Motivation and emotion/Book/2019/Expectancy-value theory of achievement motivation

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Expectancy–value theory of achievement motivation:
What is EVT and how can it be applied?


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Chances are everyone reading this has gone through some form of academic schooling. These days, in the western world, it would be rare that you haven’t strived for achievement in some form of educational setting. While there are a limitless number and combination of courses one might take in their life, there is another infinite combination of experiences a person may bring to the academic experience. This creates a rather unique individual profile. A person’s experiences set them up and motivates them to aim for achievement in different ways. Consider the following situation in the case study box 1. Here, Catalina describes having somewhat controlling parents who implicitly expect her to make the best of her private school education by doing well in classes while participating in two separate after school activities. As a result of this, Catalina may have a different approach to achievement motivation than say you, how may have chosen to take a class as part of a university degree that you enrolled yourself in.

Case study 1

My name is Catalina and I am 17 years old. I am in my final year of high school at the prestigious Canberra Grammar School. I hope to graduate at the end of this semester with a tertiary admission rank of 90.7. I aim to get into medical school one day. Both of my parents are physicians and have secretly wished their only daughter would follow in the family footsteps. While I enjoy school and feel I do well, my estimated score is not all I or my parents would have hoped. They believe I can do better and are making me enrol in tutoring, so my score doesn’t drop before the exams but, as I am currently playing soccer three days a week and doing horse riding on the weekends I am finding it difficult to keep focused on my school work. I have to say I enjoy riding my horse Teddy more and if I had it my way, I would probably do an accredited package and look for a job working with horses after I graduate. But for now I hope I can keep working hard and make my parents proud of all I am able to achieve.

The following chapter will discuss the question of motivation, specifically achievement motivation with an emphasis on the main research in the field; the Expectancy-value theory. To do this we will first briefly cover the core study of motivation before following on to achievement motivation. In the next section we will outline the Expectancy-value theory and discuss its components. Finally, in the second half of the chapter we will turn to the applications of the expectancy-value theory, taking a moment to discuss it in terms of the field of education, within a workplace environment, as well as a personal approach to the theory. As you read through the chapter use the following focus questions box to guide your understanding of the key concepts.

Focus questions
  • What are the two different types of motivation? Can you provide a simple definition for each?
  • What is achievement motivation and what are the main components?
  • What is a psychological theory?
  • What are the key elements involved in Expectancy-Value Theory?
  • Briefly explain how the Dynamic-of-Action model compares to Expectancy-Value Theory.
  • List the two main areas where the Expectancy-Value theory can be applied.


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Figure 1. Bowl of cereal

The idea of motivation is something that is part of every waking minute of our lives. It is responsible for everything we decide to do from sleeping, eating, drinking, mating, socialising, the list goes on and on. Often, exactly what motivates us to engage in a certain activity is out of our awareness but the effect is still profound. Consider the following scenario, see figure 1. You are in bed streaming a television show on your laptop late at night and suddenly feel the urge to get a bowl of cereal. Why? Were you really hungry? Were you thirsty and craving milk? Were you bored with your show and wanted something to do? Or was it more implicit than that? Were your hunger hormones out of balance? Was your body lacking some specific nutrient that a bowl of cereal would satisfy? The subtle possibilities are endless. We don’t always know why we do certain things, but we do know what causes us to do these things and that is where the study of motivation comes in.

Motivational forces

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The word motivation comes from the Latin verb ‘movere’ meaning to move. While there are many nuanced definitions surrounding motivation, Banerjee (2015) cites the definition as a set of processes that arouse, direct, and maintain human behaviour towards a goal. Said another way, motivation is powering people to achieve high levels of performance and overcome barriers in order to change (Tohidi & Jabbari 2012; Zhang, 2015). The key component behind the term motivation are motives. Eren, 2004 (p.494), quoted a motive as the “sum of the efforts to induce one or more people progressively towards activation, in a certain direction” (cited in Turabik & Baskan, 2015, p.1056). Motives are not constant; it is a dynamic process that is forever changing and developing as different situations arise (Hubackova & Semradova, 2014). There are three possible directions a motive/motivation can take (compiled from Zlate, & Cucui, 2015 and Blaskova, Blasko, Figurska, & Sokol, 2015):

·     ‘Motivation to’ – the process of striving towards something and an opening up to new experience. Also called ‘positive motivation’ for its beneficial effects.

