Conceptions of human agency: structural relations among motivational traits, personal value priorites, and regulatory focus

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Larkam, Peter Howard

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Personal value priorities, motivational traits, and regulatory focus have been studied independently but little is known about how the constructs relate. The Theory of Universals in Human Values (Schwartz, 1992, 1994, 2005) specifies inherent conflicts and compatibilities within a set of ten universally recognized broad values. The values can be viewed as arranged in a circular fashion, like slices of pie, with two orthogonal axes or diameters. One axis represents trade-offs among individual interests (power, achievement) and social interests (universalism, benevolence). The other axis represents trade-offs among opportunity (self-direction, stimulation) and stability (tradition, conformity, security). Achievement motivation researchers (Heggestad & Kanfer, 2000, Helmreich & Spence, 1978) have identified three motivational traits: (1) mastery - striving for excellence based on internal standards, (2) competitiveness - striving for excellence in comparison to others, and (3) anxiety – stemming from attempts to avoid failure. Higgins (1997, 2001) distinguished two strategies for approaching success: with eagerness (promotion focus) or with caution (prevention focus). In this study, the first to incorporate all three constructs, one hundred sixty working adults (111 males and 49 females, ages 26 to 65) from a multi-utility agency in Texas completed the Schwartz Value Survey (SVS-57), the Motivational Trait Questionnaire (MTQ short form), and the Regulatory Focus Questionnaire (RFQ) in counter-balanced order. Pearson correlations and multi-dimensional scaling provide convergent evidence that motivational trait mastery is correlated positively with opportunity value priorities and negatively with stability value priorities. Conversely, trait motivation anxiety is correlated negatively with opportunity value priorities and positively with stability value priorities. Trait competitiveness is positively correlated with individual-focus value priorities. In other words, mastery and anxiety are aligned primarily along the opportunity/stability axis in the Schwartz Value Model and competitiveness is aligned primarily along the orthogonal individual/social axis. Promotion focus is associated primarily with trait mastery and with self-direction and achievement values. Prevention focus primarily accompanies stability value priorities. The study provides initial evidence that guiding principles for action and choice (values), typical actions and attitudes in achievement settings (motivational traits), and strategic means for accomplishment (regulatory focus) form meaningful and consistent patterns both within and between individuals.



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