For years, achievement goals authors have considered that mastery goals engendered a pattern of positive, adaptive responses (choice of difficult tasks, persistence following failure, effort; see for example Ames & Archer, 1988; Elliott & Dweck, 1988). Performance goals, on the other hand, were considered as more likely to induce less adaptive behaviors (Dweck, 1986): effort avoidance, choice of easier tasks that guarantee a positive evaluation, lower level of task appreciation, vulnerability to failure (Dweck & Leggett, 1988; Elliott & Dweck, 1988). Moreover, it has been shown that mastery goals encourage the use of adaptive learning strategies, such as organization, attentive listening and self-regulation (Meece, Blumenfeld, & Hoyle, 1988; Bouffard, Boisvet, Vezeau, & Larouche, 1995). Several studies have also revealed that mastery goals favor deep learning whereas performance goals are associated with surface learning strategies (e.g., Elliot, McGregor, & Gable, 1999; Nolen, 1988). Some other studies have also indicated that mastery goals predicted task interest, a finding not found for performance goals (for reviews see Barron & Harackiewicz, 2000; Heyman & Dweck, 1992; Rawsthorne & Elliot, 1999). It is probably because of the link between mastery goals and such forms of “adaptive behaviour” (e.g., persistence after failure, adaptive learning strategies, interest) that, throughout the history of research in this field, many authors have argued that mastery goals should also favor performance, whereas performance goals should, on the contrary, diminish it (see for example Brophy, 2005; Dweck, 1986, 1992; Heyman & Dweck, 1992; Nicholls, 1984).
However this initial view of achievement goals has been strongly challenged by recent findings in the literature. Indeed, recent research suggests that the links between mastery and performance goals and academic outcomes is more complex. In particular, some researchers report a positive relationship between mastery goals and academic performance (Covington & Omelich, 1984; Grant & Dweck, 2003; Licht & Dweck, 1984). A good number of studies, however, do not show this positive link (e.g. Elliot & McGregor, 2001; Harackiewicz, Barron, Carter, Lehto, & Elliot, 1997, Harackiewicz, Barron, Tauer, Carter, & Elliot, 2000; Harackiewicz, Barron, Tauer, & Elliot, 2002; Pintrich, 2000; Senko & Harackiewicz, 2005; Wolters, Yu, & Pintrich, 1996). Moreover, most of the above studies did not show the expected negative links between performance goals and academic performance. Even more surprisingly, in many of them, a positive link was observed between performance-approach goals and academic performance. This positive link has been observed in college classrooms (e.g., Elliot & Church, 1997; Harackiewicz et al., 1997) as well as in smaller more mastery-oriented classrooms (Barron & Harackiewicz, 2003) and on performance on laboratory tasks in experimental studies (e.g., Barron & Harackiewicz, 2001; Darnon, Harackiewicz, Butera, Mugny, & Quiamzade, 2007; Elliot, Shell, Bouas Henri, & Maier, 2005); in the short term as well as in the long term (e.g., Harackiewicz et al., 2000). This positive link thus appears to be very consistent (for a review, see Harackiewicz, Barron, Pintrich, Elliot, & Thrash, 2002).
Thus, although it was first considered as fairly straightforward, the question of achievement goals effects soon became more complex than initially thought. Indeed, mastery goals endorsement results in many of the predicted positive outcomes (e.g., interest, deep studying), but usually it does not typically predict academic achievement. Performance goals, on the other hand, often do.