Americans more focused on achievement, less power-hungry

June 27, 2006

Today's U.S. college students are more focused on achievement than power, an attitude that could help them be more innovative and successful than foreign rivals, according to University of Michigan psychology research.

In a study published in the current Journal of Personality Assessment, U-M psychologists Joyce Pang and Oliver Schultheiss compared the motivations of more than 700 American and German college students.

Using an indirect measure that taps into individuals' non-conscious needs for achievement, affiliation and power, Pang and Schultheiss found that U.S. students scored higher in achievement motivation and lower in power motivation than German students. The two student populations did not differ in their need for affiliation.

In past research, the need for achievement has been linked to innovation, small business success, and economic growth. The need for power, on the other hand, has been linked to successful leadership, but also to sex and aggression.

So do these findings suggest that educated Americans are more entrepreneurial and less imperial than educated Germans?

"The difference in achievement motivation is very consistent with the fact that the U.S. currently has a stronger economy than Germany does," Pang said.

She believes that the difference in achievement motivation may be at the core of these economic differences.

"The design of our study does not allow us to draw a direct causal inference," she said. "But past research clearly shows that increases in people's achievement motivation boost productivity through increased self-reliance and a willingness to take calculated risks."

Oliver Schultheiss, a U-M associate professor of psychology, points out that historically, Germans have always been higher than U.S. Americans in their need for power.

This was the case even after World War II, and Germany's collective concern with power may have contributed back then to the Wirtschaftswunder, Germany's post-war effort to regain respectability through building a strong economy.

"What helped us then may hamper us now," Schultheiss, a German expatriate, said.

He speculated that the high levels of power motivation observed in German students may reflect a collective concern with status, a concern that may make Germans less willing to compromise and give up privileges for the sake of reforms that would help Germany's economy to get back on track.

Source: University of Michigan

Explore further: Supersonic Bloodhound Car aiming for land speed record unveiled

Related Stories

It's not a lack of self-control that keeps people poor

September 22, 2015

When considering poverty, our national conversation tends to overlook systemic causes. Instead, we often blame the poor for their poverty. Commentators echo the claim that people are poor because they have bad self-control ...

How we mitigate uncertainty

September 10, 2015

Uncertainty is a paradox. On one hand, it is a potent and powerful force that motivates research, a need to know. The gratifying result of research is evidence used to guide practice and policy.

Recommended for you

How much for that Nobel prize in the window?

October 3, 2015

No need to make peace in the Middle East, resolve one of science's great mysteries or pen a masterpiece: the easiest way to get yourself a Nobel prize may be to buy one.

Search for Egypt's Nefertiti gains new momentum (Update)

September 29, 2015

The search for ancient Egypt's Queen Nefertiti in an alleged hidden chamber in King Tut's tomb gained new momentum as Egypt's Antiquities Minister said Tuesday he is now more convinced a queen's tomb may lay hidden behind ...

New finds of a living fossil

October 2, 2015

The coelacanth fish, found today in the Indian Ocean, is often called a 'living fossil' because its last ancestors existed about 70 million years ago and it has survived into the present - but without leaving any fossil remains ...


Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.