The Relationship of Task and Ego Orientation to Performance-Cognitive Content, Affect and Attributions in Bowling

Maria Newton, Joan Duda

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Contemporary social cognitive theories of achievement motivation have focused on goal perspectives and their influence on achievement-related cognitions, affect, and behavior (Ames, 1984; Dweck & Elliott, 1983; Nicholls, 1984a, 1984b, 1989). The underlying premise of these theories is that there are two primary goal perspectives which reflect the criteria by which individuals judge their competence and subjectively define success and failure in achievement settings, namely a task orientation and an ego orientation. When task oriented, perceptions of ability are self-referenced. Skill mastery, working hard, and active engagement in sport are reflective of high competence and ultimately subjective success (Nicholls, 1984a). In contrast, when ego oriented, perceptions of ability are normatively referenced. A primary source of competence and subjective success for an ego-involved individual is beating or doing better than others while engaged in a competitive sporting encounter (Nicholls, 1984a).

A majority of the research in this area has focused on the behavioral consequences of differences in goal perspective. Theoretically, it has been proposed that an emphasis on mastery or task involving goals is related to enhanced sport performance and persistence. A focus on ego involving goals, on the other hand, is linked to a lack of persistence and debilitated performance (Dweck & Elliott, 1983; Elliott & Dweck, 1988; Nicholls, 1984a). These relationships are thought to exist due primarily to the differential criteria employed to elicit feelings of success. For the task oriented individual, skill improvement, sport mastery, and exerted effort are fundamental to perceptions of goal accomplishment. This internal referencing of success is presumed to be more conducive to the maintenance of perceived competence, long term activity engagement, and performance enhancement. Conversely, for the ego oriented person, perceptions of accomplishment are the consequence of beating or surpassing others in a competitive contest. Since other referenced comparative judgements underlie success, perceived ability is much more "fragile" when ego involved. It is assumed that an ego orientation, particularly when coupled with perceptions of low ability, is more likely to elicit dropping out of sport and less than optimal performance (Duda, 1989; Nicholls, 1984a; Nicholls, 1984b).
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)209-220
JournalJournal of Sport Behavior
Issue number4
Publication statusPublished - Dec 1993


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