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VIII Motivation – Attribution & Expectancy

Summary of Attribution Theory [adapted from Kenneth J. Gailbraith]

The motivation of achievement and the findings of attribution research lead Bernard Weiner to develop his attribution theory. Psychologists have defined attributions as an individual’s perception of the causes of events and outcomes. Weiner and other attribution theorists focus their research on how learners develop these beliefs and the influence they have on future actions and cognitive development.

Motivational achievement is the result of an individual’s perception that they can complete a complex task. This builds on the belief that individuals tend to strive for success while avoiding failure situations. Achievement motivation is said to be high when the learner perceives them self as able to complete a task. These individuals generally expend more effort on achieving their goals.

In both failure and success situations, studies show that learners attribute their outcomes to one of four causes. These are the four types of attributions, effort, ability, level of task difficulty, and luck. Further investigation has revealed the three properties of attributions, locus of control, stability, and controllability. Locus of control refers to the source, internal or external to the learner, of the attributed cause.

Ability and effort are an internal locus because these aspects are inherently related to the individual. Task difficulty and luck are external, or beyond the context of the learner. Learners generally view their ability and the task difficulty as constant or stable. These are the most difficult, if at all possible, of the four attributions to change. Effort and luck, however, are viewed as unstable, or easily changed. Controllability is the level of control that a learner believes they have over an attribution. Of the four attributions, only effort allows the learner any controllability. If learners’ attribute success to their effort, they will be more likely to increase their effort on future tasks. Outcomes are either perceived as positive or negative.

These outcome perceptions by the learner can produce a variety of emotional reactions. These reactions include feelings of pride, confidence, increased self-esteem or embarrassment, guilt, shame, or resignation. Obviously, successful outcomes should be desired. Subsequent consequences are the actions taken by the learner as a result of the perceived outcome. If learners’ must perform a task that they feel confident about, and perceive the outcome as successful, they will be more receptive to similar tasks in the future.

The influence of attributions on a learner’s self-concept can be great. Ideally, learners will attribute outcomes appropriately (i.e. success or failure can be attributed to effort because of its internal causality, instability, and controllability characteristics.) This produces learners who acknowledge their errors, but do no regard them as failures. These learners are referred to as mastery-oriented. Conversely, students who attribute perceived outcomes inappropriately (i.e. success or failure is attributed to lack of ability, task difficulty, or luck), or who avoid responsibility for the outcome consistently may be in danger of learned helplessness or ‘victimization’. Other characteristics of this phenomenon may include: low self-concept, relatively few successes, and the inability to attribute their successes internally. Learned helplessness results in the production of the characteristics as well as a tendency for the learner to ‘give up’ in the face of perceived failure.

General Implications

Not only do the learners’ own perceptions effect future success expectancy, but the teacher’s reactions also impact the students’ attributions. These teacher reactions and expectancies, verbal and nonverbal, play an important role in the formulation of student perceptions and motivation.

Categories of teacher behaviors include the setting of task difficulty and assistance provided to the students, feedback, goal structures as perceived by the students, and teacher reaction to different student characteristics (i.e. self-concept, developmental level, gender).

The task difficulty should be challenging, but achievable for all students. Teachers should also expect the same performance from all students, positive outcomes. If the contrary is true, students may be denied opportunities as well as may confirm the student’s inappropriate attributions and low self-esteem. Special care should be taken, so as not to provide students with unrequested assistance. Instead, allowing students to complete assignments in collaborative learning groups will provide them with opportunities to make mistakes and provide self-correction, in a less threatening environment.

Studies of student feedback show that students who received their teacher’s praise felt that they were smarter than those who did not. These students also tended to work harder on tasks than the less praised students. This is an important concept for teachers to be aware of. Feedback should emphasize that appropriate attributions for success and failure have been made. This proactive approach allows students to assume responsibility for their outcomes.