·     ‘Motivation from’ – the passive process of avoiding something; a closing down of possible experience. Also referred to as ‘negative emotion’ and represents the most primitive form of emotion.

·     ‘Motivation against’ - the active process of opposing something which also leads to a closing down of new experience. Another form of ‘negative motivation’ .

Types of motivation

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Figure 3. Extrinsic vs Intrinsic motivation

Within the broader scope of motivation three distinct types emerge, though, the first two are further multidimensional that what is discussed here (Erten, 2014). These are that of extrinsic motivation, intrinsic motivation, see figure 2, and amotivation. These forces act in opposition to direct behaviour in different ways, leading to different outcomes for the individual.


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Extrinsic motivation involves engaging in a behaviour because of external regulation (Karlen, Suter, Hirt, & Merki, 2019). Extrinsic motivators come from outside the individual and can be anything from money, praise, good grades, punishment, coercion, threat etc. (Tohidi & Jabbari, 2012). It is the motivation to either obtain rewards or avoid punishments (Erten, 2014).


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Intrinsic motivation, also called hedonic motivation (Mehta, Morris, Swinnerton, & Homer, 2019), refers to motivation that is guided by enjoyment of, and interest in, a task. Unlike extrinsic motivation, it exists within the individual (Tohidi & Jabbari, 2012). It is the inner joy and satisfaction derived from participating in an activity, as well as, learning new things and gaining more knowledge (Erten, 2014).


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Amotivation is a fairly intuitive term and can be said to occur when the former two motivation types are absent, or a fundamental indifference or apathy exists within the person (Erten, 2014). Amotivation is the least of the self-determined motives (Cowden, Mascret, & Duckett, 2018). It is extremely rare for an individual to be completely amotivational and may suggest compromised cognitive functioning. Consider the following scenario in case study box 2 as it relates or amotivatioŋ.

Case Study 2

Darrel has been in a strange headspace lately. He feels detached from the world around him. He experiences little emotion, positive or negative. He finds it difficult to find the will to get out of bed, fix himself something to eat or take a shower. He has started noticing his attention and memory are impaired. He has previous experience with depression and notes this feels different. Darrel has also been using illicit substances, especially cannabis, regularly for the past 6 months since moving out of home.

Achievement motivation

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One example of a sub-category of motivation that is driven by both extrinsic and intrinsic motivators is the motivation to achieve. Achievement motivation refers to the specific instance of motivation where individuals are driven to attain success or meet a standard of excellence (Soyer, Sarı, & Talaghir, 2014). This is usually in the form of academic pursuits. Academic achievement refers to the extent to which an individual has obtained their short or long-term educational goals. People strive for this in different ways and use both external and internal motivational forces to propel them towards a desired outcome (Bakhtiarvand, Ahmadian, Delrooz, & Farahani, 2011). Students with a positive academic motivation have the desire to learn and believes studying is important (Ghaleb, Ghaith, & Akour, 2015). Lacking academic motivation can lead a student to be disengaged in knowledge related activities and pessimistic to the whole learning process.

Within achievement motivation there are different need systems at play. Succeeding at a goal or achieving highly at a task can add to an individual’s psychological need or competence. More importantly, the need for achievement is listed a one of the three implicit motives individuals face. Attitudes and behaviours around achievement are fed to people throughout their lives, subsequently making them more or less motivated to want to achieve at different tasks, mainly academically, but also in relationships or career endeavours.

