Goals, that people strive for, make an important part of a person’s personality- be it the daily strivings or the personal projects. However, this post is not about goals at that level of personality.
Goals can be classified as approach goals or avoidance goals based on whether one wants to achieve a particular positive outcome or is more motivated by avoiding a particular negative outcome. They can also be classified as mastery or performance goals based on whether one wants to learn and master the area and satisfy ones internal standards or whether one wants to meet external standards and is driven by appearing smart and capable. The roots of these goals, and underlying motivations, lie in Carol Dweck’s theory of growth and fixed mindsets.
So basically combining the two concepts above, we have four combinations: Mastery-approach where one is motivated to grow and inspired by a future vision of oneself; Mastery -avoidance where one is motivated to maintain functioning and the desire to not fail to live up to earlier performance or past image; Performance – approach where one wants to perform better than other people; and Performance- avoidance where one wants to avoid performing worse than others.
In addition to this, there is promotion and prevention regulatory focus theory of goals and motivation that posits that we all have either a promotion focus, whereby we want to move towards goals and are eager or prevention focus wherein we want to avoid outcomes and are vigilant. These regulatory focus are a result of the discrepancy between actual and ideal and ought selves. The self discrepancy theory by Higgins et al posits that each of us have a few guides guiding our behavior- ideal self is the self that we aspire to (a future vision) while ought self is what we have internalized as our duties, obligations etc. While ideal selves are more congruent with promotion focus, ought self discrepancy reduction leads to prevention focus.
Some of you might be seeing where I am getting from here. We are moving here form goals to trait level. What I propose is that while Mastery-approach goals lead to and are congruent with Promotion focus (as traditionally defined by Higgins), Mastery -avoidance leads to and follows from Prevention focus; similarly Performance-approach goals are what are typically considered as Avoidance motivation in literature ( Elliot et al) and Performance- avoidance goals as related to Avoidance motivation. Thus it makes sense to consider and be sensitive to four types of motivational trait constructs- Promotion focus, Prevention Focus, Approach motivation and Avoidance motivation and to see them as distinct from Goals per se. This is akin to the state -trait distinction in case of affective terms.
One can also correlate these motivational dispositional terms to Self determination theory. Basically, it appears common sense that mastery -approach goals are quite intrinsically motivating; mastery -avoidance goals probably more identified motivation, but still autonomous. When we move to Performance goals the motivation becomes more controlled. Performance -approach goals driven by introjected motivation while Performance- avoidance goals to extrinsic motivation.
So how do these four motivational traits stand in comparison to the other well known personality traits and constructs? This is an empirical question to be settled and part of it has been settled in this paper [pdf] by Elliot and Thrash.
Basically Elliot et al using factor analysis, both EFA and CFA showed that personality constructs like Extraversion, positive emotionality and BAS cluster together and are related to Mastery goals (they did not differentiate between mastery -approach and mastery -avoid); while Neuroticism, negative emotionality and BIS go together and are related to Performance-avoidance. These latter 3 were also related to Performance approach goals, as were the former 3. The 2 underlying factors they theorized as depicting approach and avoidance motivation/ temperament.
I believe they would have got better and clearer results if they has used more constructs than just E/N and +ve emotioanlity, -ve emotionality, or BAS/BIS and also included C/E/A and constraint/disinhibition and FFFS too in the factor analysis and also split Mastery goals.
If so, I conjecture the following four factors:
- Promotion focus: driven by ideal self discrepancy and mastery motivations comparing with oneself and one’s future version aspired to. When people work with this focus they experience positive emotionality, are open to experience and are motivated by intrinsic motives (SDT).
- Prevention focus: driven by ought self discrepancy and mastery motivations comparing onself to past performances by self and identified duties and obligations. The people with this focus experience positive emotionality, are Extraverted and the BAS drives their behavior.
- Approach Motivation: driven by external comparisons and performance motivations to achieve something. High in Conscientiousness, experience constraint and are driven by BIS with introjected motivation.
- Avoidance Motivation: driven by external comparison to avoid bad outcomes. High in Neuroticism , experience negative emotionality and the FFFS drives behavior. They have extrinsic motivations.
This, of course, remains to be empirically proved.