The Effects of Chronic Achievement Motivation and Achievement Primes
on the Activation of Achievement and Fun Goals
University of Florida
Dolores Albarracı ´n
University of Illinois at Urbana–Champaign
This research examined the hypothesis that situational achievement cues can elicit achievement or fun
goals depending on chronic differences in achievement motivation. In 4 studies, chronic differences in
achievement motivation were measured, and achievement-denoting words were used to influence
behavior. The effects of these variables were assessed on self-report inventories, task performance, task
resumption following an interruption, and the pursuit of means relevant to achieving or having fun.
Findings indicated that achievement priming (vs. control priming) activated a goal to achieve and
inhibited a goal to have fun in individuals with chronically high-achievement motivation but activated a
goal to have fun and inhibited a goal to achieve in individuals with chronically low-achievement
Keywords: achievement motivation, achievement goals, self-regulation, fun, behavior
Many important human outcomes depend on individuals mar-
shaling up the motivation to go above and beyond comfortable
conduct into the realm of difficult, effortful, superior behavior.
Therefore, all societies have formal and informal systems to pro-
mote individual achievements that benefit the group, but some
members fail to meet these goals and instead pursue immediately
pleasurable activities. For example, even though formal education
is designed to promote achievement goals in all students, daily
absentee rates in U.S. schools are as high as 30% (Ingersoll &
LeBoeuf, 1997), and many of these absences can be attributed to
truancy (McNeal, 1999). Does this imply that the students who
disengage from achievement goals have no meaningful motiva-
tions, or is there a more complex pairing of goals in which
achievement is only part of the picture?
Up to this point, achievement motivation has been understood
by focusing on whether people are sufficiently competent or mo-
tivated to achieve excellence. Therefore, people who show poor
performance are seen as unmotivated or incapable of self-
determination (Ames, 1984; Dweck, 1986; Elliot & Church, 1997;
McClelland, Atkinson, Clark, & Lowell, 1953; Nicholls, 1984;
Sarason & Sarason, 1990; Spielberger, 1972; Thompson, David-
son, & Barber, 1995). Although the focus on achievement goals
has led to important advances in understanding achievement be-
havior (see reviews by Dweck, 1986; Elliot, 1997, 2005), achieve-
ment motivation may best be understood as a complex motiva-
tional process that involves the regulation of multiple social goals
(e.g., McClelland, 1965). In fact, it is widely recognized that goal
pursuit entails juggling multiple pursuits simultaneously (Kruglan-
ski et al., 2002; Shah & Kruglanski, 2007). In this research, we
propose that the goal to achieve is often construed as an alternative
to the goal to have fun and engage in leisure behavior. Whether
people choose to pursue achievement (at the expense of having
fun) or fun (at the expense of achieving) depends largely on their
level of chronic achievement motivation (i.e., the amount of plea-
sure gained from achieving a standard of excellence). Therefore,
environmental stimuli designed to promote achievement can have
unexpected effects on individuals with chronically low-
achievement motivation (for other interactions with chronic
achievement motivation, see Elliot & Harackiewicz, 1994; J. A.
Epstein & Harackiewicz, 1992; Harackiewicz & Elliot, 1993;
McClelland, 1985; Piedmont, 1988).
In accordance with models of Person ? Situation interaction
(S. Epstein, 1979; Mischel & Shoda, 1995; Roberts & Pomerantz,
2004; Schlenker, 1980, 1985), our model assumes that chronic
levels of achievement motivation interact with situational achieve-
ment prompts (e.g., word primes) to ignite a complex motivational
response that involves regulating goals to achieve and have fun. In
brief, achievement stimuli are presumed to automatically influence
different motivational responses depending on chronic levels of
achievement motivation. Specifically, achievement primes can
promote an achievement goal and the inhibition of a fun goal in
individuals with chronically high-achievement motivation but pro-
mote a fun goal and the inhibition of an achievement goal in
individuals with chronically low-achievement motivation. An
achievement goal is a desired end state of attaining or demonstrat-
William Hart, Department of Psychology, University of Florida; Do-
lores Albarracı ´n, Department of Psychology, University of Illinois at
The research was facilitated by National Institutes of Health Grants
K02-MH01861 and R01-NR08325. We thank Brian Cline, Josh Leeper,
and Josh Gellers, as well as the undergraduate research assistants working
in the senior author’s lab during the academic years 2004–2008 for their
invaluable assistance with this project. We also thank the Attitudes Lab at
the University of Florida and the Social Action Lab at the University of
Illinois for a discussion of the ideas reported in this article and John
Chambers, Ira Fischler, and K. C. McCulloch for comments on an earlier
manuscript on this topic.
Correspondence concerning this article should be addressed to William
Hart, Department of Psychology, University of Florida, Gainesville, Flor-
ida 32611 or Dolores Albarracı ´n, Department of Psychology, University of
Illinois at Urbana–Champaign, 603 East Daniel Street, Champaign, IL
61820. E-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org or email@example.com
Journal of Personality and Social Psychology
2009, Vol. 97, No. 6, 1129–1141
© 2009 American Psychological Association
0022-3514/09/$12.00 DOI: 10.1037/a0017146
ing excellence or competence through hard work, whereas a fun
goal is a desired end state of leisure, entertainment, and diversions
from work (i.e., play behavior). One key distinction between the
two goals is that an achievement goal operates through the setting
of a performance standard (e.g., “I want to get an A”) and the
monitoring of current outcomes in relation to this standard,
whereas the fun goal operates in the absence of a performance
standard. As broad social goals, they can influence a person’s
interests and behaviors and are likely to be activated in achieve-
The achievement and fun goal responses to achievement stimuli
(e.g., a slogan that reminds students of achievement) are possible
because of the structure of achievement settings and individuals’
past behaviors in those settings. Achievement settings (e.g.,
school, sport, work) provide opportunities to achieve as well as to
have fun, and chronic individual differences in achievement mo-
tivation should relate to the consistent and frequent choice of one
opportunity over the other. In achievement settings, achievement
opportunities are obviously available and can be used to demon-
strate and attain competence (Ames, 1984; Dweck, 1986; Nicholls,
1984; Thompson et al., 1995), but fun opportunities are also
available. Fun opportunities may be offered to prevent burnout and
fatigue (e.g., recess at school or office parties; see Deal &
Kennedy, 1982; Greenwich, 2001), can arise as a by-product of the
work environment (e.g., sitting close to a friend at work or having
Internet access), or may emerge without the knowledge or consent
of institutional authorities (e.g., truancy). In these contexts, indi-
vidual differences in chronic achievement motivation are likely to
determine whether achievement or fun is pursued on a regular
basis. Whereas individuals with chronically high-achievement mo-
tivation may generally try to seek achievement over fun, those with
chronically low-achievement motivation may generally try to seek
fun over achievement. Hence, chronic achievement motivation
may predict differences in the relative priority of each goal and the
likelihood that reminders of achievement will elicit achievement
versus fun seeking.
In line with the Person ? Situation framework, our model also
specifies that chronic achievement motivation may have a greater
influence on either achievement or fun behavior when the context
offers reminders of achievement (e.g., Mischel & Shoda, 1995).
