Personality & Invididual Differences, 1990, 11, 91-93.


J.J. Ray

University of N.S.W., Australia


Although achievement motivation has been much studied in conjunction with various measures of anxiety, there is no clear answer to whether or not achievement motivation relates to N in Eysenck's schema. An international series of community studies is therefore described in which the Ray AO (Achievement Orientation) scale is used. Projective tests were held to be discredited. The AO scale was correlated with either the Taylor MAS or the Eysenck N scale. On all occasions the correlation was low and negative, but so low that it was not always significant. It is concluded that N is essentially irrelevant to achievement motivation.


Is achievement motivation a personality trait? If so, where does it fit into the Eysenckian schema that uses only three variables for the description of personality (Eysenck & Eysenck, 1976)? It would of course be easy at the conceptual level to deny that achievement motivation is a trait. Is it not, as the name implies, a motive? Are not motives quite different from traits? Perhaps.

When we look at operational definitions, however, any distinction between traits and motives becomes quite difficult. Measuring achievement motivation by projective means has tended in recent years to fall into some disrepute (Entwisle, 1967). Instead, there have been many behaviour inventories constructed which are used to measure it (Ray, 1986b). Of these, the Ray (1979b) "AO" scale would seem to be fairly typical in form. Yet the Ray "AO" scale reads just like a personality scale. It simply asks questions about characteristic behaviour in different situations. Why is it not a personality scale? There is certainly no obvious reason why it is not.

At least on a provisional basis, then, it is proposed here to regard achievement motivation as a personality trait. It is further proposed to explore the possibility that it is related to the Neuroticism variable in the Eysenckian system.

Why 'N'? Because anxiety of various sorts has for so long played a notable part in studies of achievement motivation. The Mandler & Sarason (1952) Test Anxiety Questionnaire has probably been used in such studies nearly as often as the T.A.T. As Atkinson & Litwin (1966) remark, early studies of these two variables could well lead one to the view that achievement motivation and anxiety are two poles of the one variable. They note the correlation of -.43 between the two found in a study by Raphelson (1957). Despite this, however, they go on to espouse a more complex theory than this simple bipolar one. They say that the T.A.Q. measures not achievement motivation but rather motive to avoid failure. As the two motives should presumably correlate to some degree, this is a theory that does accord with the evidence that Atkinson & Litwin (1966) had.

Perhaps surprisingly, however, there seems to have been little interest in what the correlation between the two motives in fact is. Atkinson & Litwin (1966) themselves, for instance, reported at the end of their paper a non-significant correlation between n-Ach and T.A.Q. score but apparently saw no need to discuss this finding in the light of the earlier findings that they alluded to at the beginning of their paper. They did not seem to see any problem in finding a high negative correlation on one occasion and orthogonality on another.

This is not to say that such a difference in findings cannot be explained (See Raphelson & Moulton, 1958) it is rather to say that the interests of the various authors have lain in personality dynamics rather than in personality typology. An interest in individual differences still seems to be a minority vocation among psychologists.

To add to the problem, what little is reported of the relationship between the two variables tends, as we have seen, to oscillate between a finding of orthogonality and negative correlation (see also Hafeez & Shanthamani, 1972; Muthayya, 1968). If the studies available all pointed in the one direction there would be little need for any further enquiry, but they do not. There is clearly a need for much more high-quality data on the question. In particular, studies using samples of the general population would be helpful. The oscillation in findings so far observed could be due to the unpredictable outcome of using available groups instead of true samples.

The present author has carried out a number of large surveys in which his 14 item "AO" (Achievement Orientation) scale was administered. Some of those studies also included measures of anxiety or neuroticism. It seems therefore of interest to bring together here data from these surveys that might help illuminate the relationship between the two variables. Some of the findings to be presented here have been given in print before and some have not but the main point is that collectively they allow a much more certain answer to the question than any one would alone.


This study used a random doorstep sample of the white population of the South African city of Bloemfontein with an N of 95. Fuller details of the sampling are given elsewhere (Ray & Heaven, 1984).

