Academically contingent self-worth and vulnerability: When approach self-validation goals are more threatening than avoidance self-validation goals


Jason S Lawrence, Jessi L Smith


Self and Identity


When are people who base their self-worth on academic competence vulnerable to negative outcomes such as anxiety and underperformance? One answer, according to decades of achievement goal research, seems obvious: when they aim to avoid demonstrating inability (called avoidance self-validation goals). Less clear is whether such vulnerability also exists when aiming to demonstrate ability (approach self-validation goals). Surprisingly, two studies found no evidence of vulnerability among participants who base self-worth on academics when avoidance self-validation goals were salient. Instead, it was when approach self-validation goals were salient that participants' academically contingent self-worth most reliably predicted vulnerability. These results suggest that, within domains of contingency, people worry more about self-enhancement afforded by approach self-validation goals than about self-protection afforded by avoidance self-validation goals.



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