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Self-Concept as a Mediating Factor for Academic Motivation on Academic Achievement

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The subject of academic success at college has been a recurring topic in educational and social psychology in recent years, with one important reason for that it is growing about student confidence and self-esteem rates that may predict dropout in school. According to Atkinson’s theory of achievement motivation (Maehr & Sjogren, 1971), the relationship between individual characteristics and their inherent need for success is related to extrinsic and intrinsic motivations where performance is evaluated. While some may have the competitive drive to achieve their goals, others may avoid it in fear of failure. In the academic context, individuals may often fail when their motivations are extrinsic, and when their behavior is driven by external rewards such as the need for better grades or praise from parents and peers. Students would likely do better in school if they are motivated intrinsically because it is driven by internal rewards and the behavior arises because it is naturally satisfying. Intrinsic motivation often correlates to self-concept in an academic setting because it is the idea of the self, constructed from the beliefs one holds about themselves and in the responses of others which is important to success in undergraduate students for later life, which can inadvertently affect their later economic success, longterm health and well-being (Arrepattamannil, 2012). Therefore, it is important to examine the relationship between academic motivation and school achievement about academic self-concept for those who are enrolled in universities. In this present study, our goal is to determine if self-concept is a mediating factor of one’s educational achievement and motivation.

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There is some reason to believe that academic achievement and motivation are mediated by one’s self-concept in a school setting. For instance, in a study conducted by Flowers, Raynor, White, and State (2013), undergraduate students that were enrolled in online and in-class science, technology, engineering, and mathematic courses were given the academic self-concept scale and measured their attitudes and perceptions toward their capacity to attain success. Their research findings supported that positive academic self-concept resulted in a higher likelihood to attain better grades. Other research had similarly found that prior achievement and positive critical thinking influenced student academic performance and that their motivation had an indirect positive impact on individual student achievement (Manganelli et al, 2019). However, another study revealed that gender differences produced different results, with male undergraduate students that had high levels of academic self-concept and motivation had higher academic achievement compared to male students with low levels of motivational dimensions. For their counterpart peers, female student motivational dimensions did not associate with academic achievement, only partially confirming that academic self-concept was a mediating factor of school achievement and motivation (Van Soom & Donche, 2014).

It must be noted, that the research conducted on self-concept is largely conducted through questionnaires and surveys, with whether academic self-concept causes academic achievement or if academic achievement causes academic self-concept (Guay, Ratelle, Roy & Litalien, 2010). Added to the mixed findings of the studies shown above, the effects of self-concept could vastly differ in different institutional and racial contexts and it is important to ideally extend our scope of knowledge in regards to self-concept as a potential mediating factor. Thus the objective of this current study is to test the relations of academic achievement, motivation, and self-concept in undergraduate students. We hypothesize that academic motivation decreases when students have lower self-concept which further decreases academic achievement, and when students have high academic motivation, it will increase education self-concept, explaining higher academic achievement.

The sample includes 203 undergraduate students from the University of Calgary who were recruited through the Research Participation System (RPS). Nineteen responses were excluded from the data due to inconsistent completion time, unfinished responses, or alternate study choices. Of the pool of students that participated, the majority were of European descent (40.12%), with a mixed Asian population (39.88%) and other ethnicities (20%). Of the pool of participants, 76.37% were females, 23.04% were males, with 0.58% other. The average age of participants was between the ages of 19-21. The first-year undergraduate students were excluded as the study required the previous semester’s grade point average (GPA).

The electronic questionnaire was distributed online via Qualtrics that ran for one week during the University’s reading break. The study comprised of a sliding scale that required participants to report their GPA, and questions from the Academic Motivation Scale (Vallerand et al, 1992) and Academic Self-Concept (Reynolds, 1988). The Motivation scale consisted of 28 items where respondents could answer on a 5-point Likert scale that described their views on their motivations for attending school, and the Academic Self-Concept scale, consisted of 40 items, with a 7-point Likert scale that described their views on their idea of self-constructed from the beliefs one holds about one's self. Participants were then granted 0.5 credits upon completion of the study. The data collected is then stored to create an overall dataset.

