This study tested the hypothesis that the reason a person engages in a physical education activity (instrumentality) has an effect on his or her state goal orientation, time spent practicing, task enjoyment, motivation, effort, and ultimately on his/her performance. Participants, 695 college students (340 M, 355 F; mean age 19.7 years, range = 18–22) who were enrolled in physical education classes, learned a dribble-shooting basketball task. Before practicing it for 20 minutes, they received one of the three instructions underlining the personal and/or future relevance of the task. Instructions emphasizing the obligatory nature of the task led to a decrease in motivated behavior, performance, and state task orientation, but an increase in the state ego orientation. Instructions emphasizing the personal and future relevance enhanced state task orientation, motivated behavior, and performance. Instructions that only emphasized personal relevance fell in between. The results of this study showed that instructions are powerful tools that can easily affect the quality of motivation and either strengthen or undermine students’ motivational behavior, performance, and future participation, at least when students have little or no experience with the task.
The authors are with the Department of Psychology, University of Leuven, Tiensestraat 102, 3000 Leuven, Belgium.