Report on a Presentation at the 16th Annual Meeting of the Society for Personality and Social Psychology (SPSP)
―The effect of achievement goal orientation on task performance and post-task affect in online testing settings―

From February 26 to 28, 2015, I participated in and gave a presentation at the 16th Annual Meeting of the Society for Personality and Social Psychology (SPSP), held in Los Angeles Long Beach.

As Long Beach is located along the West Coast, it was much warmer than in Japan, and I was happy to enjoy the comfortable weather there. The venue, Long Beach Convention & Entertainment Center, is located close to the ocean, so I could fully enjoy the atmosphere of the coast, taking walks between sessions and seeing the ocean liner Queen Mary. The inside of the Queen Mary was huge. After seeing its engine room and other facilities, I was surprised that such a large ship was able to cross the North Atlantic Ocean almost 80 years ago.


At this meeting, I gave a poster presentation titled "The effect of achievement goal orientation on task performance and post-task affect in online testing settings" under the joint names of Mr. Sawaumi, Ms. Nakano, Dr. Aikawa, and myself.


When working on a task, individuals set different goals. Some will aim to improve their abilities, while others may try to avoid being defeated or getting worse results than others. The concept of achievement goal orientation presents the degree of a person's tendency to set each of these goals. Previous research has demonstrated that individuals' achievement goal orientations affect their task achievements and the emotions that they experience after performing a task. For example, those who set the goal of avoiding defeat (performance-approach goal) or the goal of avoiding getting worse results than others (performance-avoidance goal) tend to express their feelings as "I could not achieve the goal because of my insufficient ability" and experience a feeling of incompetence and lower motivation to complete subsequent tasks. In contrast, those who set a mastery goal to improve themselves will feel as though they "must try it in another way" if they fail, and their motivation level is not easily lowered. These results were obtained from experiments using paper-based tests; however in recent years, more tests have been conducted online. Web-based tests and paper-based tests are different in some areas, such as that the web test-takers are not able to go back to previous questions and their time for answering each question is limited. In this research project, we investigated the effect of achievement goal orientation in online testing settings.


All experiments were conducted online. First, we measured achievement goal orientation, etc., and then we divided participants into two groups and conducted an English test of multiple-choice questions (questions were based on the EIKEN English proficiency test). The difference in these two groups was the difficulty level of the questions. The difficult task included many EIKEN Grade 1 questions (the highest level), while the easy task included many EIKEN Grade 2 questions.

After the participants answered these questions, we measured their subjective evaluations of the difficulty level, emotions such as regret and a sense of incompetency, and motivation regarding the next task such as "How many questions do you expect to answer correctly if you could try the task again?" Through analyzing the relationships of these variables, as previous research suggested, we found that having mastery goals has a positive impact on the participants' motivation for the next task, while performance-avoidance goals are related to negative emotions such as a sense of inability and regret that they would feel after the completion of task. The most remarkable finding was in regards to the impact of the performance-approach goals. For the group that performed easy task, these goals were related to their high achievements; in other words, the higher they set their performance-approach goals, the more questions they could answer correctly. In the group that received the difficult task, in contrast, the higher they set their performance-approach goals, the fewer questions they could answer correctly. This is an interesting discovery, and I believe there are several possible interpretations of the result.


One possible interpretation is based on the characteristics of performance-approach goals. These goals contain two aspects: "fear of failure" (What shall I do if I fail?) and "achievement motivation" (I want to complete this successfully.). Those who have these goals may not experience the negative impact of "fear of failure" if their task is easy and they can successfully complete the task as their "achievement motivation" indicated. On the other hand, if the task is difficult, their "fear of failure" may work against them and work more strongly than their "achievement motivation," worsening their task performance. In addition, their anxiety about test-taking may have an impact. As those who have high performance-approach goals and performance-avoidance goals will focus on whether or not they can get good results on a task, we assume that their anxiety about test-taking will also be high. When their task is difficult, their test-taking anxiety may significantly and adversely affect their task achievement.


From the participants, we received a number of questions and comments related to our analysis method, our scales, and the possibility of other interpretations, making our presentation fruitful.


I always feel that international meetings have an atmosphere that is informal in a positive sense. In Japan, both participants and meeting staff typically wear suits or something similar, but at international meetings, many wear casual clothing such as T-shirts and jeans. Rather than looking impolite, it seems to create a casual atmosphere in which people can discuss freely. As a person who is familiar with the Japanese meeting style, it is still difficult to take off my jacket. However, in the next meeting in San Diego, I would like to participate in dressing a little more casually and enjoy the frank discussions.


"The effect of achievement goal orientation on task performance and post-task affect
in online testing settings"

(Tsutomu Fujii, Takafumi Sawaumi, Atsushi Aikawa, and Yukako Nakano)

(Tsutomu Fujii, CRET Researcher)

Tsutomu Inagaki (Fujii)

CRET Researcher / Lecturer, Kagoshima University


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