Teachers should carefully monitor the perception of goal structures. Performance goals tend to make students compare their outcomes against those of their peers. This form of competition rarely produces positive attributions. Learning or mastery goals, on the other hand, allow the students to compare their outcomes with their prior learning. This proactive structure increases motivation, self-esteem, and promotes the selection of appropriate attributions.

Summary of Expectancy Theory

The expectancy theory of motivation has become a commonly accepted theory for explaining how individuals make decisions regarding various behavioral alternatives. Expectancy theory offers the following propositions:

A. When deciding among behavioral options, individuals select the option with the greatest motivation forces (MF).

B. The motivational force for a behavior, action, or task is a function of three distinct perceptions: Expectancy, Instrumentality, and Valance. The motivational force is the product of the three perceptions:

MF = Expectancy x Instrumentality x Valence

1. Expectancy probability: based on the perceived effort-performance relationship. It is the expectancy that one’s effort will lead to the desired performance and is based on past experience, self-confidence, and the perceived difficulty of the performance goal. Example: If I work harder than everyone else will I produce more?

2. Instrumentality probability: based on the perceived performance-reward relationship. The instrumentality is the belief that if one does meet performance expectations, s/he will receive a greater reward. Example: If I produce more than anyone else, will I get a better grade or a faster promotion?

3. Valence: refers to the value the individual personally places on the rewards. This is a function of his or her needs, goals, and values. Example: Do I want a better grade? Is it worth the extra effort? Do I want to be promoted?

Because the motivational force is the product of the all perceptions, if any one of their values is zero, the whole equation becomes zero.

Expectancy theory generally is supported by empirical evidence and is one of the more widely accepted theories of motivation.

I. Motivation is defined as the force that:

A. Energizes Behavior- What initiates a behavior, behavioral patterns, or changes in behavior? What determines the level of effort and how hard a person works? This aspect of motivation deals with the question of “What motivates people?”

B. Directs Behavior- What determines which behaviors an individual chooses? This aspect of motivation deals with the question of choice and conflict among competing behavioral alternatives.

C. Sustains Behavior- What determines and individuals level of persistence with respect to behavioral patterns? This aspect of motivation deals with how behavior is sustained and stopped.

II. Motivation is behaviorally specific, that is, it is more appropriate to think in terms of an individual’s motivation to excel in a particular job requirement or even to carry out a specific behavior than it is to think about an individual’s overall motivation. We do not generally find people that are either always motivated in every situation or not motivated in any situation. While individual dispositional variables may affect an individual’s motivation level at any particular time, motivation itself is not a dispositional variable.

III. We use the Expectancy Theory of motivation to help us understand how individuals make decisions regarding various behavioral alternatives. This model deals with the direction aspect of motivation, that is, once behavior is energized, what behavioral alternatives are individuals likely to pursue.

The following are propositions of Expectancy Theory:

A. When deciding among behavioral options, individuals select the option with the greatest motivation forces (MF).

MF= Expectancy x Instrumentality x Valance

B. The motivational force for a behavior, action, or task is a function of three distinct perceptions that are:

1. Expectancy- Probability (EP): The expectancy is the belief that one’s effort (E) will result is attainment of desired performance (P) goals. This belief, or perception, is generally based on an individual’s past experience, self confidence (often termed self efficacy), and the perceived difficulty of the performance standard or goal.

a. Examples include:
i. If I spend most of tonight studying will it improve my grade on tomorrow’s math exam?
ii. If I work harder than everyone else in the plant will I produce more?
iii. If I practice my foul shot more will my foul shooting improve in the game?
iv. If I make more sales calls will I make any more sales?

b. Variables affecting the individual’s Expectancy perception:
i. Self-Efficacy – efficacy is a person’s belief about his or her ability to perform a particular behavior successfully. Does the individual believe that s/he has the required skills and competencies required to perform well and the required goals?
ii. Goal Difficulty- Goals that are set too high or performance expectations that are made too difficult, lead to low expectancy perceptions. When individuals perceive that the goals are beyond their ability to achieve, motivation is low because of low Expectancy.
iii. Perceived Control Over Performance – For Expectancy to be high, individuals must believe that some degree of control over the expected outcome. When individuals perceive that the outcome is beyond their ability to influence, Expectancy, and thus motivation, is low. For example, many profit-sharing plans do not motivate individuals to increase their effort because these employees do not think that they have direct control over the profits of their large companies.

