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The Journal of Social Psychology, Volume 124, First Half, October 1984, pp. 131-132.

Locus of Control as a Moderator of the Relationship Between Level of Aspiration and Achievement Motivation


School of Sociology, University of New South Wales, Australia

BASUMALLIK AND BANERJEE, WEINSTEIN, AND RAY have reported findings from India, the United States, and Australia which call into question the once generally accepted relationship between high achievement motivation and intermediate levels of risk-preference (1). It now appears that the two variables are essentially unrelated. Wolk and Du Cette (2) also found no overall relationship but reported that when they studied only the "internals" (in Rotter's (3) sense) in their sample, the predicted relationship could be found quite strongly. Their work in this respect has been praised by Lefcourt (4), but it is nonetheless hard to see how there could be a strong relationship in one half of the sample, no relationship in the other half, and also no relationship overall. One would surely have thought that the overall relationship would be some sort of weaker (in-between) relationship.

There is an opportunity for independent replication of their work with the use of data from Study II of the Ray paper (5) containing a "belief in luck" scale derived from and shown to measure the core concept of the Rotter Locus of Control (LOC) scale (6). The Ss in this study were therefore divided into those above and below the mean on belief in luck, and all relationships were reexamined. There were 55 "internals." They were categorized into those who expected to get 0, 1, or 2 rings on the peg in the Litwin (7) experiment; those who expected to get on 3 or 4 rings; and those who expected to get on 5 or 6 rings. This gave low-, intermediate-, and high-level aspiration groups (ns 26, 17, and 12). All Ss received personality inventories measuring achievement orientation, task orientation, success orientation, fear of failure, and fear of success. The means of the three groups on all inventories were compared, and the Fs were all found not to be significant at the <.05 level. The Wolk and Du Cette results in respect of "internals" were not confirmed.

Some reasons for the nonconfirmation may be as follows: Rather than conducting an experiment in which preferred probability of success actually chosen could be ascertained, Wolk and Du Cette described an imaginary ex periment and asked Ss what probability they would prefer. We may, in other words, be dealing with yet another instance of the attitude-behavior discrepancy. Further, they did not directly compare motivation scores of people with different levels of aspiration but rather created for each S a "degree of intermediateness" score on level of aspiration. This artificial procedure equates very different levels of aspiration (i.e., very low and very high ones). Their scale of achievement motivation contains at least two items that equate achievement motivation with preference for intermediate risk. The dependent and independent variables were thus artifactually related.

Also contrary to the considerations set out by Wolk and Du Cette, LOC itself in the present study showed no relationship with level of aspiration. They see "internality" and ambition as both leading to intermediate risk preference. In fact, neither did.


1. (a) Basumallik, T., & Banerjee, D. On the relationship between achievement motivation and risk taking. Indian J. Psychol., 1967, 42, 93-96; (b) Weinstein, M. Achievement motivation and risk preference. J. Personal. & Soc. Psychol., 1969, 13, 153-172; (c) Ray, J.J. (1982) Achievement motivation and preferred probability of success. Journal of Social Psychology 116, 255-261.

2. Wolk, S., & Du Cette, J. The moderating effect of locus of control in relation to achievement motivation variables. J. Personality 1973, 41, 59-70.

3. Rotter, J. B. Generalized expectancies for internal versus external control of reinforcement. Psychol. Monog., 1966, 80, No. 609.

4. Lefcourt, H. M. Locus of Control: Current Trends in Theory and Research. New York: Wiley, 1976.

5. See note 1(c) above.

6. Ray, J.J. (1980) Belief in luck and locus of control. Journal of Social Psychology, 111, 299-300.

7. Litwin, G. H. Achievement motivation, expectancy of success, and risktaking behavior. In J. W. Atkinson & N. T. Feather (Eds.), A Theory of Achievement Motivation. New York: Wiley, 1966.


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