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Psychology Glossary of Terms

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Achievement motive

Definition:
The need to master difficult challenges, to outperform others, and to excel in a particular area, particularly in a competitive arena.
 
Example:
John has been playing golf since he was 8 years old. He has entered numerous golf tournaments and has won many of them. He gets very upset when he loses, and always wants to be the best golf player around.
 
Background:
Not all societies or cultures value achievement to the same extent. For many people, the need to achieve directs behaviour, influences people's perceptions of situations/events and also influences people's interpretations of behavior (their own and others). According to Maslow, achievement is conceptualised as being an esteem need. David McClelland and other psychologists have studied the conditions that lead to people developing an achievement motive, and how this affects behaviour. The majority of researchers believe that the need for achievement is learned. McClelland views the motivation to achieve as being very important in terms of fuelling economic growth, progress in science, leadership and artistic masterpieces.
 
Further Reading:

De Charms, R. C., & Moeller, G. (1962). Values expressed in American children's readers: 1800-1950. Journal of Abnormal and Social Psychology. 64, 136-142.

McClelland, D. C. (1985). How motives, skills and values determine what people do. American Psychologist. 40, 812-825.

 
Related Terms:
Achievement tests

Self-Instructional Resources:
Take a 2-item self-test over this concept.

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