Goals and Achievement Motivation
The influence of peers on students’ goals and achievement motivation has been investigated by several researchers. Research on goal setting has documented that observation of peers can lead students to adopt comparable goals (Bandura, 1986, 1988).
Peer-oriented goals are highly valued by students. Such social goals can be diverse. For example, students may want to be liked and approved by others, to develop social or intimate relationships, to cooperate with others, to win favor from others (e.g., teachers, coaches), or to be sensitive to the needs of others (Dweck, 1996; Wentzel, 1991c).
Academic motivation also depends upon goals being coordinated because, as often happens, two or more goals conflict. A high school student may want to earn high grades to be accepted at a prestigious university and may want to be accepted by a social clique that values partying more than studying. Trying to “have one’s cake and eat it too” causes conflict and anxiety. Students may try to mask their studying and lie about how much they study or do it surreptitiously. They may not discuss their academic record when they are with clique members or may lie about it (e.g., say they made a B on a test instead of the A they really made). Over time, some goals may have to be sacrificed if students realize that they cannot coordinate their attainment (e.g., begin to associate with studious peers and abandon the non-studious clique).
Students’ perceptions of competence are affected by peers and, in turn, influence their academic motivation (Altermatt & Pomerantz, 2003). Eccles and her colleagues (Eccles et al., 1984, 1998; Eccles & Midgley, 1989) have investigated changes that occur after students make the transition from elementary school to junior high (). At the elementary level, students remain with the same peers for much of the school day. Students receive more individual attention, and individual progress is stressed.
The transition brings several changes. Typically, several elementary schools feed into the same junior high. As students change classes, they are exposed to many different peers whom they do not know. Evaluation becomes normative; there is less teacher attention to individual progress. The widely expanded social reference group, coupled with the shift in evaluation standards, necessitates that students reassess their capabilities for succeeding academically. For many, this change is a real jolt that serves to diminish their self-efficacy and motivation. Compared with the sixth grade, perceptions of competence typically decline by the seventh grade (Eccles et al., 1998; Harter, 1996).
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