This prediction suggests the possibility that chronic achievement
motivation may not be expressed without the presence of these
reminders. Whether chronic achievement motivation will be ex-
pressed when achievement stimuli are absent is an empirical
question and depends on the chronic accessibility of this motiva-
tion in people’s minds. In the absence of reminders, the influence
of chronic achievement motivation on behavior should be present
when high- or low-chronic achievement motivation is chronically
accessible but absent when this motivation is not chronically
A Model of Achievement and Fun Goal Activation in
We adhered to classic conceptualizations of chronic achieve-
ment motivation as the reward gained from attaining a standard of
excellence. For example, need for achievement can be defined as
a motivation by which reaching a standard of excellence is reward-
ing (McClelland et al., 1953) and produces intrinsically motivated
achievement behavior (Murray, 1938). Chronic individual differ-
ences in achievement motivation (Cassidy & Lynn, 1989) can be
assessed with self-report items such as “I find satisfaction in
working as well as I can” and “I get a sense of satisfaction out of
being able to say I have done a very good job on a project.”
Individuals with chronically high-achievement motivation are mo-
tivated to attain high-performance goals, enjoy pursuing standards
of excellence, value competence, and enjoy challenges and
achievement-relevant feedback (J. A. Epstein & Harackiewicz,
1992; McClelland, 1951, 1961, 1985; Trope, 1975). By contrast,
individuals with chronically low-achievement motivation devalue
competence, dislike challenges and ability assessments, and may
experience unpleasant psychological reactions to competitive aca-
1961, 1985; Trope, 1975).
Our model assumes that achievement stimuli can elicit different
automatic reactions in people with chronically high- and low-
achievement motivation. This prediction follows from the assump-
tion that each group should form specific cognitive links between
achievement prompts and the dominant responses associated with
these stimuli (Bargh, 1990; Bargh & Barndollar, 1996; Kruglanski
et al., 2002). On the one hand, individuals with chronically high-
achievement motivation should possess a strong cognitive link
between achievement stimuli and an achievement goal (Bargh,
1990) because they regularly choose high-performance goals in the
presence of achievement stimuli (McClelland et al., 1953).
Through this cognitive link, an achievement-relevant stimulus
(e.g., a word such as excel) should have the ability to automatically
activate an achievement goal, which can, in turn, promote high
effort, high task persistence, and high performance on a wide range
of achievement-based tasks (Bargh, Gollwitzer, Lee-Chai, Barn-
dollar, & Troetschel, 2001; Hassin, 2005; Shah, 2003).
Moreover, when external reminders of achievement elicit a goal
to achieve, competing goals of fun may be deactivated (Fishbach,
Friedman, & Kruglanski, 2003). Although people can pursue mul-
tiple goals simultaneously, accomplishing a focal goal (e.g., to
achieve) depends on whether other accessible goals interfere with
(e.g., chatting) or facilitate (e.g., focusing on work) the focal goal.
As a result, a focal goal may develop inhibitory links to competing
goals (e.g., a goal to achieve may inhibit a goal to chat with a
coworker; Fishbach et al., 2003; Kruglanski et al., 2002) and
excitatory links to facilitating goals (e.g., an achievement goal may
activate a goal to focus on work). Consistent with this basic
framework, participants with chronically high-achievement moti-
vation may inhibit a fun goal while they activate an achievement
On the other hand, individuals with chronically low-
achievement motivation might possess a weak cognitive link be-
tween achievement stimuli and an achievement goal. In fact, this
hypothesis has been implicit in work showing performance deficits
in people with chronically low-achievement motivation and would
suggest that this group will not be affected by achievement
prompts (e.g., Bargh, 1990; Fishbach & Ferguson, 2007; Fitzsi-
mons & Bargh, 2003). An important consideration, however, is
that people with chronically low-achievement motivation may
possess a strong cognitive link between achievement stimuli and a
fun goal because they may regularly adopt leisure goals in the
presence of achievement stimuli. Through this cognitive link, a
word, such as excel, may automatically activate a fun goal, which
HART AND ALBARRACI´N
can, in turn, promote high effort, high-task persistence, and high
performance on leisure tasks. For the same reason an achievement
goal deactivates a fun goal for individuals with chronically high-
achievement motivation, a fun goal may deactivate an achievement
goal for individuals with chronically low-achievement motivation
(see Fishbach et al., 2003).
It is highly plausible that individuals with chronically low-
achievement motivation may associate achievement contexts with
a fun goal because such individuals are likely to consistently
choose fun over achievement activities. Although there is a lack of
experimental or process-oriented research in this area, chronically
low-achievement motivation often correlates with enhanced ten-
dencies to engage in activities with immediate affective rewards
(e.g., gambling; Rees, 1967; Taber, Russo, Adkins, & McCormick,
1986). For example, pathological gamblers have lower levels of
chronic achievement motivation than nongamblers (Taber et al.,
1986), and individuals with chronically low-achievement motiva-
tion have reported a preference for entertainment-oriented maga-
zines (e.g., tabloids vs. news; Rees, 1967). Moreover, high school
students with a low grade point average have reported always
trying to have fun as their goal in the classroom, whereas their
counterparts with a high grade point average have reported always
trying to succeed as their goal in the classroom (Wentzel, 1989).
Despite the importance of this descriptive work, there has been no
attempt to understand the triggers of achievement and fun goals as
a function of chronic achievement motivation. Therefore, experi-
mental work on automatic goal activation may help fill this gap.
To the extent individuals with chronically high- and low-
achievement motivation consistently and frequently pursue
achievement (e.g., doing homework) or fun activities (e.g., social-
izing at school or surfing the Web at work), achievement stimuli
such as an “excel” slogan might exert an automatic, hydraulic
effect on these two goals. This possibility suggests a new way to
conceptualize past results and improve human performance. Past
research has shown that people with chronically low-achievement
motivation perform poorly and experience less enjoyment in con-
texts that make achievement standards highly salient (e.g., Elliot &
Harackiewicz, 1994; J. A. Epstein & Harackiewicz, 1992; Harac-
kiewicz & Elliot, 1993); yet, this research has failed to validate the
motivational process whereby achievement standards produce
these outcomes. Although multiple mechanisms are possible, peo-
ple with chronically low-achievement motivation may often un-
derperform in achievement contexts because these contexts may
automatically elicit a fun goal. Often, attempts to have fun during
an achievement task can harm performance, particularly when
attempts to have fun distract attention away from the task at hand
(e.g., daydreaming of fun opportunities) and decrease thoughts
about performing the task well. To our knowledge, the possibility
of automatic activation of fun goals during achievement tasks has
never been demonstrated experimentally.
By using implicit achievement triggers (e.g., priming), we were
able to examine in the present research whether the activation of
achievement and fun goals is controlled or automatic. For exam-
ple, one consideration in improving performance is whether people
are aware of their goal-directed behavior in achievement settings.
