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Wednesday, January 04, 2012

Inequality and Personal Motivation

"Ah, sweet alcohol. Like a true friend, you replace the anger with better, louder anger." - Randy K. Milholland


Kahneman, Greed and Success

"I hypothesized that differences in greed (or "materialism" or "orientation toward money" if you prefer) have a big effect on income. Kahneman has fascinating data to back me up:

Goals make a large difference. Nineteen years after they stated their financial aspirations, many of the people who wanted a high income had achieved it. Among the 597 physicians and other medical professionals in the sample, for example, each additional point on the money-importance scale was associated with an increment of over $14,000 of job income in 1995 dollars!

... Kahneman's insinuation to the wise: Be careful when you wish for the highly improbable.

The same principle applies to other goals--one recipe for a dissatisfied adulthood is setting goals that are especially difficult to attain. Measured by life satisfaction 20 years later, the least promising goal that a young person could have was "becoming accomplished in a performing art."

... When you call lower-income people "losers," you're falsely assuming that we're all racing for the same finish line: material success. But to a large extent, lower-income people are just racing for other finish lines. Leftist outrage over income inequality is therefore deeply misguided. To a large extent, incomes differ because priorities differ. And if poor they don't consider their lack of riches a big deal, why should anyone else?"

Another of the many interesting findings reported:

"Simpler language is better than complex language for making people think you are credible and intelligent."


"McCleland (1961, 1987) has argued that individuals high in n Achievement [Ed: n Achievement being "a recurrent need to improve one's skills and do well according to a standard of excellence"] should do particularly well in a small business, in which all three prerequisites for mastery experiences (personal responsibility, direct feedback, liberty to set and attain challenging goals) are provided. Evidence supporting this prediction comes from research on the effects of achievement motivation on economic success at the individual and at the collective level. For instance, Wainer and Ruhin (1969) found that small companies led by high-achievement entrepreneurs had a growth rate 250% higher than those led by entrepreneurs with low or medium levels of n Achievement. This type of finding has been replicated in other cultures and with different types of entrepreneurial behavior (see McClelland, 1961, for an overview). Thus, Singh and Gupta (1977) found that Indian farmers high in n Achievement had a substantially steeper increase of income-per-acre over 6 years than farmers low in n Achievement, suggesting that the former had been more successful in getting the most (or best) output from their farms than the latter.

Effects of high levels of achievement motivation can also be found in life outcome measures, such as income levels and career paths. McClelland and Franz (1992) reported that n Achievement (but not measures of explicit achievement motivation) at age 31 predicted higher annual income at age 41 for both men and women. Because this study’s sample was identical with the one originally studied by McClclland and Pilon (1983), McClelland and Franz (1992) could test whether there was a direct link between early parental pressure for the child’s independence and mastery, and the “child’s income level at age 41. The correlation between the two variables was positive and significant but dropped to near zero after they controlled for participants’ n Achievement levels. Thus, effects of early emphasis on independence on later income were completely mediated by the achievement motivation measure. There is also evidence that achievement motivation and sociocultural values and constraints interact in shaping life outcomes...

In a very ambitious, successful, and controversial attempt to apply psychological constructs to the explanation of societal, economic, and historical processes, McClel land and colleagues (for an overview, see McClelland, 1987) have used content coding measures developed in implicit motive research to assess motivational needs at the collective level by, for instance, scoring folk tales or children’s storybooks representative of a given culture at a certain historic time, and have used these scores to predict indices of economic success within and across nations, Thus, deCharms and Moeller (1962) found that in the 19th century, an increase of levels of n Achievement in U.S. children’s books preceded an increase in the U.S. patent index by 10 to 30 years. The increase in collective n Achievement correlated at .79 with the increase in the parent index, suggesting that societal emphasis of achievement and mastery when a new generation is in childhood (as reflected in the readers) translates into higher innovativeness when that generation reaches adulthood and joins the workforce. Based on findings such as this, McClelland (1961) argued that collective values of self-reliance and achievement translate at the individual level into parenting practices nurturing independence and mastery, which give rise to increased achievement motivation in the next generation, and thus to the high entrepreneurial activity and innovarivencss that drive the growth of national economies."

--- Handbook of competence and motivation / Andrew J. Elliot
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