Self-Worth Motivation Theory

Self-Worth, Fear of Failure, Disengagement, Approach-Avoidance, Self-Discrepancy Theory

Psychology, Sports,  Business, Education, Technology                                                                                             Contributors:  Dawn Bovasso

M. V. Covington, R. G. Berry, A. Bandura


Self-worth theory asserts that a person's ability to achieve is directly linked to their perceptions of themselves. According to Martin Covington, the pioneer in the psychology field of self-worth and self-efficacy, most people will go to extraordinary lengths to "protect their sense of worth or self-value," even if it infringes on the ultimate outcome of their achievement (Covington, 1984, p. 4).

The practical implications of this theory can impact everything from classroom learning ("How will my classmates gauge my value?") to the adoption of new technology ("If I don't know how to use this iPhone, I must not be very smart...").

Though this is an almost universal behavior, the response mechanism can vary wildly.  For example, some people will engage in self-defeating behaviors, some will procrastinate (some succeeding, some failing), and other will rise to the challenge and be wildly successful.

Ultimately, this theory means that it can be difficult to predict whether someone will choose to learn/complete a challenging task or find a reason to fail that protects their self-image. 


For those people in positions either of power (i.e. teachers, managers, etc.) or persuasiveness (i.e. retail, ecommerce, etc.), being aware of these underlying psychological drivers can prevent failure due to issues such as fear and image control. If issues with self-worth are removed from the situation, than a person is free to experience the actual situation, and to succeed or fail as is appropriate.  

REFERENCES ~ Coding Spreadsheet - Web View

  • Bandura A. (1993). Perceived self-efficacy in cognitive development and functioning. Educational Psychology, 28, 117- 148.

  • Bandura A. (1977).  Self-efficacy: toward a unifying theory of behavioral change. Psychology Review, 84(2), 191-215.

  • Berry, R. G. (1975). Fear of failure in the student experience. Personnel and Guidance Journal, 54, 190-203.

  • Covington, M.V. (1992). Making the grade: A self-worth perspective on motivation and school reform. New York: Cambridge Univ. Press.

  • Covington, M. V. (1997). Self-worth and motivation. New York: Cambridge University Press.

  • Covington, M. V. (1984). The self-worth theory of achievement motivation: Findings and implications. The Elementary School Journal, 85(1), 5-20.

  • Covington, M. V. (1997). Self-worth and motivation. New York: Cambridge University Press.

  • Martin, A., & Dowson, M. (2009). Interpersonal relationships, motivation, engagement, and achievement: Yields for theory, current issues, and educational practice. Review of Educational Research, 79(1), 327-65.