Yet, no research has examined this issue in groups with chronically
high- and low-achievement motivation. We assume that people
may adopt achievement or fun goals without any conscious aware-
ness of the triggering event or the goal (Bargh et al., 2001). In this
case, goal adoption is not open to introspection and may be
difficult to interrupt by an act of conscious will (Bargh, 1990).
Finally, our model of goal activation may suggest a novel
method to promote high performance among individuals with
chronically low-achievement motivation in achievement settings.
To the extent that a fun goal is activated prior to a task, this fun
goal should enhance mental focus and engagement on fun tasks,
thus correcting the potential problem of eliciting achievement
concepts in people with low-achievement motivation. Thus, an
achievement prime may cause individuals with low-achievement
motivation to perform at their peak on tasks that are framed as
entertaining rather than as achievement oriented. Correspondingly,
an achievement prime may cause individuals with high-
achievement motivation to perform at their peak on tasks that are
framed as achievement oriented rather than as entertaining.
Overview of Studies and Specific Predictions
In four studies, we examined various aspects of our model
concerning the interactive influence of chronic achievement mo-
tivation and achievement reminders on achievement and fun goals.
One major assumption of the model is that individuals with chron-
ically low-achievement motivation should tend to favor fun over
achievement, whereas individuals with chronically high-
achievement motivation should favor achievement over fun. In an
initial study, we tested whether chronically low-achievement mo-
tivation was associated with tendencies to favor fun over achieve-
ment, whereas chronically high-achievement motivation was as-
sociated with tendencies to favor achievement over fun. In a
second study, we examined whether achievement primes further
accentuated the relation between chronic achievement motivation
and the prioritization of achievement and fun goals. If a subliminal
achievement prime automatically triggers a fun goal in people with
chronically low-achievement motivation, such participants may
show a magnified tendency to prioritize fun over achievement. By
the same token, if a subliminal achievement prime automatically
activates an achievement goal in people with chronically high-
achievement motivation, such participants may show an enhanced
tendency to prioritize achievement over fun.
In additional studies, we examined other aspects of our theory
using an array of priming methods and measurements of
achievement- and fun-seeking behaviors. Of importance, we also
used techniques to determine whether the effects of the primes in
conjunction with achievement motivation were goal mediated (vs.
procedural; e.g., Bargh et al., 2001). Specifically, we evaluated the
behavioral effects of achievement primes by recording choices to
resume an interrupted achievement task or to begin a fun alterna-
tive task (Study 3) and by recording correctly solved word-search
puzzles framed as conducive to having fun, achieving, or not
framed (Study 4).
The goal of Study 1 was to examine whether differences in
chronic achievement motivation predicted differences in the pri-
oritization of achievement and fun goals. We predicted that indi-
viduals with chronically high-achievement motivation would pri-
oritize achievement goals over fun goals, whereas individuals with
chronically low-achievement motivation would prioritize fun goals
over achievement goals. Participants were invited to the lab where
they completed a measure of chronic achievement motivation and
an assessment of achievement–fun goal prioritization (in a coun-
terbalanced order). Our measure of achievement–fun goal priori-
tization introduced achievement and fun as alternatives, thus al-
lowing us to observe people’s relative preferences as a function of
their chronic achievement motivation.
introductory psychology classes participating in exchange for
credit. The study had a correlational design, with scores on chronic
achievement motivation as the predictor for achievement–fun goal
Experimental materials and procedures.
lab, participants learned that they would participate in a personality
study in which they would read and respond to some questions. At
this point, participants completed a measure of chronic achieve-
ment motivation and a measure of achievement–fun goal prioriti-
zation in counterbalanced order. The measure of chronic achieve-
ment motivation was a subscale of a multifactor achievement
motivation measure (Cassidy & Lynn, 1989; “excellence motiva-
tion”). This subscale was meant to capture a motivation to pursue
standards of excellence and, therefore, most closely reflected clas-
sic definitions of achievement motivation (e.g., Greenwald &
Breckler, 1985; McClelland et al., 1953; Murray, 1938). As part of
the Excellence Motivation scale, participants rated seven state-
ments (e.g., “I find satisfaction in working as well as I can”; “I hate
to see my bad workmanship”; “I get a sense of satisfaction out of
being able to say I have done a very good job on a project”; “Part
of the satisfaction in doing something comes from seeing how
good the finished product looks”) on a 1 (not at all like me) to 5
(extremely like me) scale. An overall chronic achievement moti-
vation score was computed by summing responses to all seven
items after appropriate reverse coding (Cronbach’s ? ? .74).1
Participants also completed a measure of achievement–fun goal
prioritization by responding to seven items that assessed the way
they prioritize achievement and fun goals. The items were “Nor-
mally, I am more motivated to have a good time than to do great
work”; “I think that I am more motivated to achieve than have fun”
(reverse coded); “I would rather surround myself with people who
are motivated to achieve than people who are motivated to have a
good time” (reverse coded); “I would rather spend my time at the
library than at a party” (reverse coded); “Reaching a personal
standard of excellence is more satisfying than having fun” (reverse
coded); “Most of my time is spent thinking of ways to have fun
rather than ways to achieve”; and “Most of my behaviors are
geared toward having fun rather than achieving.” Participants
provided their responses on a scale from 1 (not at all like me) to 5
(extremely like me). An overall score was computed by summing
responses to all seven items (Cronbach’s ? ? .85). Note that
scores above the scale’s midpoint (21) indicate the prioritization of
fun over achievement, and scores below the midpoint indicate a
prioritization of achievement over fun.
Participants were 151 students (41 men) from
Upon arriving to the
Results and Discussion
Prior to analyses, chronic achievement motivation was z-scored
(?1 ? 1 SD below the mean; 0 ? mean score; 1 ? 1 SD above the
mean). A regression analysis revealed the predicted negative rela-
tion between chronic achievement motivation and achievement–
fun prioritization (r ? ?.44), t(151) ? ?5.95, p ? .0001. We also
estimated levels of achievement–fun prioritization for chronic
high- and low-achievement motivation participants (?1 and ?1
SD).2The estimated mean on the achievement–fun prioritization
measure for individuals with chronically high-achievement moti-
vation (Yˆ ? 17.50, SE ? 0.59) differed significantly from the
scale’s midpoint of 21, t(151) ? 5.93, p ? .001, and suggested that
individuals with chronically high-achievement motivation priori-
tize achievement over fun. The estimated mean on the prioritiza-
tion measure for people with chronically low-achievement moti-
vation (Yˆ? 22.61, SE ? 0.58) also differed significantly from the
scale’s midpoint, t(151) ? 2.76, p ? .01, and suggested a priori-
tization of fun over achievement. In summary, these findings were
consistent with our predictions but were later replicated using
procedures that did not force participants into an achievement–fun
dichotomy as did the one in our achievement–fun prioritization
Study 1 was a first step in demonstrating that achievement
motivation relates to the way individuals prioritize goals to achieve
and have fun. Yet, this pattern should be more pronounced in the
presence of a reminder of achievement, such as a subliminal
achievement prime. To test this idea, participants completed the
measure of chronic achievement motivation, were subliminally
primed with achievement or control words, and then completed the
achievement–fun goal prioritization index.
