Open Access Open Badges 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



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.


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).


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).


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.