This study tested a framework in which goals are proposed to be central determinants of achievement patterns. Learning goals, in which individuals seek to increase their competence, were predicted to promote challenge-seeking and a mastery-oriented response to failure regardless of perceived ability. Performance goals, in which individuals seek to gain favorable judgments of their competence or avoid negative judgments, were predicted to produce challenge-avoidance and learned helplessness when perceived ability was low and to promote certain forms of risk-avoidance even when perceived ability was high. Manipulations of relative goal value (learning vs. performance) and perceived ability (high vs. low) resulted in the predicted differences on measures of task choice, performance during difficulty, and spontaneous verbalizations during difficulty. Particularly striking was the way in which the performance goal-low perceived ability condition produced the same pattern of strategy deterioration, failure attribution, and negative affect found in naturally occurring learned helplessness. Implications for theories of motivation and achievement are discussed.