introductory psychology classes participating in exchange for
credit. The design was a 2 (prime: achievement or control) ? 2
chronic achievement motivation (continuous), with scores on the
achievement–fun goal prioritization measure as the dependent
Experimental materials and procedures.
that they would participate in a series of unrelated studies regard-
ing personality and one study on information processing. In the
first study, participants completed the measure of achievement
motivation used in Study 1 (Cronbach’s ? ? .68). Subsequently,
participants completed a subliminal priming task, which ostensibly
Participants were 220 (28 men) students from
1It is noteworthy that our coefficient alphas for the excellence motiva-
tion scale are greatly improved from the alphas obtained by Cassidy and
Lynn (1989). The improvement in reliability likely stems from our use of
a 5-point scale rather than the 2-point scale used in their analyses (for a
discussion of scale points and reliability see Krosnick, Judd, & Witten-
2To do this, we subtracted one from the z-scored chronic-achievement
motivation index prior to regressing it on achievement–fun goal prioriti-
zation. As a result, the constant in the regression model was the mean
prioritization score with a given standard error for individuals with chron-
ically high-achievement motivation. (We used this technique throughout
the article whenever it was appropriate to test predicted values against a
HART AND ALBARRACI´N
measured verbal information processing. In this priming task,
participants were asked to decide as quickly as possible whether a
string of letters (flashed on the computer screen) ended in a vowel
or consonant. Each trial occurred as follows: Participants were
shown a fixation point for 2–7 s (???), then a 13-letter string of
consonants (forward mask; KQHYTPDQFPBYL) for 150 ms, and
then the achievement prime (e.g., strive) or control prime (e.g.,
puddle) for 33 ms. The prime was backward masked by a 20-ms
presentation of the same 13-letter string of consonants. To stay true
to our cover story, a seven-letter string (e.g., TQHYTPI) was
presented immediately thereafter, and participants decided whether
the string ended in a consonant or a vowel by pressing one of two
designated keys. All participants completed 75 experimental trials.
Thus, the achievement priming condition contained 75 presenta-
tions of achievement words (i.e., attain, win, master, compete,
excel, achieve, strive, and dominate), and the control condition
contained 75 presentations of neutral words (stand, hat, stove, and
green). Finally, participants completed the achievement–fun pri-
oritization measure from Study 1 (Cronbach’s ? ? .87), were
thanked for their participation, debriefed, and excused from the
Results and Discussion
pose of the experiment, nor thought that the priming task influ-
enced their behavior.
We analyzed achievement–fun goal pri-
oritization as a function of the prime and measured chronic
achievement motivation using a regression analysis with interac-
tion terms. As prescribed by Cohen and Cohen (1983), we entered
and tested the main effects of chronic achievement motivation and
the prime in the first step, and we tested the interaction term in the
second step. The regression model was significant at Step 1 with
only the main effects entered, F(2, 217) ? 30.14, p ? .001, R2?
0.22. There was a significant effect of chronic achievement moti-
vation in the direction of enhanced prioritization of achievement
over fun as chronic achievement motivation increased (? ?
?0.47, p ? .001) but no effect of prime (? ? 0, ns). The
regression model significantly improved at Step 2 with the inclu-
sion of the interaction term, ?F(1, 216) ? 9.45, p ? .001, ?R2?
.03. We probed this significant two-way interaction (? ? ?0.30,
p ? .001) by examining the effects of prime at high and low levels
of chronic achievement motivation (see Table 1). As anticipated,
individuals with chronically high-achievement motivation showed
enhanced prioritization of achievement over fun after the achieve-
ment primes (vs. control primes; ? ? 0.20, p ? .03). Moreover,
individuals with chronically low-achievement motivation showed
enhanced prioritization of fun over achievement after the achieve-
ment primes (vs. control primes; ? ? ?0.17, p ? .04).
We also assessed the effects of chronic achievement motivation
within priming levels. Replicating the effect in Study 1, chronic
achievement motivation negatively correlated with achievement–
fun goal prioritization in the control-prime condition (? ? ?0.28,
p ? .001). Also, consistent with our hypothesis, the size of this
relation was larger in the achievement-prime condition (? ?
?0.65, p ? .0001). These data validated the conclusion from
Study 1 that chronic achievement motivation is expressed in the
absence of achievement reminders, and they also showed that
No participant correctly identified the pur-
achievement priming magnifies goal prioritization tendencies. In
Study 3, we examined the behavioral implications of this goal
prioritization change and measured chronic achievement motiva-
tion during a prescreening session.
The goal of Study 3 was to provide some initial evidence that
achievement priming can have different implications on
achievement-seeking and fun-seeking behavior as a function of
chronic achievement motivation. To accomplish this goal, we
recorded the willingness to resume an interrupted achievement
task or switch to a fun task. Specifically, an achievement goal
should increase a willingness to resume an interrupted achieve-
ment task, whereas a fun goal should increase a willingness to
switch to a fun task. In this study, participants completed the
chronic achievement motivation measure during prescreening and
then were invited to lab. While in the lab, participants were
subliminally primed with achievement or control words. Immedi-
ately following the priming, participants worked on a word-search
task (described as a measure of verbal ability) and were interrupted
2 min into the task ostensibly due to a computer problem. Three
minutes after this interruption, participants were told that there was
not enough time to complete all the tasks in the session and they
could either complete a cartoon-rating task (fun option) or resume
the word-search task (achievement option).
Participants and design.
men) from introductory psychology classes participating in ex-
change for credit. The design was a 2 (prime: achieve vs. con-
trol) ? continuous (chronic achievement motivation) factorial,
with task preference (i.e., a choice to resume the puzzles or begin
the cartoon-rating task) as the dependent variable.
Experimental procedure and materials.
pleted the chronic-achievement motivation measure (see Study 1)
during a prescreening session (coefficient ? ? .83). Upon arriving to
the lab, participants were told that they would participate in three
unrelated experiments that were concerned with verbal skills (priming
Participants were 104 students (43
All participants com-
Mean Achievement–Fun Goal Prioritization Scores as a
Function of Prime and Chronic Level of Achievement
Motivation: Study 2
motivation (?1 SD)
motivation (?1 SD)Difference
low-achievement motivation groups. The difference row includes compar-
isons between the achievement and control prime conditions. Cell means
marked with an asterisk differ significantly from the scale’s midpoint of 21,
and therefore show goal prioritization. Lower numbers signify greater
prioritization of achievement than fun.
?p ? .05.
The difference column includes comparisons between the high- and
task and word searches) and humor (cartoon-rating task). Participants
began the session by completing a subliminal priming task. Proce-
dures for this task were identical to those discussed in Study 2.
