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Motivation and Self-esteem: association between goal type and well-being.

Study 1. Ego-system and Eco-system Goals survey

Study 2. Longitudinal survey

Crocker, J. (in Press)

Crocker et al's original research suggested that people's pursuit of self-esteem has long term physical and psychological costs which impact upon a person's well-being, integrity and personal growth, and impedes an individual?s basic need for autonomy, relatedness and competence. Crocker et al wanted to investigate the motivation behind pursuing self-esteem to see if there may be an alternative. They now propose that there are two distinct motivational frameworks for the self: the Ego-system and the Eco-system. In the Ego-system framework, the direction of motivation is towards the self: people focusing on satisfying their own wants, desires and needs, giving them priority over the well-being of others. For the Eco-system framework, the direction of motivation is towards others: people consider others? needs and well-being and prioritise them along with the well-being of the self. They hypothesise that having Ego-system goals may underlie the costly pursuit of self-esteem. Study 1 below, investigates the presence of these two systems and whether having Ego or Eco-system goals impacts upon learning, relationships and mental health. Study 2 investigates the impact of these goals over a period of time.

Study 1

This study investigated Ego and Eco system goals, through a web based survey administered to 199 first year students. Participants were asked: what their most important academic and friendship goals were for the semester?; how that goal made them feel? Stress, anxiety and disordered eating were also measured.

The questions were grouped into Ego-system and Eco-system goals. Within each domain they were further divided into questions relating to achieving and failing this goal. For example, they were asked: would achieving this goal be good for you?; Will obtaining this goal mean that you obtain something? (Ego); or would achieving this goal be good for others or make a difference to other people? (Eco) Similar questions were asked about failing to achieve this goal e.g. would failing be bad for you or decrease your self esteem? (Ego) would failing be bad for others or make a difference to other people? (Eco)

Ego-system goals made people feel critical of others, competitive and fostered a zero sum belief - having eco system goals did not. Having Eco-system goals did not make people feel critical of others. Indeed these goals made people feel close to others as well as compassionate for others mistakes or weaknesses. Ego-system goals had none of these consequences. Crocker et al found that Ego-system goals were positively related to increased stress, anxiety, symptoms of depression, drive for thinness and bulimia. Eco-systems goals were related to fewer of these symptoms.

This study illustrates that peoples life experience are strongly connected to the type of goals they have and that there do seem to be two motivational frameworks - the Ego and the Eco system. Whats more, having more Ego-system goals can negatively impact upon learning, relationships and even mental health.

Study 2

Crocker et al wanted to investigate how these goals function over time. Using a web based survey they followed the same group of individuals for the next 10 weeks. Every week they had to log onto the web to answer questions about their:

1. most important academic goals in that task week

2. most important friendship goals

3. emotion associated with these goals

4. progress towards the goal, and how that felt

          5. set-backs towards that goal, and how those setbacks felt

6. weekly symptoms of depression, stress, anxiety


Ego and Eco-system goals were measured. The study found that having Ego-system goals made people feel afraid and confused. Response to progress was connected to feeling proud and superior (Eco-system goals were too, but to a lesser extent) In response to setbacks this group was more ashamed and powerless. Eco-system goals were more likely to be connected with feeling humble and compassionate after success and not ashamed and powerless following setbacks. Eco-system goals were strongly related to feeling realistic and determined. Ego-system goals were not.

The conclusions, from both these surveys, indicate that the qualities of goals people have, and particularly whether these are Eco or Ego-system goals, shape experience. For example, it effects how it feels to have that particular goal, to succeed at the goal and to fail at the goal. Crocker et al are not suggesting that people who have Ego-system goals are bad people and those who have Eco-system goals are good people. We all have Ego and Eco system goals, they argue the important thing is that the more you tend to have Ego-system goals at a particular moment the more likely you are to experience the costs associated with learning, relationships and mental health.



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