Fear of failure and learning: fear at a young age affects attitude to learning in later life

More and more you hear a plea for learning how to fail in school. It seems strange, and there is often something ambiguous because it’s learning to fail… to succeed, but new research shows that an early established fear of failure at school can influence students’ motivation to learn and negatively affect their attitude to learning. The analysis found that irrespective of the goal students adopt those who had developed a fear of failure at an early age were more likely to adopt the goal to validate their ego rather than for their own personal interest and development, and were less likely to use effective learning strategies but more likely to cheat.

From the press release:

This is the finding of a study by Dr. Michou, (Bilkent University, Turkey), Dr. Vansteenkiste (Ghent University, Belgium), Dr. Mouratidis (Hacettepe University, Turkey) and Dr. Lens (University of Leuven, Belgium) that will soon be published in the British Journal of Educational Psychology.
Over 1,000 students undertook questionnaires relating to their motivation to learn and learning strategies they use (606 high school student and 435 university students).
The analysis found that irrespective of the goal students adopt (such as ‘my aim is to completely master the material presented in this class’ or ‘my aim is to avoid doing worse than other students’) those who had developed a fear of failure at an early age were more likely to adopt the goal to validate their ego rather than for their own personal interest and development, and were less likely to use effective learning strategies but more likely to cheat.
Dr. Michou said: “These findings suggest two important points for children’s optimal learning. First, teachers and parents have to be more sensitive on how they evaluate young children’s competence. Very high standards and criticism result in increased levels of fear of failure.
“Second, teachers and parents have to be more sensitive to the rational they provide to children to adopt a goal or engage in an activity. Suggesting children to improve their skills for their own enjoyment and development is much more beneficial than suggesting them to improve their skills in order to prove themselves. Future research would benefit from examining these ideas through longitudinal and experimental studies.”

Abstract of the research:

Background
The hierarchical model of achievement motivation presumes that achievement goals channel the achievement motives of need for achievement and fear of failure towards motivational outcomes. Yet, less is known whether autonomous and controlling reasons underlying the pursuit of achievement goals can serve as additional pathways between achievement motives and outcomes.

Aims
We tested whether mastery approach, performance approach, and performance avoidance goals and their underlying autonomous and controlling reasons would jointly explain the relation between achievement motives (i.e., fear of failure and need for achievement) and learning strategies (Study 1). Additionally, we examined whether the autonomous and controlling reasons underlying learners’ dominant achievement goal would account for the link between achievement motives and the educational outcomes of learning strategies and cheating (Study 2).

Sample
Six hundred and six Greek adolescent students (Mage = 15.05, SD = 1.43) and 435 university students (Mage M = 20.51, SD = 2.80) participated in studies 1 and 2, respectively.

Method
In both studies, a correlational design was used and the hypotheses were tested via path modelling.

Results
Autonomous and controlling reasons underlying the pursuit of achievement goals mediated, respectively, the relation of need for achievement and fear of failure to aspects of learning outcomes.

Conclusion
Autonomous and controlling reasons underlying achievement goals could further explain learners’ functioning in achievement settings.

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