Motivation and Achievement
Social comparison can motivate students in achievement contexts, although its effect on motivation is not automatic. Among elementary school children, Schunk (1983b) found that social comparative information promoted task motivation, that academic goals enhanced self-efficacy, and that goals plus comparative information led to the best learning. Schunk (1983c) showed that difficult goals raised children’s academic motivation more than easier goals, that persuasive information (“You can work 25 problems.”) increased self-efficacy more than social comparative information, and that difficult goals plus persuasive information led to the highest achievement.
The effects of social comparison on self-efficacy and motivation may depend on the abilities of the comparison peers. Guay, Boivin, and Hodges (1999) found that the relation between children’s perceived competence and achievement was stronger when best friends’ achievement was low than when it was high. Students’ social comparisons with close friends’ achievement may make students’ own performances look worse than they really are. In contrast, children may assess their capabilities more accurately when they have low-achieving friends because they rely less on social comparison and more on objective assessments of their progress and performances. This point is consistent with the big - fish - little - pond effect postulated by self-concept researchers (Marsh, 1993), which holds that students’ self-concepts are increased when they view themselves as more capable than their peers but lowered when others are viewed as more capable.
In summary, comparative information can enhance motivation but not necessarily self-efficacy or learning. Social comparative information that focuses students on the accomplishments of similar (and average) others implies that they, too, are average and therefore have no reason to feel overly competent. Self-efficacy may be lowered when students socially compare themselves to high-achieving peers. In contrast, information about personal progress conveys nothing about others’ accomplishments, so students are likely to focus on their improvement. The perception that one is learning is hypothesized to build self-efficacy.
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