Selfworth Theory

Covington is concerned with children's need to maintain positive self-esteem particularly when they are faced with repeated failure experiences in school and other skill-based activity settings. Covington (1992) defined the motive for self-worth as the tendency to establish and maintain a positive self-image, or sense of self-worth. Because children spend so much time in classrooms and are evaluated so frequently there, Covington argued that they must protect their sense of academic competence in order to maintain their sense of self-worth. One way to accomplish this goal is by using those causal attribution patterns that enhance one's sense of academic competence and control: attributing success to ability and effort and failure to insufficient effort (Covington & Omelich, 1979; Eccles et al., 1982). Attributing failure to lack of ability is a particularly problematic attribution that students usually try to avoid. However, school evaluation, competition, and social comparison make it difficult for many children to maintain the belief that they are competent academically. Covington (1992) discussed the strategies many children develop to avoid appearing to lack ability. These include procrastination, making excuses, avoiding challenging tasks, and most importantly, not trying. Although trying is critical for success, if children try and fail, it is difficult to escape the conclusion that they lack ability. Therefore, if failure seems likely, some children will not try, precisely because trying and failing threatens their ability self-concepts. Further, Covington discussed how even some high achieving students can be failure avoidant. Rather than responding to a challenging task with greater effort, these students may try to avoid the task in order to maintain both their own sense of competence, and others' conclusions regarding their competence. Covington (1992) suggested that reducing the frequency and salience of competitive, social comparative, and evaluative practices, and focusing instead on effort, mastery, and improvement, would allow more children to maintain their self-worth without having to resort to the failure-avoiding strategies just described. These suggestions have been incorporated successfully into many other motivation theorists' recommendations for changing schools to enhance motivation (e.g., Ames, 1992; Maehr & Midgley, 1996; Midgley, 2002).

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