Motivation and Self-Worth - How Do These Play Together Hand in Hand: Discussion on the Study by Psychology Professor Martin V. Covington at Berkley University

Motivation and Self-Worth - How Do These Play Together Hand in Hand: Discussion on the Study by Psychology Martin V. Covington at Berkley University

Motivation and self-worth; how do these play together hand in hand? Martin V. Covington, a psychology professor at the Berkley University answered this question and many more in a study he conducted in 1984 with a group of elementary students. This study was then published in the Elementary School Journal. Martin V. Covington conducted his studies on motivation and self-worth to see if he could implicate his research into the classroom. His self-worth theory assumes that a great part of classroom achievements come from a student’s own personal value or self-worth. Ones’ personal value is said to come from a number of different factors. For example; ones’ ability to do something and do it well will result in that individual having a high self-worth or personal value.

Students can be placed in 2 main categories for self-worth. One category would be success oriented students. These individuals grew up being rewarded for all the outstanding things they accomplished and their parents or teachers would then ignore the tasks where the student fell below standards. Another category could contain students who were punished for the tasks they completed that were not up to standards and their parents and teachers would ignore the tasks or accomplishments that individual had that were well above standards. In the second category, the students tend to be more self-doubting and very reluctant to try and succeed. This could be the case unless that student felt on a particular task the odds of them succeeding were very high, or the task at hand was something they genuinely want to excel at. The success oriented students on the other hand tend to work on tasks that will provide the biggest reward or even praise. These individuals tend to stray away from tasks that would be easily accomplished simply because the reward or praise wouldn’t be so great.

Generally success oriented students will say their achievements were a result of their ability to complete the task at hand, the amount of effort put forth, and how easy or difficult the task was to complete. On the flip side of that, these students will blame their lack of successes or failures on the lack of effort they put forth. Students from category two, or failure avoiding students on the other hand will say their achievements of success are from luck of the draw, and their failures are from their self-perceived lack of ability.

Ones’ ability is perceived as the primary source for ones’ achievements and how they behave in order to achieve those successes. This is true for both success oriented students and failure avoiding students. Ability is the main cause of whether or not the student has many achievements or very few. Ability is also the main source of how much self-worth a student will or will not have. Ability can easily help build on a student’s self-worth by contributing rewards and praises for the achievements they have gotten. In contrast, it can just as easily tear down ones’ sense of self-worth by the number of failures the student has gotten and have contributed their lack of ability as the reason for failure. Other factors that contribute to ones’ sense of worth are the number of accomplishments represented by their performance, personal relationships, religion or relationship with God, and the individual’s self-esteem.

The number of accomplishments contributes to ones’ self-worth simply because the more one has achieved, the more praise and self-confidence in their ability they will have gained. Personal relationships play a role as well. Students who have been in failed or non-existent relationships tend to be more insecure and gaining others’ approval is very important to them. Individuals who have been in successful relationships are satisfied and are motivated to excel academically and win competitions.

Martin V. Covington’s self-worth theory proves that students are motivated to achieve academic goals and succeed at everything they do, because of how much self-worth they have for themselves. The students that have little to no self-worth are less motivated. These students may have the ability to succeed, however their self-perceived ability is what is driving them to not try as hard, and only do the minimum required to pass. Teachers can help these students by rewarding and praising them on the smallest of achievements. This could potentially change how the student perceives themselves and their abilities and in turn raise their self-worth. To maintain a success oriented student’s self-worth, teachers simply have to continue with the praises for successes and accomplishments.

Covington, M. (1984). The Self-Worth Theory of Achievement Motivation: Findings and Implications. Elementary School Journal, 85(1), 1-20.
Development of Achievement Motivation (2011). Retrieved from
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Vohs, K. & Finkel, E. (2006). Self and Relationships: Connecting Intrapersonal and Interpersonal Processes. New York, NY: Guilford Press