Regression analysis was used to investigate the hypothesis that academic self-concept mediates the effect of one’s academic motivation on achievement. Results indicated that academic motivation was a significant predictor of academic self-concept, B = .837, SE = .151, p < .001, and that academic self-concept was a significant predictor of academic achievement, B = .008, SE = .001, p < .001. These results support the mediational hypothesis. Academic motivation was no longer a significant predictor of academic achievement after controlling for the mediator, academic self-concept, B = 0.0002, SE = .003, ns, consistent with full mediation. Approximately 20% of the variance of academic motivation and achievement was accounted for by academic self-concept (R2 = .201). The indirect effect was tested using a percentile bootstrap estimation approach with 5000 samples (Shrout & Bolger, 2002), implemented with the PROCESS macro Version 3 (Hayes, 2017). These results indicated the indirect coefficient was significant, B = .007, SE = .002, 95% CI = .0030, .0108. The current academic motivation was associated with academic achievement that was approximately .007 points higher as mediated by academic self-concept.

Much research has been focussed on investigating the factors that can influence and predict students’ progress in learning and their academic standing. The main objective of this study was to explore the possible effects of academic self-concept as a mediational factor on student academic motivation and academic achievement. Moreover, since many studies focused on how self-concept correlated to achievement, we also wanted to explore whether the academic motivation was a controlling variable.

Confirming our original hypothesis, the findings revealed that academic self-concept did mediate one’s motivation to achieve higher academic standing. What we did not anticipate for, was when self-concept is controlled for, causing the relationship to disappear when academic motivation is no longer a predictor for academic achievement. This suggests that when an individual’s academic motivation was high, they would have a higher academic self-concept and would achieve higher achievement and performance. When they had low motivation, an inverse effect would happen, where they would also have a lower self-concept that further decreased their academic performance. In agreement with previous research conducted (Flowers, Raynor, White & State, 2013; Manganelli et al., 2019), positive correlations were found between all three variables about each other, with self-concept as the main factor contributing to potential student success. Importantly, these findings are beneficial for university students, educators and school staff to increase awareness about self motivation and achievement, relating to how one’s self-concept can inadvertently predict one’s academic performance based on these two factors. Increased knowledge can help students and educators acknowledge these relationships and create effective strategies to improve overall student satisfaction and success, thereby improving university affluence. Past literature (Guay, Ratelle, Roy & Litalien, 2010) have stated that there have been discord amongst researchers as to whether academic self-concept causes academic achievement or if academic achievement causes academic self-concept. In our study, we can confirm that academic self-concept did affect performance when motivation was a variable.

The findings of the present study have significant practical applications and relevancy because they provide clear individuations for developing targeted interventions and strategies aimed at promoting students’ academic success and growth. Our findings suggest that potential interventions should focus on promoting motivation enhancing skills, and increased self-esteem and self-concept strategies. Research has show that learning environment factors as well as individual perception of self and others can effectively influence students’ motivations and their approaches to learning. Our findings can extend the scope of Atkinson’s Theory of Achievement Motivation and assist in developing potential effective strategies to combat low motivation and self-concept. By establishing effective resilience skills, students can enhance their understanding of the relative contributions of motivation, achievement and self-concept has as predictors of school performance and better prepare themselves for academic stress and workload.

This study reports several strengths but has a fair share of limitations. During the study, the questionnaire used did not report for demographics that include age, race and gender which could have potential differing effects of the three variables. Self-selection bias could have arisen in which individuals select themselves into a certain group which could have caused a biased sample and potentially skewing possible results, and we excluded the first-year undergraduate population with the basis of using the previous semester’s GPA. The duration of our study could also be a potential limitation as it was held for only a one week period online, that was accessible at any time. Since we did standardize for a set time, it could also potentially affect our results. Generalizability is also a limitation, as the majority of respondents were primarily from the psychology department, the reported grade point average (GPA) may be vastly different compared to the national average. Although the study included some variations from other departments, the sample was very small. Additionally, we did not take into account possible cultural differences between respondents. Depending on their background and cultural standard, the results tested is only one of many possible explanations.

In conclusion, despite these limitations, the findings of the study suggest that academic self-concept is a mediating factor that correlates to academic achievement and academic motivation in students. Our present study posits that students can increase academic achievement if they have high motivation, which will increase self-concept to produce better performance. Therefore, future research may benefit by investigating the potential impact of other social psychological constructs and culture, age, and gender differences in university undergraduate populations. 

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