Effects of affiliation-, achievement-, and power-related topics in mathematical word problems on students' performance, task-related values, and expectancies

PLoS One. 2022 Jun 30;17(6):e0270116. doi: 10.1371/journal.pone.0270116. eCollection 2022.


A motivational downturn in mathematics during secondary school has been well documented for many students. As a way to address this, creating personally relevant tasks is supposed to increase students' motivation for mathematical tasks. According to recent research, topics relating to affiliation, achievement, and power are personally relevant for young people. Prior research showed that motive imagery in school tasks increases students' task-related intrinsic value and success expectancies. The present study examined the effect of motive topics in word problems on students' task performance. We contextualized mathematical tasks either with affiliation, achievement, and power topics or with neutral topics not related to motive topics. The tasks were comparable regarding their mean word count, text, and mathematical complexity. In three experimental studies (N1 = 56, N2 = 63, N3 = 62), the students solved four tasks for each motive topic and neutral tasks, respectively. The dependent variables were task performance, intrinsic values, and expectancies of success. Repeated measures analyses of variance with the four-level, within-subjects factor motive imagery revealed positive effects of motive imagery in word problems on students' task performance. This was particularly true for achievement-related tasks compared with neutral tasks. The results also indicated slightly positive effects for affiliation-related word problems on students' performance. In addition, the intrinsic value for affiliation-related (Experiment 1) and achievement-related tasks (Experiment 3) was higher than for neutral tasks. Power imagery did not affect students' task performance; it negatively affected students' intrinsic value compared with neutral tasks. Task-related success expectancies were not influenced by motive imagery. The present study replicates and extends previous findings that indicate that tasks referring to affiliation and achievement imagery are more appealing to students and can benefit their performance.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Achievement*
  • Adolescent
  • Humans
  • Mathematics
  • Motivation
  • Students
  • Task Performance and Analysis*

Associated data

  • figshare/10.6084/m9.figshare.16200693.v1

Grants and funding

We acknowledge support by Deutsche Forschungsgemeinschaft (DFG) and Open Access Publishing Fund of Osnabrück University.