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Open Access Research article

Can achievement goal theory provide a useful motivational perspective for explaining psychosocial attributes of medical students?

Nir Madjar1*, Yaacov G Bachner2 and Talma Kushnir2

Author Affiliations

1 Department of Education, Ben Gurion University of the Negev, Beer Sheva, Israel

2 Department of Sociology of Health, Faculty of Health Sciences, Ben Gurion University of the Negev, Beer Sheva, Israel

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BMC Medical Education 2012, 12:4  doi:10.1186/1472-6920-12-4

Published: 12 January 2012

Abstract

Background

Psychosocial competence and frustration tolerance are important characteristics of skilled medical professionals. In the present study we explored the usefulness of applying a comprehensive motivational theory (Goal orientations), for this purpose. According to goal orientation theory, learning motivation is defined as the general goals students pursue during learning (either mastery goals - gaining new knowledge; or performance goals - gaining a positive evaluation of competence or avoiding negative evaluation). Perceived psychosocial abilities are a desirable outcome, and low frustration tolerance (LFT), is a negative feature of student behavior. The hypothesis was that the mastery goal would be positively associated with psychosocial abilities while performance goals would be positively associated with LFT.

Methods

143 first-year medical students completed at the end of an annual doctor-patient communication course a structured questionnaire that included measures of learning goal orientations (assessed by Pattern of Adaptive Learning Scale - PALS), psychosocial abilities (assessed by Psychological Medicine Inventory- student version -PMI-S) and Low Frustration Tolerance (LFT).

Results

All study variables were found reliable (Cronbach's α ranged from .66 to .90) and normally distributed. Hierarchical multiple regression analysis revealed significant associations supporting the hypotheses. The mastery goal orientation was positively associated with perceived psychosocial abilities (PMI-S) (β = .16, p < .05) and negatively associated with low frustration tolerance (β = -.22, p < .05) while performance goal orientation was significantly associated with low frustration tolerance (β = .36, p < .001).

Conclusions

The results suggest that the goal orientations theory may be a useful theoretical framework for understanding and facilitating learning motivation among medical students. Limitations and suggestions for practice within medical education context are discussed.