO that a student will hold, but there are situations that may arise that cause a student to alter or modify their GO.

The fourth approach when defining GO is the mental framework method. Strage (1997) showed that depending on an individual's view of intelligence that individual may adopt different attitudes, beliefs, cognitions etc. that align with different GOs, such as mastery-oriented or achievement-oriented.

The final approach to defining GO is the beliefs method. While slightly similar to the previous approach, the beliefs method focuses on the individual's self-efficacious beliefs when relating to the ability to attain a certain goal. Hertenstein (2001) states that the important determinants of GO for a person is the fact of whether that person believes that he or she should please others, or believes in attaining competence in ability.

State vs. trait

There has been great debate over the stability of goal orientation; that is, whether goal orientation should be operationalized as a state or as a trait. Throughout the goal orientation literature, there are inconsistencies with regard to the conceptualization of the stability of the construct. For example, DeShon & Gillespie [28] stated that in the literature, goal orientation has been conceptualized as a trait, quasi-trait, and state. They articulated that whether researchers conceptualize goal orientation as a trait or a state "depends on the breadth of the inference that the researcher is attempting to support" (p. 1115 [28]). State goal orientation refers to the goal one has in a particular situation. It is similar to trait goal orientation in that it represents one's preference in an achievement situation. However, state goal orientation is "specific to the task and context at hand" (p. 5 [29]). For example, VandeWalle, Cron & Slocum [12] stated that goal orientation can be domain specific. They stated that it is possible for an individual to have a strong learning goal orientation in their academic domain but not in their work domain. Trait goal orientation refers to the "consistent pattern of responses in achievement situations based on the individual's standing on goal orientation dimensions".[30] This view of goal orientation treats the construct as a stable, individual difference characteristic. Button, Mathieu, & Zajac [31] take an integrative view of the construct, stating that goal orientation is best categorized as a relatively stable individual difference variable that can be influenced by situational and contextual characteristics. These authors found that when few situational cues are present, individuals will adopt their dispositional goal orientations. However, when "dispositional goal orientations predispose individuals to adopt particular response patterns across situations, situational characteristics may cause them to adopt a different or less acute response pattern for a specific situation (p. 40 [31]). Thus, trait and state goal orientation interact, so both operationalizations should be considered simultaneously.[2]


Since the realization that performance goal orientation is best split into two separate parts, researchers have conducted validation studies to demonstrate the statistical and conceptual distinction of these three dimensions to goal orientation. Conceptual and empirical work by Elliot and Church [32] and VandeWalle [1] demonstrated that the factor structure of Goal Orientation does indeed lend itself to three distinct dimensions, as summarized below. An explanation of the learning-approach and learning-avoidance goal orientations are also included for completeness.


VandeWalle defines learning goal orientation as the "desire to develop the self by acquiring new skills, mastering new situations and improving one's competence" (p. 1000[1]). Persons with learning goal orientation seek feedback on past performance to evaluate current performance. These individuals focus on improving skills and acquiring knowledge, and are less concerned with making mistakes. Research shows that adoption of mastery goals leads to greater intrinsic motivation as opposed to performance approach or performance avoid which are associated with external motivation.[32] One area where this can be seen as important is in the area of curriculum design. When designing learning environments for students, it is important to create opportunities that promote learning goals as opposed to performance goals. One possible implication for educators is the need to emphasize knowledge-centered classroom environments that encourage "doing with understanding".[33]

Learning-approach and learning-avoidance

Although learning goal orientation is most commonly conceptualized as a single construct, researchers have begun to make the approach and avoidance distinction that they have previously done with the performance goal orientation. According to Elliot,[34] learning-approach goals "entail striving to develop one's skills and abilities, advance one's learning, understand material, or complete or master a task" (p. 181). This type of learning goal orientation is consistent with the way general learning goal orientation has been conceptualized previously. Alternatively, learning-avoidance goals "entail striving to avoid losing one's skills and abilities (or having their development stagnate), forgetting what one has learned, misunderstanding material, or leaving a task incomplete or unmastered" ([34] p. 181). Individuals are likely to pursue learning-avoidance goals when they feel that their skills or abilities are deteriorating. For example, an elderly individual may notice that his/her physical and mental capacity is declining, and as a result may focus his/her goals on sustaining or improving these diminishing capacities.