Anxiety on this occasion was measured by a slightly modified form of the Taylor (1953) MAS. Details of the modifications are given elsewhere (Ray, 1984).

The correlation between the MAS and the AO scale was -.008 (N.S.).


The sample for this study comprised 87 people selected by students at the University of New South Wales (Australia) from among their friends and acquaintances under rough quota constraints which included a direction not to use fellow-students. The final sample was reasonably representative in demographic terms. See Ray (1979a) for further details.

'N' was measured on this occasion by the short-form 'N' scale from the Eysenck (1959) MPI. The 'N' scale correlated -.151 with the AO scale, which is not significant at the .05 level.


The sample in this study comprised 305 people interviewed at random by trained interviewers in the Indian city of Bombay. As Bombay is a very heterogeneous city, the questionnaire was quadrilingual. Each questionnaire was in English followed by one of three Indian languages -- Gujurati, Marathi or Hindi. These four languages allowed virtually all the population to be reached.

The scales used were as for Study II. Because of the cultural gap between India and the West, there was some concern over how well the scales would work in Bombay. As some check on this, the reliabilities (alpha) of the two scales were calculated. These were .72 for the 'N' scale -- which indicates reasonably satisfactory internal consistency -- and .57 for the AO scale, which is much less satisfactory. Given the latter figure, the results from this study can therefore be seen as only of indicative interest. The two scales correlated .078 (N.S.) See Ray (1982) for further details.


Simultaneously with Study III another survey was carried out which sampled only highly educated Bombay residents. Such people were contacted by oversampling in districts where they were likely to be found. The questionnaire was as in Study III. The N was 100. See Ray (1983) for fuller details.

The reliability (alpha) for the scales was: N .67, AO .63. Their correlation was -.100 (N.S.).


This study also used an Indian population -- this time Parsee immigrants living in the Australian city of Sydney. They were contacted by means of a mail-out survey (with one follow-up to non-returners) of all Parsees living in the Sydney area. See Ray (1986a) for fuller methodological details. The final N was 72.

The two scales were as in Studies III and IV except that only English and Parsee Gujurati was used to present them. The reliability of the N scale was .77 and the reliability of the AO scale was .78. Both were deemed quite satisfactory. The scales correlated -.253 -- which is significant at the .05 level and indicates that anxious people were less ambitious.


This study again used the 6-item Eysenck N scale but the Ray (1980) AO scale was used in its unabridged form. The sample was of 95 people resident in the Australian city of Sydney and contacted by random doorstep interviews. See Ray (1981) for fuller details. The two scales correlated -.149 (N.S.).


Finally, the relationship between achievement motivation and Neuroticism in the study conducted by Ray & Kiefl (1984) in West Germany should be reported here. Once again the Ray AO scale and the short Eysenck N scale were used and the sample was randomly gathered in the Munich conurbation. N was 136. See Ray & Kiefl (1984) for further details. The AO and N scales correlated -.252, which is significant at the .05 level. It indicates that chronically anxious people tended to be less ambitious.


The present findings could perhaps be read with some profit in conjunction with the findings reported in a recent paper by Heaven, Brewer & Bester (1986). These authors also used the Ray AO scale as their measure of achievement motivation and applied it cross-culturally. Their three samples were gathered in Northern Ireland, Australia and South Africa but appear to have been generally less representative than those described in this paper. They found that achievement motivation and anxiety correlated -.25 in South Africa, -.23 in Australia and -.28 in Northern Ireland. All correlations were significant. Adding in these results to those reported in the present paper means that in ten studies done across a considerable range of samples and cultures a remarkably uniform finding emerges: The correlation between anxiety and achievement motivation is negative but very low -- so low that on only five out of ten occasions did it rise to a level capable of being shown as significant.

