Eccles Wigfield and Colleagues Work on Subjective Task Values

Eccles and her colleagues have elaborated the concept of subjective task value. Building on earlier work on achievement values (e.g., Battle, 1966), intrinsic and extrinsic motivation (e.g., Deci, 1975; Gottfried, 1990), and on Rokeach's (1979) view that values are shared beliefs about desired end-states, Eccles (Parsons) et al. (1983) outlined four motivational components of task value: attainment value, intrinsic value, utility value, and cost. Like Battle (1966), they defined attainment value as the personal importance of doing well on the task. Drawing on self-schema and identity theories (e.g., Markus & Nurius, 1984), as well as the work by Feather (1982, 1992) and Rokeach, they also linked attainment value to the relevance of engaging in a task for confirming or disconfirming salient aspects of one's self-schema (see Eccles, 1987).

Like Harter (1985, 1998), Deci and his colleagues (e.g., Deci & Ryan, 1985), Csikszentmihalyi (1988), Gottfried (1990), and Renninger (1990), they defined intrinsic value in terms of the enjoy ment the individual gets from performing the activity, or the subjective interest the individual has in the subject.

They defined utility value in terms of how well a task relates to current and future goals, such as career goals. A task can have positive value to a person because it facilitates important future goals, even if he or she is not interested in task for its own sake. For instance, students often take classes that they do not particularly enjoy but that they need in order to pursue other interests, to please their parents, or to be with their friends. In one sense then, this component captures the more "extrinsic" reasons for engaging in a task (see Deci & Ryan, 1985; Gottfried, 1985; Harter, 1985), but it also relates directly to the internalized short- and long-term goals an individual may have.

Finally, Eccles and her colleagues identified "cost" as a critical component of value (Eccles et al., 1983; Eccles, 1987). Cost is conceptualized in terms of the negative aspects of engaging in the task, such as performance anxiety, fear of both failure and success, the amount of effort that needed to succeed and the lost opportunities that result from making one choice rather than another.

Eccles and her colleagues have conducted extensive empirical tests of different aspects of this model. For example, they have shown that ability self-concepts and performance expectancies predict performances in mathematics and English, whereas task values predict course plans and enrollment decisions in mathematics, physics, and English and involvement in sport activities even after controlling for prior performance levels (Eccles, 1984; Eccles et al., 1983; Eccles & Barber 1999; Eccles Adler, & Meece, 1984; Eccles & Harold, 1991; Meece et al., 1990; Updegraff et al., 1996). They have also shown that both expectancies and values predict career choices (see Eccles, Barber, & Jozefowicz, 1999; Eccles, Vida, & Barber, 2004). Recent studies show that both ability self-concepts and subjective task value predict activity/course/career choices (Eccles & Vida, 2003; Updegraff et al., 1996).

Development of Subjective Task Values

There has been much less work on the development of subjective task values during the middle childhood years. Eccles, Wigfield, and their colleagues have examined change in the structure of children's task values, as well as mean level change in children's valuing of different activities. Even young children distinguish between their competence beliefs and their task values. In Eccles et al. (1993), Eccles & Wigfield (1995) and Wigfield et al. (1995), children's competence-expectancy beliefs and subjective values within the domains of math, reading, and sports formed distinct factors at all grade levels from first through twelfth. Thus, even during the very early elementary grades children appear to have distinct beliefs about what they are good at and what they value.

As with competence-related beliefs, studies generally show age-related declines in children's valuing of certain academic and nonacademic achievement tasks (e.g., Eccles et al., 1983, 1993; Eccles & Midgley, 1989; Fredricks & Eccles, 2002; Gottfried, Fleming & Gottfried, 2001; Jacobs et al., 2002; Wigfield & Eccles, 1992). For instance, in longitudinal analysis of elementary school children, beliefs about the usefulness and importance of math, reading, instrumental music, and sports activities decreased over time (Wigfield et al., 1997). In contrast, the children's interest decreased only for reading and instrumental music, not for either math or sports. The data for interest in, and perceived importance of, math and sports is illustrated in Figures 14.5 and 14.6. A similar pattern exists for reading and instrumental music.

Using data from other samples, the decline in valuing of math continues through high school (Eccles, 1984). Eccles et al. (1989) and Wigfield et al., (1991) also found that children's ratings of both the importance of math and English and their liking of these school subjects decreased across the transition to junior high school. In math, students' importance ratings continued to decline across seventh grade, whereas their importance ratings of English increased somewhat during seventh grade.

Researchers have not yet addressed changes in children's understandings of the components of task value identified by Eccles et al. (1983), although there likely are age-related differences in these understandings. An 8-year-old is likely to have a different sense of what it means for a task to be "useful" than an 11-year-old does. Further, it also is likely that there are differences across age in which

■ Math Interest

■ Math Importance

Figure 14.5 Developmental changes in girls' and boys' ratings of math interest and importance.