As well as needs, different goal types are being employed within achievement motivation. Scholars commonly refer to internalised performance standards as achievement goals (Cowden, et al., 2018). Goal orientation has two types: mastery and performance. People with mastery goals focus on the task and prefer situations where they can learn new skills and expand knowledge. Performance goals on the other hand shifts the focus upon the person. These students prefer situations where they can demonstrate their ability and compare it to that of their peers (Ghaleb et al., 2015). Research in the area further differentiate performance goals into approach and avoidance types with approach referring to one’s aim to demonstrate a high level of competence compared to others, and, avoidance referring to one’s aim to avoid appearing incompetent compared with peers (Karlen et al., 2019; see table 1). For a more detailed look at Achievement motivation click here.

Table 1. Goal types
Mastery goals Performance goals
Approach oriented Driven to master tasks Driven to demonstrate ability compared to others
Avoidance oriented Driven to avoid failing at tasks Driven to avoid demonstrating inability compared to others

Check your Knowledge 1

What language does the word ‘motivation’ derive from?


The term amotivation can be described as a fundamental what within a person?


A ___ goal represents intrinsic value and a ___ goal represents extrinsic value

Mastery; Performance
Performance; Mastery
None of the above


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Figure 4. Exam situation

What we expect of certain things and the value we place on those things has an influential effect on how we move forward throughout daily living and life as a whole, especially in the context of achievement. Consider the following scenario, see figure 3. You are about to walk into your university class’ mid semester exam, and you are feeling nervous. Why do you feel this way? You have studied as much as your schedule would allow you to. The exam is only worth 15% of your overall grade. You don’t have to pass the exam to be able to pass the class. You know you don’t test well and are holding out for the major written piece to make your marks back. Even given all this rational information you still have the desire to perform well. Why? Through the study of motivation, researchers now have a theory that works towards explaining this phenomenon using the ideas of expectations and values.

A motivational theory

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Theories in the field of motivation research aim to describe what drives individuals to work towards specific goals or outcomes. Theories that help break down and explain the components of different motivational processes can be used to benefit almost all aspects of human life, especially in the areas of education and business. In addition, an understanding of the core processes can be used to develop personal strategies to modify behaviour in the present to influence later life outcomes (Barclay, 2018; Yusuf, 2011). It is important to note that theories are only a framework and should be used as a starting point for additional research studies. It is very rare that a single theory is accepted by the entire scientific community as a means of explaining a phenomenon. One example of a widely respected motivational theory is that of EVT. More information on the range of theories in motivation can be found here.

Expectancy Theory

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Figure 5. Expectancy theory model

In the 1960s the idea of expectancies was coming to light as a reason why people choose to behave in certain ways. Originally pioneered by professor Vroom, this theory of expectancy provided an account {{missing} to under what circumstances a person would decide whether or not to “exert self-control and pursue a particular goal” (Tohidi & Jabbari, 2012, p.821). The theory proposed that an individual’s motivation to behave in a particular way arises out of what they expect the outcome of that specific behaviour will be. There are three components: valence, expectancy, and instrumentality. Valence refers to the degree to which a reward is desired by an individual. The expectancy term signifies how much the individual estimates they will achieve the reward as a result of effortful work. And finally, instrumentality in the theory describes that the rewards an individual receives increase incrementally on ‘levels’ with each new reward obtained through hard work the levels increase (e.g. monetary value – level 1, upgraded living situation level 2, Turabik & Baskan, 2015).

Vroom’s expectancy theory formula (Turabik & Baskan, 2015, p. 1060; see Figure 4):

Motivation = expectancy x valence

Expectancy-value theory

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Expectancy-value theory is one of the most significant views on the nature of achievement motivation. Beginning with Atkinson’s (1957) seminal work several theorists, including that of Vroom, have expanded on its ideas and a compressive, all-encompassing model was developed by Ellces et al. in 1983 (Wigfield, 1994). According to Gråstén (2016), expectancy-value theory addresses whether or not people, specifically children, desire to participate in an activity and how much effort they are prepared to put into that activity. As such the theory consists of two parts, expectancy beliefs and subjective task values (Gråstén, 2016). An expectation is the strong belief that something will occur, and Atkinson originally defined this element as an individual’s anticipation that their performance will be followed with either success of failure (Wigfield, 1994). Similarly but distinctively, values are internally held attitudes about preferred outcomes that act as a standard of behaviour (Mehta et al. 2019).