Prove performance

VandeWalle defines performance prove goal orientation as the "desire to prove one's competence and to gain favorable judgments about it" (p. 1000[1]). The performance approach orientation represents a desire to achieve a high level of performance. Persons with performance approach orientation seek positive reinforcement and feedback. These individuals don't want to put forth a lot of effort unless they will be positively evaluated, and tend to avoid tasks were they may make mistakes and therefore be poorly evaluated.[29]

Avoid performance

Finally, VandeWalle defines avoid performance as the "desire to avoid the disproving of one's competence and to avoid negative judgments about it" (p. 1000 [1]). The performance avoid orientation represents a desire to avoid instances of low performance. Persons with performance avoid orientation focus on avoiding situations in which they will receive evaluations or risk demonstrating lack of confidence. Individuals high in fear of failure are more likely to adopt performance avoid goals.[32]


Throughout the goal orientation literature, many studies have examined relationships between goal orientation and various antecedents. These antecedents have been identified as having varying levels of importance. In a meta-analysis by Payne and her colleagues,[29] both need for achievement and the Big Five personality traits were identified as important antecedents of goal orientation, while cognitive ability was found to have almost no relationship with goal orientation. The following sections go into more detail about each antecedent. Payne and her colleagues did not distinguish between proximal and distal antecedents.

Cognitive ability

Research has produced mixed results when examining the relationship between cognitive ability and goal orientation. For example, Eison [3][35] found that learning-oriented (learning goal orientation) students had higher levels of cognitive ability than grade-oriented (performance goal orientation) students. However, Dweck and her colleagues were unable to find any relationship between the constructs.[7] Although findings are mixed, "a substantial body of theory and research suggests motivational and ability traits are generally uncorrelated" (p. 130[29]). In a meta-analysis by Payne and her colleagues,[29] cognitive ability and goal orientation were found to be independent constructs. Accordingly, individuals with high cognitive ability are equally likely to hold learning, prove performance, and avoid performance goal orientations. These authors also found that LGO predicted job performance above and beyond cognitive ability.[29] Based on this research, goal orientation, rather than cognitive ability, serves as useful tool for practitioners to use to predict job performance.

Need for achievement

Need for achievement refers to the degree to which an individual "maintains high standards" and "aspires to accomplish difficult tasks".[36] Goal orientation dimensions have been conceptualized as manifestations of Atkinson's (1957) need for achievement and need to avoid failure competence-relevant motives.[29][32] In a meta-analysis by Payne et al.,[29] the authors found that need for achievement was positively correlated with LGO, negatively associated with APGO, and unrelated to PPGO. Another interesting finding by these authors was that need for achievement correlated more strongly with LGO than the trait, conscientiousness. Although LGO and need for achievement were found to be strongly related, the findings demonstrate that LGO is related to, but not synonymous with need for achievement.

Big Five personality characteristics

Extensive research has been done on personality and many researchers have agreed that personality is best conceptualized as a five-factor model (the Big Five).[37] These traits include extraversion, openness to experience, emotional stability, conscientiousness, and agreeableness.[38] In a study by Zweig and Webster,[39] the relationship between the Big-Five personality traits and goal orientation was examined. The authors found that goal orientation and the Big-Five personality traits are related yet distinct constructs. They also found that personality factors combine to create people's various orientations toward learning and goals, which in turn predict the types of tasks they will engage in. In a meta-analysis by Payne et al.,[29] goal orientation was found to predict job performance over and above the Big-Five.

Goal setting and goal orientation

Historically, goal setting theory has primarily been concerned with performance goals. Locke and Latham [40] summarize 25 years of goal setting research by stating that as long as an individual is committed to a goal and has the ability to achieve it, specific, high (hard) goals lead to a higher level of task performance than vague or easy goals. However, the vast majority of goal setting studies have been conducted with a specific performance goal and often in laboratory settings where the task was fairly simple. It is possible that when tasks are more complex or require a long-term commitment, adopting a learning goal may lead to higher performance. Fan, Meng, Billings, Litchfield and Kaplan [41] found that the relationship between trait learning goal orientation and goal-setting was moderated by self-efficacy such that individuals high in learning goal orientation and self-efficacy set higher goal that those high in learning goal orientation but low in self-efficacy. This finding suggests that while learning goal orientation can have an impact on goal setting, the relationship also depends on other factors such as the individual's level of self-efficacy. Fan et al. also found that learning and prove goal orientations facilitated challenge striving, suggesting that either orientation can effectively facilitate motivation for goal attainment. Another factor to consider when examining the relationship between goal orientation and goal setting is the level of complexity inherent in the situation or task. In situations with more complex tasks, it appears that "do your best" goals may actually lead to higher performance than specific goals. It is possible that in complex tasks, a specific, difficult goal imposes greater cognitive demands on employees, making it difficult for them to learn the complex task due to this increased pressure.[42] Kanfer and Ackerman [43] found that in an air traffic controller simulation (a highly complex task), having a performance-outcome goal actually interfered with acquiring the knowledge necessary to perform the task. People performed better when they were asked to do their best. This suggests that adopting a learning orientation may be appropriate for complex tasks or in specific settings. However, it may be possible to set a specific, difficult learning goal. Latham and Brown [44] found that when MBA students set specific, difficult learning goals such as mastering complex course material, they outperformed MBA students who set a performance goal for GPA. Locke and Latham [40] clam that a creating a specific, difficult learning goal in this type of situation facilitates meta-cognition which is particularly helpful in complex environments with limited guidance, such as in an MBA program.

