Date on Master's Thesis/Doctoral Dissertation


Document Type

Doctoral Dissertation

Degree Name

Ph. D.


Psychological and Brain Sciences

Committee Chair

Burns, Barbara M.

Author's Keywords

Achievement motivation; Shame; Challenge; Pride; Self-evaluative emotions; Preschool


Achievement motivation in children; Personality and motivation; Motivation (Psychology); Poor children--Psychology


The current study was designed to better understand the early behavioral and emotional factors influencing young children's responses to challenge, which have important implications for learning. Understanding why children respond to challenge as they do is particularly important for young children from poverty, who face many contextual factors that place them at-risk for experiencing negative academic outcomes (Brooks-Gunn, Linver, & Fauth, 2005). Previous research suggests that children adopt distinct behavioral and emotional reactions to challenge. Such reactions have been studied in terms of either achievement motivation or self-evaluative emotion research (Dweck & Leggett, 1988; Lewis & Sullivan, 2005), with achievement motivation researchers explaining behavioral responses and self-evaluative emotion researchers explaining emotional responses. The present study integrated the research on achievement motivation and self-evaluative emotions and tested a new model that described the early developmental relationship between these variables in preschool-aged children from poverty. The goals of this research were to: (1) replicate and extend upon research examining children's cognitive and behavioral/motivational responses to challenge, (2) provide empirical research examining children's self-evaluative emotional responses to challenge, and (3) describe and examine the relationship between achievement motivation and self-evaluative emotions within this sample. Results showed that children with mastery and attenuated-mastery oriented patterns made different patterns of verbalizations across individual challenging puzzles. Mastery oriented children were more focused throughout the entire task and engaged in more strategy-related cognitions; attenuated-mastery children initially demonstrated less focus and more negative cognitions, but became more focused and engaged in more strategy-related cognitions as they were continually presented with challenge. With regard to self-evaluative emotions, all children demonstrated increasing amounts of shame behaviors across subsequent puzzles and demonstrated more pride on the final, solvable puzzle as compared to previous, unsolvable puzzles during the task. Consistent with the proposed model, mastery oriented children demonstrated significantly fewer shame behaviors throughout the challenging puzzle task than did attenuated-mastery oriented children, suggesting that these children were interpreting challenge differently. These findings provide new information about the early development of children's responses to challenge, which have important theoretical, empirical, and applied implications for supporting mastery motivation in young children from poverty.