■ Math Interest

■ Math Importance

Figure 14.5 Developmental changes in girls' and boys' ratings of math interest and importance.

of the components of achievement values are most dominant. Wigfield and Eccles (1992) suggested that interest may be especially salient during the early elementary school grades. If so, then young children's choices of different activities may be most directly related to their interests. And if young children's interests shift as rapidly as their attention spans, it is likely that they will try many different activities for a short time each before developing a more stable opinion regarding which activities they enjoy the most. As children get older the perceived utility and personal importance of different tasks likely become more salient, particularly as they develop more stable self-schema and long range goals and plans. These developmental patterns have yet to be assessed empirically.

A related developmental question is how children's developing competence beliefs relate to their developing subjective task values? According to both the Eccles et al. model and Bandura's self-efficacy theory, ability self-concepts should influence the development of task values. In support of this prediction, Mac Iver, Stipek, and Daniels (1991) found that changes in junior high school students' competence beliefs over a semester predicted changes in children's interest much more strongly than vice versa. Does the same causal ordering occur in younger children? Recall that Bandura (1994) argued that interests emerge out of one's sense of self-efficacy and that children should be more interested in challenging than in easy tasks. Taking a more developmental perspective, Wigfield (1994)

- Sport Interest Sport Importance

Figure 16.6 Developmental changes in girls' and boys' ratings of sport interest and importance.

- Sport Interest Sport Importance

Figure 16.6 Developmental changes in girls' and boys' ratings of sport interest and importance.

proposed that initially young children's competence and task value beliefs are likely to be relatively independent of each other. This independence would mean that children might pursue some activities in which they are interested regardless of how good or bad they think they are at the activity. Over time, particularly in the achievement domain, children may begin to attach more value to activities on which they do well for several reasons: First, through process associated with classical conditioning, the positive affect one experiences when one does well should become attached to the activities yielding success (see Eccles, 1984). Second, lowering the value one attaches to activities that one is having difficulty with is likely to be an effective way to maintain a positive global sense of efficacy and self-esteem. Thus, at some point the two kinds of beliefs should become more positively related to one another. In partial support of this view, Wigfield et al. (1997) found that relations between children's competence beliefs and subjective values in different domains indeed are stronger among older than younger elementary school-aged children. A recent conference paper confirms this finding using our CAB (Childhood and Beyond) data (Denison, Zarrett & Eccles, 2004). The causal direction of this relation, however, has not yet been tested empirically.

Two recent studies in our laboratories have begun to unravel the causal direction story. Unfortunately, the story is not going to be simple. In the first such study, Jacobs et al. (2002) used the CAB data to link the developmental declines in academic self-concepts with these developmental declines in subjective task value over an extended longitudinal period (first to 12th grade). Using HLM with a time varying covariate, they found that the declines in subjective task value for both mathematics, and English were substantially reduced if one controlled for the declines in the same subject area academic ability self-concepts. These findings suggest that the age-related declines in academic ability self-concepts contribute to the age-related declines in the value the children attach to both mathematics and English.

Using our Michigan Study of Adolescent Life Transitions, Yoon (1996) investigated the links between performance, ability self-concepts and subjective task values for mathematics over the junior high school transition. He used structural equation modeling to compare all of the possible cross-lagged relations. In contrast to the Jacobs et al. findings (2002) and the Mac Iver et al. (1991) findings, his analyses suggest that subjective task values predict changes in ability self-concepts to a greater extent that vice versa, especially for early adolescent girls. In addition, changes in performance over the junior high school transition predicted changes in both math ability self-concepts and the value attached to doing well in math for both girls and boys.

In summary, our own studies find evidence that the causal relations among performance, ability self-concepts and subjective task values are likely to be reciprocal; they influence each other over time in a bi-directional manner. It seems quite likely that these reciprocal influences serve important psychological functions. For example, if one is doing quite well at particular activities, then one should develop a high estimate of one's ability at that activity as well as coming to place high value on success at this activity through processes associated with accurate information processing and classical conditioning. In contrast, if one is doing poorly at a particular activity, then it makes sense that one would develop a less positive view of one's abilities at that activity. It also makes sense that one would then lower the value attached to that activity in order to maintain a high sense of self-esteem. Reducing the value one attaches to a particular activity domain is a very adaptive way of responding to failure provided that one can then withdraw from that activity domain without great cost. If, however, a child is forced to continue to engage in those activity domains that he or she is having great difficulty mastering and the context focuses the child's attention on his or her relative performance rather than on his or her improvement over time, it is likely the child will be unable to reduce the value attached to that domain and, as a consequence, that his or her self-esteem and sense of self-worth will be at risk.

It is also likely that children will invest more time in activities that they enjoy. As a result, they should develop both greater competence in these activities and a more positive view of their abilities in these activities. Thus, it is no surprise that the influences among these constructs are bi-directional. The exact nature of these bi-directional relations is likely to vary depending on the child's cognitive maturity, the support provided at home, in school, and among his or peers for various causal interpretations of one's achievement experiences, and the amount of autonomy the child is provided for picking and choosing exactly how he or she wants to invest his or her time and energy.

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