After participants finished the prime task, they began a word-
search puzzle task. These puzzles were modeled after those used
by Bargh et al. (2001), which distinguished between people who
were and were not primed with a goal to achieve. Specifically,
participants were presented with three theme-titled word-search
puzzles and asked to find words that were compatible with the
theme of the puzzle. For example, one puzzle’s theme was bugs
and participants searched for types of bugs (e.g., roach, ant, and
spider). Each puzzle had 10 words embedded in a 10 ? 10 matrix
of letters. Participants were informed that the puzzles were diag-
nostic of verbal reasoning ability. They were also told that there
were a total of 10 words in each theme-related puzzle and that they
should try to find as many words as they could in 10 min. Two
minutes into the word-search task, all participants were interrupted
due to an ostensible computer problem that the experimenter was
attempting to resolve. Participants were asked to be patient with
the explanation that these issues are usually resolved in a matter of
minutes. After a 3-min delay, participants were forced to indicate
(ostensibly due to time constraints) whether they would like to
resume the word-search task or perform the cartoon-rating task by
clicking on a box labeled I would like to return to the word-search
puzzles or I would like to move forward to complete the cartoon
ratings. After participants made this decision, they worked on their
selected activity. Finally, all participants were probed for aware-
ness of the experiment’s purpose using funnel debriefing proce-
dures and then were fully debriefed.
Results and Discussion
pose of the experiment by indicating that the priming task probably
contained words designed to affect his behavior on the word-
search task. Although this participant was unable to identify the
actual words in the priming task, his data were discarded.
We analyzed task preferences (i.e., choos-
ing to resume the word-search task or begin the cartoon-rating
task) as a function of the prime and measured achievement moti-
vation using a logistic regression analysis with interaction terms.
As prescribed by Cohen and Cohen (1983), we entered and tested
the main effects of chronic achievement motivation and the prime
in the first step. We entered and tested the two-way interaction in
the second step. The regression model was significant at the first
step (model with main effects), ?2(2, N ? 104) ? 16.37, p ? .001,
(b ? 0.92, SE ? 0.26, p ? .001), but no effect of prime (b ?
–0.01, SE ? 0.22, ns). The main effect of achievement motivation
suggested greater willingness to resume the achievement task
among participants with chronically high-achievement motivation.
The regression model was significantly improved at the second
step (i.e., with the inclusion of the interaction term), ?2(3, N ?
104) ? 28.07, p ? .001, Rn
two-way interaction between priming and chronic achievement
motivation (b ? 1.97, SE ? 0.65, p ? .003). We decomposed the
two-way interaction by examining the effect of prime within high
and low levels of chronic achievement motivation (see Table 2).
As predicted, achievement priming (vs. control) increased the
One participant correctly identified the pur-
2? 0.20. There was a reliable effect of achievement motivation
2? 0.32, because there was a significant
probability that people with chronically high-achievement motiva-
tion would resume the interrupted achievement task (b ? 2.18,
SE ? 0.88, p ? .01). Also, as hypothesized, achievement priming
(vs. control) increased the probability that people with chronically
low-achievement motivation would switch to the fun cartoon-
rating task (b ? ?1.76, SE ? 0.73, p ? .02).
We also analyzed the effects of chronic achievement motivation
within levels of prime. Of interest, achievement motivation had a
nonsignificant influence on task preferences in the control-prime
condition (b ? 0.21, SE ? 0.31, ns). However, chronic achieve-
ment motivation influenced task preferences in the achievement-
prime condition (b ? 2.17, SE ? 0.58, p ? .0001). In contrast to
Studies 1 and 2, these findings suggested that chronic achievement
motivation may not be expressed in the absence of an achievement
reminder. Two different, nonexclusive possibilities may explain
this inconsistent effect of chronic achievement motivation across
the three studies. On the one hand, it is plausible that chronic
achievement motivation may be expressed weakly in the absence
of achievement reminders. On the other hand, it is possible that
there was reduced power to detect an effect of chronic achieve-
ment motivation in Study 3 (vs. Studies 1 and 2) because the study
had a dichotomous (vs. continuous) dependent variable.
The results obtained in Study 3 suggested that the same achieve-
ment primes elicited a goal to achieve in people with chronically
high-achievement motivation but a goal to have fun in people with
chronically low-achievement motivation. Following an achieve-
ment prime, individuals with chronically high-achievement moti-
vation were more likely to resume the interrupted achievement
task, whereas individuals with chronically low-achievement moti-
vation were more likely to switch to the fun task. These results
provided evidence to support our theory that achievement motiva-
tion is a complex motivational process that involves multiple goals
3Data from 2 participants were discarded because they reported that
they finished the puzzle task. Thus, these participants did not have to make
a choice but rather were forced to proceed to the cartoon task. In addition,
3 participants were excluded because they apparently did not pay attention
during the priming task. Specifically, they showed lower than 90% accu-
racy when judging whether a presented letter string ended in a vowel or
consonant. Discarding the data from these 5 participants did not alter the
direction of the reported effects.
Percentage of Resumption of an Achievement Task (Versus a
Fun Task) as a Function of Prime and Chronic Level of
Achievement Motivation: Study 3
motivation (?1 SD)
motivation (?1 SD) Difference
cally high- and low-achievement motivation groups. The difference row
includes comparisons between the achievement and control prime condi-
?p ? .05.
The difference column includes comparisons between the chroni-
HART AND ALBARRACI´N
and interactions between achievement stimuli and chronic achieve-
ment motivation. In Study 4, we examined the implications of this
interpretation on performance.
The goal of Study 4 was to build on and bolster the conclusions
drawn from Study 3 concerning achievement- and fun-goal acti-
vation following priming and to extend the findings to perfor-
mance. In particular, Study 4 was designed to test whether framing
a task as conducive to achievement or fun moderated responses to
achievement priming. Specifically, we introduced a task-framing
manipulation after manipulating achievement priming. Note that
task framing is conceptually different from achievement priming
(for this argument, see Bargh et al., 2001). According to Bargh et
al. (2001), achievement primes influence the activation of an
achievement goal but fail to influence the way an experimental
task is perceived. Moreover, task frames are assumed to change the
incentive value of a framed task without instituting a goal (e.g.,
Atkinson, 1964; Feather, 1982). Consequently, it should be possi-
ble to manipulate goals without affecting the perception of a task
and to frame a task without instilling a goal.
If achievement priming activates an achievement goal and in-
hibits a fun goal in individuals with chronically high-achievement
motivation, then achievement priming should enhance perfor-
mance on a task described as achievement related (i.e., diagnostic
of ability and challenging). Furthermore, due to the inhibitory
effects of the achievement prime on the fun goal, achievement
priming may reduce performance on a task framed as fun. More
important, neither one of these prime effects was anticipated for a
control-framed task (i.e., a mere description of the task) condition
that lacks clear implications for achievement and fun.
The effects for participants with chronically low-achievement
motivation should mirror those of participants with chronically
high-achievement motivation. If achievement priming activates a
fun goal and inhibits an achievement goal in individuals with
chronically low-achievement motivation, then achievement prim-
ing might enhance performance on a task described as entertaining.
By contrast, due to the inhibitory effects of the achievement prime
on the achievement goal, achievement priming might worsen per-
formance on a task framed as achievement oriented. Neither effect
of prime was predicted for a task that lacks a frame (a control-
frame condition) because such a task does not have clear implica-
tions for either achievement or fun.