Just as cognitive ability is thought to predict educational achievement psychological constructs and individual differences in motivation have been shown to account for most of the variability in outcomes (Meyer, Fleckenstein, & Köller, 2019). Motivation influences performance, persistence, and choice on different tasks (Wigfield & Eccles, 2000). According to Wigfield & Eccles (2000), an individual’s measurements on these three constructs can be explained by their personal beliefs and values about a given task. People’s expectancies and values are most directly determined by other achievement related beliefs, including explicit goals, self-schemata about ability and task specific beliefs (Wigfield, 1994). When facing a possible achievement task people take all of their past experience in with them and this influences how they engage with the activity.

Eccles 1983 model put simply (Wigfield, 1994; see figure 5):   

Expectancy and value thoughts = performance, persistence and choice behaviours                                                                                                                                                

Figure 6. Expectancy-value theory model

Check your knowledge 2

According to this text what word best describes a theory?

A fact
An idea
A framework

As part of Vroom’s expectancy model; Motivation = Valence x ____?


In what year did Atkinson’s seminal work in the field come out?



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[Provide more detail]


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[Provide more detail]


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[Provide more detail]


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[Provide more detail]

Check your Knowledge 3

Type the question here...

The correct answer.
Wrong or misleading answer.
Wrong or misleading answer.
Wrong or misleading answer.

Type the question here...

The correct answer.
Wrong or misleading answer.
Wrong or misleading answer.
Wrong or misleading answer.

Type the question here...

The correct answer.
Wrong or misleading answer.
Wrong or misleading answer.
Wrong or misleading answer.


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People encounter the motivation to achieve constantly. Whether it is academically or not, individuals strive to satisfy the psychological need for competence. In addition to this, people carry a whole host of implicit motives around with them which serves as agents of behaviour. Because of individual differences a person may have either a mastery or performance goal orientation and they may affect where they approach or avoid certain academic related tasks. The expectancy and expectancy-value theories of motivation do a great job and tying all these ideas together in a simplified model aimed at identifying the antecedents of a motivating force. This understanding can have widespread implications for the real-world scenarios, especially in the areas of education with students in schools, business and employee performance, and within the individual to grasp a better understanding of what really motivates them to achieve.

  • The idea of motivation is something that is part of every waking minute of our lives and is responsible for everything we decide to do. The word motivation comes from the Latin verb ‘movere’ meaning to move. It is a set of processes that arouse, direct and maintain human behaviour towards a goal. The key component behind the term motivation are motives. Motives are not constant; it is a dynamic process that is forever changing and developing as different situations arise. You can have ‘motivation to’, ‘motivation from’, or ‘motivation against’ motives. There are three distinct types of motivation: extrinsic, intrinsic, and amotivation. Extrinsic represents external regulators to motivation, where intrinsic represents internally regulated motives. Amotivation refers to a complete lack of any motivational forces. Achievement motivation occurs when individuals are driven to attain success or meet a standard of excellence. Achievement motivation encompasses the psychological need for competence and is listed as one of the main implicit motives people experience. In the study of achievement motives, two goal types are notes: Mastery (approach or avoidance orientation) and performance (approach or avoidance orientation).
  • What we expect of certain things and the value we place on those things has an influential effect on how we move forward through life. Theories in the field of motivation research aim to describe what drives individuals to work towards specific goals or outcomes. Theories are only a framework. Vroom was one of the first psychologists to study expectancies and its influence on motivational processes. The expectancy theory provided an account to under what circumstances a person would decide whether or not to behaviour in certain way. The three components are: valence, expectancy, and instrumentality. Eccles et al. expanded on Vroom and developed a model of expectancy value theory. Expectancy value theory addresses whether or not children desire to participate in an activity and how much effort they are prepared to put into that activity. It takes expectancy beliefs and subject task value as a way of predicting motivation.
  • Application section incomplete

See also

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Bakhtiarvand, F., Ahmadian, S., Delrooz, K., & Farahani, H. A. (2011). The moderating effect of achievement motivation on relationship of learning approaches and academic achievement. Procedia-Social and Behavioral Sciences, 28, 486-488.

