The Complexity and Dynamics of Social Goals: An Investigation of a Hidden Dimension of Hong Kong Student Motivation

Project: Research project

Project Details


The effects of mastery goals and performance goals have been widely documented in previous research on motivation. Students who pursue mastery goals do schoolwork to acquire knowledge while students who pursue performance goals do schoolwork to demonstrate ability. However, recent studies have increasingly indicated a need to include social goals in the investigation so as to achieve a more comprehensive understanding of achievement motivation (Dowson & McInerney, 2001, 2003, 2004). This is especially true in Chinese culture which emphasizes interdependence among individuals. Chinese students,when compared with non-Chinese students, are believed to have strong social reasons to achieve academically, such as to fulfill their social obligations to parents and family, and to obtain social approval from peers and teachers (Hau & Ho, 2010; Li, 2002, 2005; Tao & Hong, 2000). Despite the importance of social goals in Chinese culture, there has been little research on the topic. Our project seeks to make a special contribution as it looks into an important, yet hidden and uncharted area in Chinese students’ achievement motivation. We shall use a quantitative approach in this two-year project. In the first half of the first year, we shall design and validate a culturally appropriate survey instrument to capture the social goals for learning held by Hong Kong students. The target participants are 3,000 Hong Kong seventh- to twelfth-graders from 6 secondary schools with high, medium and low levels of academic achievement. In the second half of the first year we shall administer the purposely designed survey of social goals along with some pre-existing and validated instruments developed in the West to capture students’ endorsement of different types of goals. We shall also administer the measures that tap students’ educational outcomes, including behavioral (achievement scores), cognitive (learning strategies) and affective (utility value of education) outcomes. The target participants are 1,200 Hong Kong seventh-graders and 1,200 ninth-graders from 6 secondary schools with high, medium and low levels of academic achievement. In the second year, we shall re-administer the whole set of measures twice to the same group of students. This 18-month longitudinal study with cross-lagged and cross-sectional designs will help establish the test-retest reliability of the newly developed social goals scale, examine students’ developmental changes of the endorsement of different types of goals and most importantly allow causal modeling that investigates how goal endorsement is related to student educational outcomes across years. The major focus of the study is to critically examine the role of social goals when controlling for mastery and performance goals and to address the thorny issue of whether social goals are performance based, mastery based, or a cluster of variables with their own dynamics within the Asian Hong Kong Chinese context. This project sheds light on a new theoretical framework of achievement motivation that goes beyond mastery and performance goals. It also provides practical implications on instructional strategies for the enhancement of students’ academic motivation through harnessing the hidden dimension of social goals.

Funding Source: RGC - General Research Fund (GRF)
Effective start/end date01/01/1430/06/16


  • social goals
  • achievement motivation
  • Hong Kong students
  • goal orientation


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