Finding that a prime increases (decreases) effort on activities
that can aid (hinder) goal progress is key to validating the assump-
tion that goals mediate behavior. Generally, a task framed as
facilitating the completion of an activated goal should have a
greater incentive value and be more engaging than other tasks.
Moreover, a task framed as facilitating the completion of an
inhibited goal should have lesser incentive value and produce
lesser engagement than other tasks. Behavioral procedures of
achievement and fun that are not goal directed should be relatively
insensitive to framing a task as conducive to either achievement or
fun. After all, achievement priming could also influence achieve-
ment behavior by activating achievement-related or fun-related
behavioral procedures that operate independently of goals (Aarts
& Dijksterhuis, 2003; Bargh, Chen, & Burrows, 1996; Dijkster-
huis, Bargh, & Miedema, 2000; Dijksterhuis et al., 1998; Dijkster-
huis & van Knippenberg, 1998; for a summary, see Dijksterhuis &
Prior to coming to the lab, participants completed the measure of
chronic achievement motivation during pretesting. Then, partici-
pants were invited to the lab where they were primed with
achievement-denoting words or control words using a supraliminal
procedure. Following the priming, participants were given a 5-min
filler task (Bargh et al., 2001) to produce a delay and thus
strengthen goal priming effects (Atkinson & Birch, 1970; Lewin,
1936). Following the delay, participants completed word-search
puzzles to measure achievement behavior. These puzzles were
framed so that the participants thought they were designed for
achievement (achievement frame) or fun (fun frame). In a control-
frame condition, the puzzles were described at a concrete level
(e.g., “circling words in a word search”).
Participants and design.
dents from introductory psychology classes participating in ex-
change for credit. The design was a 2 (prime: achieve vs. con-
trol) ? 3 (frame: achievement frame, control frame, and fun
frame) ? continuous (chronic achievement motivation) factorial,
with the number of words found in the word-search puzzles as the
Experimental procedure and materials.
pleted the chronic-achievement motivation measure during a pre-
screening session (coefficient ? ? .75). Upon arriving to the lab,
participants were told that they would be participating in three
unrelated tasks that assess verbal ability. Next, participants were
randomly assigned to be primed with the achievement or control
words using a supraliminal-priming procedure. Specifically, one
group searched a word puzzle for synonyms of achievement,
whereas the other group searched for control words (see Bargh et
al., 2001). In the achievement-prime condition, participants
searched a 10 ? 10 matrix of letters for the eight synonyms of
achieve used in Study 2 and five filler words (e.g., hat, thin, and
teeth). In the control-prime condition, participants searched for
eight control words in addition to the five filler words. After the
priming task, participants completed a filler task that produced a
delay between priming and the performance task. This task con-
sisted of drawing a family tree for 5 min. In prior research by
Bargh et al. (2001), this task worked by presumably decreasing
participants’ reliance on concepts that were previously active
while simultaneously not allowing for the satisfaction of the
primed-achievement goal. Subsequently, all participants com-
pleted word-search puzzles as a measure of performance. These
puzzles were the same puzzles used in Study 3. In the
achievement-frame condition, participants were told that the task
was diagnostic of verbal ability and might predict academic
achievement similarly to the SAT and GRE. In the fun-frame
condition, participants were told that the task was previously
evaluated as fun and enjoyable by a group of University of Florida
students. In the control-frame condition, participants were told that
the task involved searching for words in a word-search puzzle.
After these descriptions, participants worked on the puzzles in
separate cubicles until time was called, at which point, they set the
puzzles aside. Finally, all participants were probed for awareness
of the experiment’s purpose and debriefed.
Participants were 226 (72 men) stu-
All participants com-
Results and Discussion
pose of the experiment, nor thought that the priming task influ-
enced their performance on the word-search puzzles.
We analyzed the number of words
found in the word-search puzzles as a function of the prime,
chronic achievement motivation, and task frame using a linear
regression analysis with interaction terms. Prior to entering these
variables, we dummy-coded task frame because it was a categor-
ical variable with three levels. For example, one dummy code
represented a comparison between the fun frame and the other two
framing groups (1 ? fun, 0 ? achievement and control), and the
other dummy code represented a comparison between the achieve-
ment frame and the other two framing groups (1 ? achievement,
0 ? fun and control). Note that when these two dummy codes are
entered into a regression equation simultaneously, they completely
account for the effect of the variable on word-search performance
(for more on dummy-coding, see Keith, 2006). We computed
interaction terms using this dummy-code system as well. There-
fore, each regression analysis had four (vs. two) two-way interac-
tion terms and two (vs. one) three-way interaction terms.
The three independent variables entered at Step 1 reliably pre-
dicted scores on word-search performance, F(4, 222) ? 3.81, p ?
.005, R2? .06. In particular, higher levels of chronic achievement
motivation predicted enhanced performance (? ? 0.24, p ? .002).
Also, performance was significantly enhanced in the fun-frame
condition relative to the control-frame condition (? ? –0.15, p ?
.04) and marginally enhanced in the achievement-frame condition
relative to the control-frame condition (? ? –0.14, p ? .11). The
effect of the prime did not achieve significance (? ? –0.05, ns).
Adding the two-way interaction terms in Step 2 improved the
predictive power of the model relative to Step 1, ?F(5, 217) ?
7.12, p ? .001, ?R2? .13. Also, adding the three-way interaction
terms in Step 3 further improved the predictive power of the model
relative to Step 2, ?F(2, 215) ? 10.17, p ? .001, ?R2? .07. The
significant three-way interaction suggested that the nature of the
interaction between chronic achievement and prime depended on
task frame (for estimated means, see Table 3). Thus, we analyzed
this interaction as a function of task frame. In the fun-frame
condition, a significant two-way interaction (? ? –0.63, p ? .002)
revealed that achievement priming (vs. control) increased perfor-
mance for individuals with chronically low-achievement motiva-
tion (–1 SD; ? ? 0.43, p ? .02) but decreased performance for
No participants correctly identified the pur-
individuals with chronically high-achievement motivation (?1
SD; ? ? –0.29, p ? .03). As anticipated, the nature of this
interaction between the prime and chronic achievement motivation
differed from the interaction present in the control-frame (? ?
0.46, p ? .05) and achievement-frame conditions (? ? 0.49, p ?
In the achievement-frame condition, a significant two-way
interaction (? ? –0.84, p ? .001) showed that achievement
priming (vs. control) reduced performance for individuals with
chronically low-achievement motivation (? ? –0.23, p ? .04)
but improved performance for individuals with chronically
high-achievement motivation (? ? 0.76, p ? .01). Notably, this
interactive effect differed from the interaction obtained in the
control-frame condition (? ? –0.49, p ? .01). In fact, the
interaction between prime and achievement motivation failed to
achieve significance in the control-frame condition (? ? –0.04,
ns), and, in this condition, the effect of the prime was absent for
individuals with chronically high-achievement motivation (? ?
0.04, ns) and individuals with chronically low-achievement
motivation (? ? 0.08, ns).