Consequences and outcomes

The goal orientation literature has examined the relationships among goal orientation and various proximal (e.g., self-efficacy, metacognition, & feedback seeking) and distal consequences (e.g., academic outcomes, organizational outcomes). In a meta-analysis by Payne and her colleagues,[29] the goal orientation dimensions were found to be more strongly related to the self-regulatory constructs (i.e., self-efficacy, metacognition, & feedback seeking) than the performance constructs (i.e. academic and organizational performance). They also found that APGO was the only dimension negatively related to the various outcomes. Payne and her colleagues found that the learning strategies (metacognition would likely fall into this category) and self-efficacy are the most important proximal consequences of goal orientation followed by feedback seeking, academic outcomes, and organizational outcomes. The following sections go into more detail about each consequence.


Bandura (1982) defined self-efficacy as "a belief in one's ability to effectively perform and to exercise influence over events".[45] Individuals who are high in self-efficacy set more difficult goals, exert more effort to achieve those goals, and seek to learn from the processes of pursuing those goals.[2] In a meta-analysis by Payne et al.,[29] self-efficacy was identified as a proximal outcome of goal orientation. Similarly, VandeWalle, Cron & Slocum [12] found that LGO was positively related to self-efficacy, effort, and goal setting level. Since "self-efficacy functions as a primary motivational mechanism by which goal orientation influences subsequent learning processes", employees with higher levels of self-efficacy will exert more effort toward and learn more from task assignments (p. 164[2]).


Metacognition is defined as "an individual's knowledge and control over one's own cognitions".[46] Individuals high in metacognitive awareness are skilled at monitoring their progress towards goals, identifying their strengths and weaknesses, and adjusting their learning strategies accordingly to achieve favorable outcomes.[47] Although there have been relatively few research studies conducted on the role of metacognition in leader development outcomes, some studies have found that metacognition plays an important role in such outcomes. For example, Ford et al.[47] linked LGO and metacognitive activity and found that metacognitive activity was significantly related to knowledge acquisition, post-training performance, and self-efficacy. In a study by Schmidt & Ford,[48] metacognitive activity was positively related to LGO as well as cognitive, affective, and skill based learning outcomes. Similarly, Bell and Kozlowski [49] found that LGO was significantly related to metacognitive activity. The National Research Council (2000) points out that it is important to remember that metacognitive skills can be taught and essential that teachers explicitly teach metacognitive skills across the curriculum in a variety of subject areas.[33]

Feedback seeking and interpretation

In an organizational context, the extent to which employees actively seek feedback can positively influence job performance.[29] Goal orientation influences how individuals evaluate the costs and benefits of feedback-seeking opportunities.[50] According to VandeWalle,[50] when individuals have the opportunity to seek feedback, they face a cognitive dilemma between the need for self-assessment and the need for self-enhancement. Since individuals with a learning goal orientation are interested in developing competencies, they more likely to interpret feedback positively and thus engage in more feedback-seeking behaviors to enhance performance. These individuals interpret feedback as valuable information about how to correct errors and improve future performance on a given task. Conversely, individuals with a performance goal orientation are likely to interpret feedback as "evaluative and judgmental information about the self" (p. 631[12]), and as a result are less likely to seek feedback. Consequently, individuals with high levels of learning goal orientation are more inclined to seek feedback, while individuals with high levels of prove performance goal orientation or avoid performance goal orientation are less inclined to seek feedback (VandeWalle & Cummings, 1997).

