Chapter 8: Motivation Beliefs in Gender and Education

In a chapter that presents a wealth of interesting thematic developments, my attention was brought to a relatively small statement made by Carmen. When her routine was disrupted, she continued wishing she could be learning and practicing her reading. Similarly, the lack of this same desire in Mr. Hosokawa rings with significance for my current line of research. Yet, we see in this chapter Ishmael’s intrinsic motivation to learn how to play chess, which is a male-dominated game much as mathematics is a male-dominated subject. Both require spatial thinking and pattern recognition. How is motivation tied to task performance, particularly as it relates to education? How can intrinsic motivation and other motivational facets be encouraged? How can these intervention strategies be applied to encouraging better performance in linguistic disciplines for males and in STEM subjects for females?

Author M. Kay Alderman in the second edition of Motivation for Achievement writes that motivation is tied strongly to beliefs about ability and effort. Ability, especially in light of cultural expectations that success in school is dependent on one’s “ability to achieve competitively,” can actually work to devalue student’s sense of self-worth. Failure is generally seen as due to lack of ability (Alderman, p. 5). Conversely, students are then expected to expend more effort to make up for this gap. However, to protect a sense of self-worth, students may expend less effort or set unreasonable goals so they can give reasons other than a lack of ability for failure (Alderman, p. 5). In this way, students’ self-worth and self-efficacy are negatively influenced by a flawed perception of the value of ability, which also works to devalue effort. Students may be prone to thinking that studying indicates a lack of intelligence (Alderman, p. 41).

Girls are often more likely to have lower expectancy, meaning they often attribute success to external factors, such as luck, and failures to lack of ability though their achievement is often higher. Boys, on the other hand, tend to over-estimate their performance ((Alderman, p. 41). Alderman confirms an idea I found in earlier research that parents often provide more encouragement to their sons for math because they more often believe that boys’ math achievement is due to talent; yet, they tend to consider their daughter’s success in math to be because of effort ((Alderman, p. 42). In light of this information, it seems inevitable that girls would be at an educational disadvantage, at least in terms of math and science. Devaluation of female students’ skills, even perpetuated by these students themselves, can contribute to lower self-efficacy. This has further negative implications since, according to Alderman, students that have higher self-efficacy “use more cognitive and metacognitive strategies,” persevere longer, and are more likely to take on more difficult tasks (Alderman, p. 71).

Modern Expectancy-Value Theory (EVT) developed by Eccles and associates provides a framework for much of our scientific basis for the role of motivation and self-efficacy in determining not only performance, but also our choices. In one longitudinal study following high schoolers through college to post-secondary career choices, researchers found evidence to support EVT and its relation to gender. The researchers found that “math self-concept, intrinsic value, and utility value positively predicted math course selection in high school,” but only math intrinsic and utility values were directly related to predicting selection of a STEM major (Guo, p. 8). Previous math and science achievement was shown to predict higher expectancy and value measures, whereas greater reading achievement was “negatively associated with math motivational beliefs” (Guo, p. 7). Is this occurrence due to gender predisposition, or are math and reading so divergent that one discourages the other? Again, how does brain development influence how each gender learns reading and math?

An argument for the first possibility proposed in the first of the two questions can certainly be made in that the researchers found that girls were more likely to have high achievement in reading. Alternatively, boys were shown to have higher achievement in and motivational beliefs about math and science, and were thereby more likely to choose a STEM major. However, females were more likely to have obtained tertiary entrance rank, which is a measurement of high-stakes achievement used in this study, and to gain entrance to university (Guo 8). The results of this longitudinal study do provide some insight into motivational factors influencing why boys seem to have a higher predisposition toward and performance in mathematics.

How can interventions be implemented to promote success for both genders and close the gender gaps in subjects? One study performed by Brigitte Maria Brisson and her colleagues testing relevance interventions was aimed at answering this question in terms of the gender gap in mathematics for high school students. As prior achievement in math was indicative of post-secondary education choices in the previous study discussed, this is a study of great significance. There were two intervention strategies which both contained a presentation that educated on the “importance of effort and self-concept for math achievement” as well as provided examples in education and female- and male-typed careers for the utility of math. One intervention that the researchers coined the quotation intervention involved reading interview quotes from young adults giving personal examples of math’s usefulness and evaluating them. The text intervention asked students to write an essay on arguments for math’s personal relevance to their current and future lives. Each intervention group also kept a homework diary. (Brisson, p. 5). These interventions were designed to provide personal relevance for mathematics utility. The text condition specifically was aimed at encouraging personal connections and reflection, while the quotation condition was hoped to initiate this relevance through role models (Brisson, p. 3).

Female students, as one might suspect by now, reported having lower motivational beliefs before the intervention (Brisson, p. 9). The quotation intervention was shown to have greater effect on students’ utility and intrinsic values for math, whereas the text intervention only had significantly positive effects on utility value ((Brisson, p. 8). Rather than reducing the gender gap in mathematics, these relevance interventions seemed to prevent the widening of it ((Brisson, p. 12). These interventions had greater positive effect on females’ utility and intrinsic values, while the text condition actually led to a marginally significant negative impact on males’ intrinsic value of math ((Brisson, p. 10). In addition, females in the control group suffered more negative development ((Brisson, p. 12).

There are various interrelated possibilities for why these interventions were successful for female students. Firstly, the interventions were performed by female doctorate students. Same-gender role models within STEM fields have been shown to act as a buffer against gender stereotyping and encourage self-efficacy ((Brisson, p. 12). In addition, the interventions provided relevant examples in historically female-typed careers rather than just focusing on engineering and other such male-typed jobs. Another possibility that relates to my prior findings is that the activity of writing may have appealed to females, which may have influenced how conscientiously they worked on the assignment (Brisson, p. 12). This could also have contributed to the negative effect on the text intervention on boys’ intrinsic value of math. Finally, the researchers supposed that females might be more mature in ninth grade than boys their age ((Brisson, p. 12). All of these prospects provide insight to other intervention and curriculum development. A continuation of this line of research is definitely something I would like to consider moving forward.


Alderman, M. Kay. Motivation for Achievement: Possibilities for Teaching and Learning. Mahwah, NJ: Lawrence Erlbaum Associates, Inc., 2004. Print.

Brisson, Maria Brigitte, Anna-Lena Dicke, Barbara Flunger, Hanna Gaspard, Isabelle Häfner, Benjamin Nagengast, and Ulrich Trautwein. “Fostering Adolescents’ Value Beliefs for Mathematics with a Relevance Intervention in the Classroom.” Developmental Psychology 51.9 (2015): 1226 – 1240. Ebscohost. Web. 19 Oct. 2015.

Guo, Jiesi, Herbert W. Marsh, Alexandre J. S. Morin, and Philip D. Parker. “Achievement, Motivation, and Educational Choices: A Longitudinal Study of Expectancy and Value Using a Multiplicative Perspective.” Developmental Psychology 51.8 (2015): 1163 – 1176. PsycARTICLES. Web. 21 Oct. 2015.


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