Achievement Need

The most thoroughly studied of the 20 psychological needs identified by H. A. Murray in his seminal study, Explo rations in Personality, is what Murray termed "need achievement." In early research studies, the need to achieve (n Ach) was assumed to be present in any situation marked by competition with a standard of excellence. (The standard of excellence could of course be set by others' performance or by one's own aspirations.) In most of these studies, especially the ones conducted by D. C. McClelland and his associates, n Ach was measured by analyses of stories told by subjects in response to pictures included in or resembling those of the Thematic Apperception Test (TAT). The concurrent validity of the TAT measure was shown by a study in which McClelland and Atkinson found that naval cadets who had been made to "fail" (because of false information given them about their performance on seemingly important tests) introduced more achievement themes in their TAT stories than did members of a control group. The predictive validity of the TAT method was demonstrated by McClelland, who found that college students who made high n Ach scores were more likely to enter entrepreneurial occupations in later years than were students who scored low.

McClelland maintained that the level of economic achievement attained by a society is determined by the way it raises its children. This is the theme of his best-known work, The Achieving Society, in which he maintained that achievement themes identified in such diverse modes of expression as pottery designs, literature, and children's textbooks predicted levels of economic achievement decades later in various countries and cultures, ancient, medieval, and modern. The effect of child-rearing practices can, however, be reversed. McClelland and Winter report field studies conducted in India of businessmen with initially low levels of n Ach who were coached in order to raise their levels of aspiration, and who consequently expanded their business activities and made significant economic contributions to their community.

The work of McClelland and his associates has been criticized on a number of grounds. M. S. Weinstein observed that he, as well as other researchers, found TAT measures to be of low reliability and questionable validity. Maehr and Nicholls objected to the McClelland group's emphasis on personality as a critical variable in determining behavior, to the narrowness of their achievement criteria, and to their failure to obtain significant results regarding achievement motivation in women.

Many researchers have also been unable to find significant relationships between women's n Ach scores and achievement-related variables. Horner suggested that women are likely to believe that ambition is inappropriate for them, especially in fields dominated by men, and that, as a consequence, they are inhibited by a "fear of success." Subsequent research by Sid and Lindgren, however, indicated that fear of success has inhibiting effects on men as well as women.

One reason for researchers'inability to relate n Ach scores to women's achievement may lie in the way n Ach is usually assessed. These measures, both of the TAT and questionnaire type, have typically attempted to cover all components of what has come to be recognized as achievement motivation: task orientation, positive attitudes toward problems and challenges, responsiveness to the Zeigarnik effect, preference for medium-risk ventures (as contrasted with high- or low-risk ventures), competitiveness, and the desire to work independently for self-determined goals rather than for group goals. The unsatisfactory reliability and validity of n Ach measures may be the result of attempting to measure too broad a spectrum of traits. Lindgren proposed that problems inherent in such measures could be bypassed by employing a forced-choice questionnaire which would require subjects to choose between achievement-related personal styles and those that were affiliation-related. The rationale for this juxtaposition of factors was found in a number of studies that showed needs for achievement and affiliation to be negatively correlated. Research by Lindgren and by Sadd and colleagues with the resulting questionnaire reported (1) no significant differences between mean scores of men and women undergraduates, and (2) positive correlations between n Ach scores and academic performance.

The strong emphasis on cognitive psychology that appeared in the 1970s had a marked effect on achievement motivation research. During this period, Maehr and Nicholls pointed out, researchers became interested in subjects'cognitions about the nature of achievement, their purposes in performing achievement-related acts, and their attributions as to causes of outcomes. Cross-cultural studies, for example, turned up both differences and similarities between national cultures and the way in which their members interpreted "success" and "failure" and attributed the antecedents and consequences of success.

By the early 1980s, the question of whether achievement motivation may be appropriately studied as a personality trait or whether it should be studied cognitively had not been resolved; thus, personality and cognitive psychologists continued to pursue their separate ways. The earlier questions that had been raised by Weinstein as to whether achievement motivation could be measured, or indeed whether it existed at all, seemed to have been resolved, for research activity in this area actually increased during the 1970s and 1980s. Weinstein's criticism of the reliability of TAT measures may, however, have stimulated the development of questionnaire measures, for the majority of studies of achievement motivation in the 1980s employed this potentially more reliable type of assessment.

Henry C. Lindgren See also: Affiliation Need; Optimal Functioning

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