Academic outcomes

As previously stated, goal orientation refers to individuals' behavioral tendencies in achievement-oriented tasks. Therefore, it seems intuitive that goal orientation would be associated with various academic outcomes. According to Payne et al.,[29] learning goal orientation is positively associated with self-regulatory behaviors such as planning and goal setting, which in turn are associated with academic performance. Thus, individuals with high levels of LGO are more likely to perform well on academic tasks than individuals with high levels of the PGO dimensions.[29] In addition, research has also shown that students' motivation can predict both the quality of the engagement in academic learning as well as the degree to which they seek out or avoid challenging situations.[51] If all students are to move "through the increasing challenges and academic rigors" of school, then their motivation to learn must be identified and nurtured.[52]

Organizational outcomes

Goal orientation has also been linked to organizational outcomes, specifically job performance. Payne et al.[29] found that individuals with high levels of trait and state LGO and low levels of trait APGO had better job performance. They found that PPGO was unrelated to performance. The authors also found that LGO predicted job performance above and beyond both cognitive ability and the Big Five personality characteristics. This finding suggests that LGO is a valuable predictor of job performance and it may be in the best interest of organizations to create a climate in which learning is valued over performance. In another study by VandeWalle, Cron & Slocum,[12] the authors found that individuals with a learning goal orientation had higher sales performance than those with performance goal orientations. This finding suggests that in order to be successful in organizational setting, individuals must have the desire to develop their skills.

Learning environments

Research has shown that goal orientation is linked to outcomes and performance.[7][11][52] Much of this research has been centered around outcomes in schools and job performance. When examining research on learning environments and curriculum design, one could argue that there is significant alignment with LGO and ideal learning environments. When designing learning environments, there are some essential principles that should be in place. These principles were outlined by the National Research Council in their 2000 report entitled How People Learn: Brain, Mind, Experience and School.[33] First, classrooms and school need to be learner centered. By this, teachers need to be aware of the strengths, skills, attitudes and knowledge that students bring with them when they enter school. This should include acknowledging cultural differences and creating a place for the inclusion of their everyday lived experiences in the classroom. Second, teachers should strive to create a knowledge-centered classroom by focusing on what is taught, why it is taught and what competence or mastery looks like. The emphasis here should be placed on learning with understanding. One way students can demonstrate this understanding is by successfully transferring content and skills to novel situations and problems. This also relates back to metacognitive skills that have been demonstrated to be linked to learning goal orientation. Next, it is important to remember that formative assessments are essential in learning environments. This type of ongoing assessments allows teachers to assess where students are and design their instruction accordingly. Lastly, it is very important to look at the environment in which learning takes place. The teacher wants to create an environment that nurtures a learning goal orientation as opposed to a performance goal orientation. This means encouraging a community of learners who are willing to take risks and make mistakes for the sake of learning. Teachers should create environments that emphasize mastery over performance. Performance is primarily focused on learning in the moment and a demarcated demonstration of understanding. Mastery implies skill development over a period of time that includes experience and practice. Authentic learning occurs when students can not only demonstrate understanding but apply it in multiple settings and to novel situations or problems.

Measurement concerns and current methods

One of the more vocal criticisms of the GO literature reflects ambiguities that result from methodological inconsistencies in measurement.[53][54] Early research focused on single item measures depicting dichotomous judgments toward either outcome performance or amount of effort to be applied given a particular situation.[55] As described in a comprehensive review of GO within organizational research by Button, Mathieu, & Zajac (1996), other research targeted highly specific situations or populations and based their classification on causal attributions made by participants.[56][57]

Additional concerns with measurement are related to the equivocal results found along GO dimensions. While learning GO-positive performance relationship has enjoyed relatively consistent support, the results of performance orientation are more varied. Depending on how the dimension is defined and measured, researchers have found performance orientation to be related to negative performance,[58] positive performance,[59] as well as unrelated to subsequent performance.[60] Therefore, a lack of consistency in the measurement of GO makes it difficult to ascertain what the scales and measures are actually assessing.

Despite these concerns there are three dominant measures within the literature. The first is Button et al.'s (1996) two-dimensional, 16-item GO scale (i.e., eight items each describing either a performance or learning goal orientation). Over a series of four empirical studies Button and colleagues found consistent construct validity of this scale. The second scale was developed by VandeWalle (1997) and reflects a conceptualization of GO across three dimensions: learning orientation; performance (prove) orientation; and performance (avoid) orientation. Again, a series of studies suggest that the three-factor model displayed convergent and discriminant validity. Elliot & Church (1997) offer a comparable three-dimension scale but focus on the situational aspect of when GO is applied versus the more stable personality-driven perspective of the former two scales.