Banerjee, A. (2015). Integrating human motivation in service productivity. Procedia Manufacturing, 3, 3591-3598.

Barclay, K. J. (2018). The birth order paradox: Sibling differences in educational attainment. Research in Social Stratification and Mobility, 54, 56-65.

Blaskova, M., Blasko, R., Figurska, I., & Sokol, A. (2015). Motivation and development of the university teachers’ motivational competence. Procedia-Social and Behavioral Sciences, 182, 116-126.

Cowden, R. G., Mascret, N., & Duckett, T. R. (2018). A person-centered approach to achievement goal orientations in competitive tennis players: Associations with motivation and mental toughness. Journal of Sport and Health Science.

Erten, İ. H. (2014). Interaction between academic motivation and student teachers’ academic achievement. Procedia-Social and Behavioral Sciences, 152, 173-178.

Ghaleb, A. B., Ghaith, S., & Akour, M. (2015). Self-efficacy, achievement goals, and metacognition as predicators of academic motivation. Procedia-Social and Behavioral Sciences, 191, 2068-2073.

Gråstén, A. (2016). Children's expectancy beliefs and subjective task values through two years of school-based program and associated links to physical education enjoyment and physical activity. Journal of Sport and Health Science, 5(4), 500-508.

Hubackova, S., & Semradova, I. (2014). Research study on motivation in adult education. Procedia-social and behavioral sciences, 159, 396-400.

Karlen, Y., Suter, F., Hirt, C., & Merki, K. M. (2019). The role of implicit theories in students' grit, achievement goals, intrinsic and extrinsic motivation, and achievement in the context a long-term challenging task. Learning and Individual Differences, 74, 101757.

Mehta, A., Morris, N., Swinnerton, B., & Homer, M. (2019). The Influence of Values on E-learning Adoption. Computers & Education, 141.

Meyer, J., Fleckenstein, J., & Köller, O. (2019). Expectancy value interactions and academic achievement: Differential relationships with achievement measures. Contemporary Educational Psychology, 58, 58–74.

Soyer, F., Sarı, İ., & Talaghir, L. G. (2014). The relationship between perceived coaching behaviour and achievement motivation: a research in football players. Procedia-Social and Behavioral Sciences, 152, 421-425.

Tohidi, H., & Jabbari, M. M. (2012). The effects of motivation in education. Procedia-Social and Behavioral Sciences, 31, 820-824.

Turabik, T., & Baskan, G. A. (2015). The importance of motivation theories in terms of education systems. Procedia-Social and Behavioral Sciences, 186, 1055-1063.

Wigfield, A. (1994). Expectancy-value theory of achievement motivation: A developmental perspective. Educational psychology review, 6(1), 49-78.

Wigfield, A., & Eccles, J. S. (2000). Expectancy–value theory of achievement motivation. Contemporary educational psychology, 25(1), 68-81.

Yusuf, M. (2011). The impact of self-efficacy, achievement motivation, and self-regulated learning strategies on students’ academic achievement. Procedia-Social and Behavioral Sciences, 15, 2623-2626.

Zhang, Z. J., Zhang, C. L., Zhang, X. G., Liu, X. M., Zhang, H., Wang, J., & Liu, S. (2015). Relationship between self-efficacy beliefs and achievement motivation in student nurses. Chinese Nursing Research, 2(2-3), 67-70.

Zlate, S., & Cucui, G. (2015). Motivation and performance in higher education. Procedia-Social and Behavioral Sciences, 180, 468-476.

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