2. Instrumentality- Probability (PR): The instrumentality is the belief that if one does meet performance expectations, s/he will receive a greater reward. This reward may come in the form of a pay increase, promotion, recognition or sense of accomplishment. It is important to note that when it is perceived that valued rewards follow all levels of performance, then instrumentality is low. For example, if a professor known to give everyone in the class an “A” regardless of performance level, then instrumentality is low.

a. Examples include:
i. If a get a better grade on tomorrow’s math test will I get an “A” in math?
ii. If I produce more than anyone else in the plant, will I get a bigger raise? A faster promotion?
iii. If my foul shooting improves will I have a shot a team MVP?
iv. If I make more sales will I get a bonus? A greater commission?
v. If I make more sales will I believe that I am the best sales person or be recognized by others as the best sales person?

b. Variables affecting the individual’s instrumentality perception:
i. Trust – When individuals trust their leaders, they’re more likely to believe their promises that good performance will be rewarded.
ii. Control – When workers do not trust the leaders of their organizations, they often attempt to control the reward system through a contract or some other type of control mechanism. When individuals believe they have some kind of control over how, when, and why rewards are distributed, Instrumentality tends to increase.
iii. Policies – The degree to which pay and reward systems are formalized in written policies has an impact on the individuals’ Instrumentality perceptions. Formalized policies linking rewards to performance tend to increase Instrumentality.

3. Valance- V(R): The valance refers the value the individual personally places on the rewards. This is a function of his or her needs, goals, values and Sources of Motivation.

a. Examples include:
i. How much I really want an “A” in math?
ii. Do I want a bigger raise? Is it worth the extra effort? Do I want a promotion?
iii. How important to me is it to be team MVP?
iv. Do I need a sales bonus? Is the extra time I spend making extra sales calls worth the extra commission?
v. Is it important to me that I am the best salesperson?

b. Variables affecting the individual’s Valance for outcomes:
i. Values
ii. Needs
iii. Goals
iv. Preferences
v. Sources of Motivation

c. Potential Valued Outcomes may include:
i. Pay increases and bonuses
ii. Promotions
iii. Time off
iv. New and interesting assignments
v. Recognition
vi. Intrinsic satisfaction from validating one’s skills and abilities
vii. Intrinsic satisfaction from knowing that your efforts had a positive influence in helping someone.

VIII. Expectancy and Instrumentality are attitudes, or more specifically, they are cognitions. As such, they represent an individual’s perception of the likelihood that effort will lead to performance and performance will lead to the desired outcomes. These perceptions represent the individual’s subjective reality, and may or may not bear close resemblance to actual probabilities. These perceptions are tempered by the individual’s experiences (learning theory), observations of others (social learning theory), and self-perceptions.

IX. Expectancy Theory can be used to define what is termed a strong situation. Strong situations act as a strong influence on the behavior of individuals, often overriding their personalities, personal preferences, and other dispositional variables.
A. Consequences: There are highly valued positive or negative outcomes perceived to be associated with behavior in the situation. This is the same as Valance in Expectancy Theory
B. Likelihood: There is a high-perceived probability that these consequences will follow behavior (e.g., “I am certain that if I swear at my boss, s/he will fire me”). This is the same as Instrumentality in Expectancy Theory.
C. Specificity: Required behavior is well defined and understood by the individual (e.g., “Wear a black tuxedo” is more specific than “dress appropriately”). This is a part of what determines Expectancy in Expectancy Theory.