Contexts in Which "People Like Me" Succeed: Using the Identity-Based Motivation Theory to Connect Possible Selves and Behavior Among Diverse Adolescents
The psychological theory of identity-based motivation (IBM) posits that people prefer to act in ways that feel identity-congruent. Furthermore, IBM argues that context shapes what people believe is possible for them in the future. This perspective predicts that people are sensitive to their environment and that context affects not only what possible selves (i.e., images of oneself in the future) are on one's mind, but also whether or not behaviors in line with those possible selves are likely to occur. Achievement-focused possible selves are necessary to guide goal-relevant behaviors, but simply having a goal does not always translate into successful goal attainment. This symposium will illustrate how the IBM theoretical perspective can both help us understand how adolescents' contexts shape how they view their future prospects and help us predict when these future goals will spur helpful behaviors in the present. Panelists will use this theoretical perspective to examine connections between adolescents' contexts, such as involvement in the justice system or growing up in homes with high vs. low levels of wealth, and adolescents' future goals through longitudinal surveys. Presenters will then support this survey findings with experimental research that explains when and how these future goals translate into goal-relevant action—essentially when contexts align with the way adolescents frame their goals. What is key across these discussions is that it is not only the context itself that matters for outcomes, but also how individuals interpret and make sense of that context.
This approach has real implications for how teachers and practitioners can shape contexts to benefit adolescents. A strength of the IBM theoretical approach lies in its prediction that while an adolescent's view of what is possible for oneself is powerful, it is also malleable. The symposium will close with a presentation of work in which relatively subtle cues in the school or home environment were manipulated to improve student's expectations for their academic outcomes and actually increase students' effort on academic tasks. By helping adolescents interpret difficulty along the way to their goals as a cue to invest more effort, rather than a sign that the goal is impossible for them, practitioners and teachers can bolster motivation. These small-scale interventions offer practical strategies for working with adolescents.