Significant or not, however, on any substantive criterion the correlation must be called negligible. The amount of common variance between the two variables is too low for us to conclude that anxiety has much relevance in studies of achievement motivation. Achievement motivation may, of course be related to other variables in Eysenck's schema but the present work should have shown fairly conclusively that it is essentially irrelevant to N. It is very seldom that such a large and varied body of data derived from at least some attempt at proper sampling is brought to bear on a psychological question so the present conclusions should be fairly definitive.


{Articles below by J.J. Ray can generally be accessed simply by clicking on the name of the article. I am however also gradually putting online a lot of abstracts, extracts and summaries from older articles by other authors so if an article not highlighted below seems of particular interest, clicking here or here might just save you a trip to the library}

Atkinson, J.H. & Litwin, G.H. (1966) Achievement motive and test anxiety conceived as motive to approach success and motive to avoid failure. Ch. 5 in J.W. Atkinson & N.T. Feather (Eds.) A theory of achievement motivation N.Y.: Wiley.

Entwisle, D.R.(1972) To dispel fantasies about fantasy-based measures of achievement motivation. Psychological Bulletin 77, 377-391.

Eysenck, H.J. (1959) Manual of the Maudsley personality inventory London: Univ. Press.

Eysenck, H.J. & Eysenck, S.B.G. (1976) Psychoticism as a dimension of personality London: Hodder & Stoughton.

Hafeez, A. & Shanthamani, V.S. (1972) A study of the relationship among need achievement, introversion/extraversion and neuroticism. J. Indian Acad. Applied Psychol. 9, 28-32.

Heaven, P.C.L., Brewer, J. & Bester, C.L. (1986) Attitudes to the army and pro-nuclear activism in three student groups. Internat. J. Comparative Sociology 27, 190-199.

Mandler, G. & Sarason, S.B. (1952) A study of anxiety and learning. J. Abnorm. Soc. Psychol. 47, 166-173.

Muthayya, B.C. (1968) Personality variables and their relation to achievement motive. Psychological Studies 13, 98-100.

Raphelson, A. (1957) The relationship between imaginative, direct verbal and physiological measures of anxiety in an achievement situation. J. Abnorm. Soc. Psychol. 54, 13-18.

Raphelson, A.C. & Moulton, R.W. (1958) The relationbship between imaginative and direct verbal measures of test anxiety under two conditions of uncertainty. J. Personality 26, 556-567.

Ray, J.J. (1979a) The authoritarian as measured by a personality scale Solid citizen or misfit? J. Clinical Psychology 35, 744-746.

Ray, J.J. (1979b) A quick measure of achievement motivation -- validated in Australia and reliable in Britain and South Africa. Australian Psychologist 14, 337-344.

Ray, J.J. (1980) The comparative validity of Likert, projective and forced-choice indices of achievement motivation. J. Social Psychology, 111, 63-72.

Ray, J.J. (1981) Do authoritarian attitudes or authoritarian personality reflect mental illness? S. African J. Psychology 11, 153-157.

Ray, J.J. (1982) Authoritarianism and achievement motivation in India. J. Social Psychology 117, 171-182.

Ray, J.J. (1983) Ambition and dominance among the Parsees of India. Journal of Social Psychology 119, 173-179.

Ray, J.J. (1984) Measuring trait anxiety in general population samples. Journal of Social Psychology, 123, 189-193.

Ray, J.J. (1986a) The traits of immigrants: A case study of the Sydney Parsees. J. Comparative Family Studies 17, 127-130.

Ray, J.J. (1986b) Measuring achievement motivation by self-reports. Psychological Reports 58, 525-526.

Ray, J.J. & Heaven, P.C. L. (1984) Conservatism and authoritarianism among urban Afrikaners. Journal of Social Psychology, 122, 163-170.

Ray, J.J. & Kiefl, W. (1984) Authoritarianism and achievement motivation in contemporary West Germany. Journal of Social Psychology, 122, 3-19.

Taylor, J.A. (1953) A personality scale of manifest anxiety. J. Abnorm. & Social Psychol. 48, 285-290.

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