We also analyzed effects of chronic achievement motivation
within levels of prime at each level of task frame. In the
fun-frame condition, chronic achievement motivation had a
marginally significant positive relation to task performance in
the control-prime condition (? ? 0.27, p ? .08). Furthermore,
chronic achievement motivation had a negative relation to task
performance in the achievement-prime condition (? ? –0.42,
p ? .01). In contrast, in the achievement-frame condition,
chronic achievement motivation had a positive relation to per-
formance regardless of the content of the prime, albeit the size
of this relation varied depending on the content of the prime
(for control prime, ? ? 0.45, p ? .04; for achievement prime,
? ? 1.37, p ? .001). In the control-frame condition, chronic
achievement motivation had no relation to task performance
regardless of the content of the prime (for control prime, ? ?
0.22, ns; for achievement prime, ? ? 0.05, ns). These data
support our earlier conclusion that achievement reminders ac-
centuate the goal orientations associated with achievement
stimuli. On the issue of whether chronic achievement motiva-
tion is expressed when achievement reminders are absent, these
data suggest a weak expression. For example, when achieve-
ment reminders were absent, the relation between chronic
achievement motivation and performance was only significant
Mean Performance (Number of Identified Puzzle Words) as a Function of Prime and Chronic Level of Achievement Motivation:
Achievement frameControl frame Fun frame
motivation (?1 SD)
motivation (?1 SD)
motivation (?1 SD)
motivation (?1 SD)
motivation (?1 SD)
motivation (?1 SD)
?p ? .05.
The difference row includes comparisons between the achievement and control prime conditions.
HART AND ALBARRACI´N
in the achievement-frame condition and approached signifi-
cance in the fun-frame condition.
The data obtained in Study 4 were useful to understand the
mechanisms underlying the earlier preferences for achievement
and fun tasks exhibited by participants with low- and high-
chronic achievement motivation after priming. In particular, the
findings suggested that achievement priming caused partici-
pants with chronically low-achievement motivation to pursue a
fun goal and inhibit an achievement goal. As expected, after
achievement (vs. control) priming, this group of participants
performed better in the fun-frame condition and performed
worse in the achievement-frame condition. Correspondingly, the
results also suggested that achievement priming caused partici-
pants with chronically high-achievement motivation to pursue an
achievement goal and inhibit a fun goal. After achievement (vs.
control) priming, chronically high-achievement motivation par-
ticipants performed better in the achievement-frame condition
and worse in the fun-frame condition. Also, Study 4 was
valuable in suggesting a way to enhance performance in indi-
viduals with low- and high-chronic achievement motivation.
Individuals with chronically low-achievement motivation might
perform best in achievement settings when these settings high-
light the fun aspects of tasks, but individuals with chronically
high-achievement motivation might perform best when charac-
teristics of the settings highlight the competency-based aspects
Finally, the data were also important in demonstrating that the
achievement prime was critical in producing the regulation of fun
and achievement goals. In the absence of achievement reminders,
chronic achievement motivation tended to positively correlate with
performance in both the achievement- and fun-frame conditions.
This insensitivity to framing implies no attempt to regulate fun and
achievement goals. In the presence of achievement reminders,
however, chronic achievement motivation positively correlated
with performance in the achievement-frame condition but nega-
tively correlated with performance in the fun-frame condition. This
sensitivity suggests strategic engagement (disengagement) on
tasks that can promote (hinder) progress toward achievement and
fun goals, and thereby demonstrates attempts to regulate the two
As judged from the high rates of truancy in high school
(McNeal, 1999), achievement settings do not seem to instill
achievement goals in all individuals and may instead remind
people of their need to have fun through leisure behavior. In
achievement settings, options to achieve or have fun are typically
available and may be differentially selected as a function of
people’s level of chronic achievement motivation. In an initial
study, we found evidence that individuals with chronically low-
achievement motivation prioritize fun seeking over achievement
seeking, whereas individuals with chronically high-achievement
motivation prioritize achievement seeking over fun seeking. Study
2 showed that achievement (vs. control) priming enhanced tenden-
cies to prioritize achievement over fun in individuals with chron-
ically high-achievement motivation. Furthermore, achievement
(vs. control) priming enhanced tendencies to prioritize fun over
achievement in individuals with chronically low-achievement mo-
tivation. In Study 3, achievement priming (vs. control) increased
the likelihood of resuming an achievement-framed task in high-
achievement motivation participants but increased the likelihood
of switching to a fun-framed task in low-achievement motivation
Study 4 highlighted that the influence of the primes on behavior
was motivationally driven as opposed to the result of mere cogni-
tive activation. Consistent with the expected hydraulic pattern for
fun-goal activation and achievement-goal inhibition, achievement
priming caused people with chronically low-achievement motiva-
tion to perform better on a task described as conducive to fun but
worse on a task described as conducive to achievement or de-
scribed in a neutral way. Also, consistent with the anticipated
hydraulic pattern, people with chronically high-achievement mo-
tivation performed better on a task described as conducive to
achievement relative to the control-frame or fun-frame conditions.
These findings imply a goal-directed state in both groups of
participants because both groups seemed sensitive to the contribu-
tion of the task to the presumed goal they were pursuing. Further-
more, they suggest a way to promote high performance among
both achievement groups.
In line with the Person ? Situation framework (e.g., Mischel &
Shoda, 1995), Studies 2–4 provided conclusive evidence that
achievement reminders were critical in producing the effect of
chronic achievement motivation on achievement- versus fun-
seeking outcomes. Yet, the association between chronic achieve-
ment motivation and achievement versus fun behavior in the
absence of achievement priming was only significant in Study 1,
Study 2, and in the achievement-frame condition of Study 4. As
weak effects often produce inconsistent results, we computed a
weighted mean correlation between chronic achievement motiva-
tion and achievement behavior across the four studies (Hedges &
Olkin, 1985). This meta-analysis revealed r ? .28, SE ? .05, z ?
5.60, p ? .001, and therefore suggested that chronic achievement
motivation is expressed weakly in the absence of achievement
Our Findings in the Context of Prior Literatures
There are differences and similarities between our results and
those found in research on achievement motivation, goal shielding,
and the area of priming and chronic-goal accessibility. These
differences and similarities are discussed below along with a
description of opportunities for future research.
Theoretical Advances to Achievement Motivation
This research suggests that achievement motivation is part of a
broader motivational system that can allow an achievement goal
and a fun goal to influence performance in achievement situations.
In this way, our model reflects a departure from classic achieve-
ment goal theorizing, which discussed achievement in the exclu-
sive context of achievement goals (e.g., Dweck, 1986; Nicholls,
1984). For example, most achievement goal theorists propose two
conceptually distinct competency-based achievement goals that
influence achievement behavior: A learning goal is oriented to-
ward the development of task competence, and a performance goal
is oriented toward the demonstration of task competence (for
additional refinements to this approach, see Elliot, 1999; Elliot &
McGregor, 2001). Our model adds to this prior theorizing by
placing achievement motivation in the context of a dynamic inter-
play for goals to seek achievement versus fun (Kruglanski et al.,
2002; McClelland, 1965).