Manipulations of goal orientation

Typically, GO represents an internal motivation towards the approach, interpretation, and reaction to goals in an achievement situation. DeShon & Gillespie (2005) provide a comprehensive review of how GO is manipulated in research. Similar to the concerns addressed in the measurement section, there exist analogous issues in the variety of ways GO is manipulated. The vast majority of studies used participant beliefs as the focal point for GO. These studies prompted participants to adopt perspectives that practicing behaviors and skills, and acquiring new knowledge were related to a learning/mastery orientation, while more stable individual difference characteristics such as cognitive ability were related to demonstrating competence in performance orientations.[61][62][63]

Other studies examined GO adoption by providing goals instead of depending on self-set goals by the participants. In these cases, the provided mastery versus performance goals led to associated learning-oriented or competence demonstration performance.[64][65] The final dominant category of studies manipulated the strength of a given situation. To accomplish this, researchers created a variety of environments such as: feelings of competition to trigger performance orientations;[66] the encouragement of making mistakes as a learning process to prompt learning orientations;[67] and even observed subordinates adopting more learning oriented perspectives when paired with leaders who display transformational characteristics.[68]

Future directions

The conceptual and methodological challenges notwithstanding, most researchers remain optimistic about the current state and potential directions for future GO literature. In addition to coming to a wider professional agreement on the competing dimensions of goal orientation, there exist several avenues for extending the current understanding of this motivational process. As highlighted in their meta-analysis, Payne et al. (2007) recommend examining the moderating impact of task complexity, the amount of time spent on particular tasks, and the difficulty/consistency structure of task demands. Other researchers suggest studying social desirability aspects of GOs to tease apart potential response bias that could result from diverse organizational samples.[69]

Goal Setting Theory

Motivation theories attempt to address how individuals react when a discrepancy is perceived between one's goals and the current state of the environment. Several common theories of motivation involve goal-directed behavior. The most common of these theories are Goal Setting Theory,[70] a group of theories referred to as "control theories",[71] and Social Cognitive Theory.[72] GST has accumulated a great deal of empirical evidence over the past 35 years.[73] Essentially, individuals exert more effort and thus achieve higher levels of performance on a task when goals are difficult and specific. However, this is only the case when individuals are committed to the goal, believe they can accomplish the goal, and have the requisite skills.[74] Control theories are centered around reduction of goal/environment discrepancies.

According to control theories, when an individual perceives a discrepancy between the current state, some action is taken to reduce the discrepancy. To reduce a goal/environment disparity, individuals may change their behavior (e.g., exert more effort) or change their goal.[75] SCT also predicts that individuals will seek to reduce discrepancies between goals and the state of the environment; however, SCT predicts that individuals will set new and more difficult goals when goal/environment discrepancies have been eliminated.[76] This goal/environment discrepancy production is expected to occur only when individuals believe that they will be able to accomplish their goals in the future, a construct known as self-efficacy.[77]

[78] Cynthia Huffman and Michael J. Houstons article in the Journal of Consumer Research stated Learning that occurs throughout several information acquisition and choice experiences have effects of three factors that may naturally vary in consumer experiences. A consumer's goals, how much the consumer knows about the product's features prior to information acquisition and choice, and the content of feedback received after choice Higher levels of prior feature knowledge result in more accurate knowledge after experience, but, opposing to predictions, subjects with no prior feature knowledge are quite skilled at focusing on their goal in the choice process and at learning goal-appropriate information.

See also


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  2. 2.0 2.1 2.2 2.3 2.4 DeGeest, D., & Brown, K. G. (2011). The role of goal orientation in leadership development. Human Resource Development Quarterly, 22(2), 157-175.
  3. 3.0 3.1 Eison, J.A. (1979). The development and validation of a scale to assess different student orientations towards grades and learning. Unpublished doctoral dissertation,University of Tennessee, Knoxville.
  4. 4.0 4.1 4.2 Nicholls, J.G. (1975). Causal attributions and other achievement-related cognitions: Effects of task outcome, attainment value, and sex. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 31,379-389.
  5. Nicholls, J.G. (1976). When a scale measures more than its name denotes: The case of the Text Anxiety Sale for Children. Journal of Consulting and Clinical Psychology, 44, 976-985.
  6. Nicholls, J.G., (1978). The development of the concepts of effort and ability, perception of own attainment, and the understanding that difficult tasks require more ability. Child Development,49, :800-814.
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