The Effect of Achievement Motivation on Brain Activation, Cognitive Functioning, and Well-Being

  • Ivaylo Krastev

Student thesis: Doctoral ThesisDoctor of Philosophy


Understanding the relationship between positive psychology and neuroscience is fundamental for furthering a multi-pragmatic, cross-disciplinary approach to the study of psychological phenomena. This thesis investigates the effects of achievement motivation on regional brain activation, cognitive functioning, affective responses, and well-being. A triangulation of psychophysiological, self-report, and objective cognitivebehavioural measures were used in the design of three studies. Study 1 examined the predictive effects of achievement goal orientations, bio-behavioural approach and avoidance systems, and frontal electroencephalographic (EEG) asymmetry on hedonic and eudaimonic well-being. A hypothesised moderated mediation model further explored interactions between these variables in predicting well-being. Study 2 included two experiments. Experiment 1 examined the effects of situationally induced achievement goals on attentional network functioning, perceptual asymmetry, and four affective responses. Experiment 2 sought to replicate and expand on the findings of Experiment 1 by triangulating measures of problem solving and well-being with objective EEG measures of regional brain activation. Study 3 combined cognitive and event-related potential (ERP) measures to investigate the effects of situational goal involvement on free word recall and dynamic neural activity underlying emotional word processing. In Study 1, left superior frontal activity, a mastery-approach goal orientation, and the behavioural approach system (BAS) predicted both forms of wellbeing. The right prefrontal and mid-frontal regions moderated the effect of masteryapproach goal orientation on eudaimonic well-being and mastery-approach goal orientation partially mediated links between the BAS and well-being. Both experiments in Study 2 revealed that approach, compared to avoidance, conditions of achievement motivation lead to significant increases in left hemispheric activation, attention, problem solving, approach-related positive affect, hedonic and eudaimonic well-being. Study 3 found that free recall was highest in the mastery-approach goal condition and in response to positive words. ERP analysis confirmed the benefits of mastery-approach motivational involvement in processing of emotional information. The present thesis revealed that approach motivational types appear to be more adaptive than avoidance motivational types in predicting well-being and facilitating left brain activation following sustained cognitive engagement. This could ultimately benefit cognitive health and well-being across educational settings. The findings are discussed in relation to previous studies, social cognitive and neuroscientific theories of motivation and emotion, and positive psychological concepts of well-being. Limitations are identified that provide directions for future longitudinal and intervention research. The thesis concludes with suggestions for further integration, investigation, and application in the areas of cognitive, neurophysiological, positive, and affective psychology.
Date of Award2019
Original languageEnglish
Awarding Institution
  • Coventry University
SupervisorLuke Sage (Supervisor) & John Williams (Supervisor)


  • Achievement Motivation
  • Brain Activation
  • Well-Being
  • Cognition
  • Emotion

Cite this