Goal Activation Versus Goal Shielding
Unhealthy foods like donuts and cookies increase a successful
dieter’s motivation to eat healthily and stick to a strict diet (Fish-
bach et al., 2003). In contrast, these foods increase motivation to
indulge among unsuccessful dieters. Of interest, this past finding
was interpreted as suggesting that past success at dieting predicts
successful automatic avoidance of temptation (a behavioral proce-
dure). In light of our findings, however, this past result may also
imply that successful dieters activate a goal to diet (i.e., avoiding
unhealthy foods when confronted with them), whereas unsuccess-
ful dieters inhibit the goal to diet in response to situational
prompts. Although activation of a goal and behavioral procedures
may coexist, goal mediation is worth investigating in the domain
Chronic Accessibility and Achievement Motivation
Our research on chronic achievement motivation seems dis-
tinct from other research on chronic-goal accessibility. In par-
ticular, research by Levesque and Pellitier (2003) has shown
that goal primes are effective for individuals with low-chronic
goal accessibility but have no effect on individuals with high-
chronic goal accessibility. An implication for the present work
is therefore that achievement goals were not chronically acces-
sible in our studies. That is, although chronic achievement
motivation was either low or high, achievement goal activation
required achievement primes.
Even though the present research does not address
achievement-goal accessibility, future research should investi-
gate this topic. For example, the accessibility of achievement
goals can be measured using free-response measures (e.g.,
Higgins, King, & Mavin, 1982; Levesque & Pellitier, 2003; see
also McClelland & Atkinson, 1948; Murray, 1938). Such mea-
sures may confirm that achievement priming and chronic ac-
cessibility interact to determine achievement goal adoption.
Particularly, priming might more effectively activate achieve-
ment goals when chronic achievement-goal accessibility is low
(e.g., Levesque & Pellitier, 2003).
Fun Goal Adoption and Other Processes at Play in
Chronically Low Achievers
Our results suggest that the performance deficits in individ-
uals with chronically low-achievement motivation are driven by
the adoption of a fun goal along with the inhibition of an
achievement goal. However, other processes can also be at play,
and these processes may contribute uniquely to poor perfor-
mance. For example, previous research on self-handicapping
has shown that people impose roadblocks to their own perfor-
mance (e.g., excessive alcohol consumption, lack of sleep, and
lack of preparation), especially when they expect to perform
poorly (Self, 1990; Shepperd & Arkin, 1991). Self-
handicapping is presumably triggered by a self-protection goal
(Self, 1990), yet the process can also be driven by a goal to have
fun. For example, self-handicapping can eliminate achievement
concerns (“I cannot possibly do well anyway”), which might
promote the ability to have fun.
Furthermore, individuals with chronically low-achievement mo-
tivation may intentionally sabotage their own performance to
maintain their image as a low achiever. For example, test takers
with low initial expectations of success but who received positive
performance feedback (vs. negative feedback) intentionally de-
creased their performance on a subsequent version of the test
(Aronson & Carlsmith, 1962). Apparently, people with low expec-
tations sabotage their performance to restore consistency between
their prior failure expectations and their surprising success. A
similar process might be at play for individuals with chronically
low-achievement motivation who aim to restore faith in their
image as fun-loving versus achievement-oriented people (Schlen-
If situational factors stimulate goal activation only when certain
chronic personal motivations are in place, goal activation may be
contingent on other internal factors. For example, before a situational
stimulus can activate a goal, arousal may need to be sufficiently
high to facilitate goal pursuit. Given that organisms function with
a limited amount of resources, people may reduce goal-mediated
behavior when resources or arousal are low (e.g., consider ego
depletion; Baumeister, Bratslavsky, Muraven, & Tice, 1998). For
example, when a person experiences fatigue, an achievement
prime may produce achievement-goal inhibition instead of
External factors other than the primes may be critical as well.
Adopting an achievement goal may require verifying that achieve-
ment is possible in the present situation. For instance, effortful
engagement in a task that is likely to yield failure can only produce
frustration. As a result, expending effort only when there is a high
(or moderate) probability of success would be more adaptive than
indiscriminately expending effort (for suggestive findings, see
Levy, 1996). In the future, this hypothesis could be investigated by
assessing whether degree of effort is a function of achievement
priming along with the environmental facilitation of success. If
goal activation makes individuals sensitive to situational condi-
tions, then achievement (vs. control) priming should produce
greater engagement if the environment facilitates success, as well
as greater disengagement if the environment blocks success. In
fact, the results of our Study 4 seem consistent with this hypoth-
Like most experimental work, our studies possess some
shortcomings. First, achievement motivation is a complex con-
struct, and our results are specific to the satisfaction gained
through a job well done. Second, the use of college students
limits generalizing our findings to other populations. It is im-
portant to note, however, that the ability to obtain effects of
achievement motivation within a typically high-achievement
motivation population (i.e., college students) implies that these
effects may be even stronger among other populations with
HART AND ALBARRACI´N
more variability in achievement motivation. Third, although in
theory our results should be relevant to any task that is framed
as an achievement task or a fun task, we used a limited set of
cognitive tasks and measures. More future work will render
greater confidence in the generality of our findings.
Our findings suggest practical advice to employers, teachers,
coaches, and others who try to motivate audiences. Often,
companies initiate competitions for employees to see who can
sell more products; coaches have players compete with each
other to decide who will get playing time; teachers give the best
students the most praise. In light of our findings, all of these
strategies are likely to be successful for individuals with chron-
ically high-achievement motivation. At the same time, leaders
need to be aware that individuals with chronically low-
achievement motivation benefit from a fun and relaxing envi-
ronment and may do their worst when competition and perfor-
mance are stressed.
Since antiquity, two antithetical philosophical schools have de-
bated the role that ambition plays in optimal human development
and happiness. One of these notions, espoused by the Stoics (e.g.,
Epicurius) and Eastern philosophy (e.g., Buddhism), posits that
human happiness is achieved by making oneself impervious to the
ups and downs of daily living. This perspective supports disen-
gaging from ambitious pursuits. In contrast to this proposal, an-
other school posits that goals give structure and function to our
lives (Carver & Scheier, 1998; Locke & Latham, 2002). Conse-
quently, optimal human performance is achieved by striving to
meet lofty goals that enhance our lives.
Our research suggests that achievement priming can have either
of these effects, depending on the person. Although some past
theories stated that behavior was predominantly controlled by
either personal factors (e.g., Allport, 1937; Bruner, 1957; Hastorf
& Cantril, 1954) or environmental factors (Darley & Latane, 1968;
Milgram, 1963; Thorndike, 1905), neither aspect is sufficient to
explain most human behavior (S. Epstein, 1979; Schlenker, 1980,
1985). In the case of achievement, when individuals are chroni-
cally motivated to achieve, a reminder of achievement increases
the resolve to accomplish it. However, when individuals are chron-
ically unmotivated to achieve, a reminder of achievement increases
a resolve to live a more fun existence.
Aarts, H., & Dijksterhuis, A. (2003). The silence of the library: Environ-
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Received June 30, 2006
Revision received May 29, 2009
Accepted July 2, 2009 ?