Searching for short-term motivational alignment and spillover effects: A random intercept cross-lagged analysis of students’ expectancies and task values in math-intensive study programs


Students’ expectancy and value beliefs about math influence their academic choices and success in math-intensive study programs. Short-term declines in these motivational beliefs can serve as early warning signs of academic difficulties and dropout. However, such short-term motivational changes are underresearcherd. Based on Eccles et al.’s (2020) situated expectancy-value theory, this study analyzed within-person changes in the associations among students’ course-specific (summative) or week-specific (situated) expectancies and task values in gateway math courses for students in physics, math, or math teacher education majors (N = 773). Random intercept cross-lagged panel models showed increasing within-person alignment between students’ course-specific expected success and intrinsic/utility values (but not costs) over one semester. This alignment was linked to unidirectional spillover (i.e., cross-lagged) effects from expectancy to intrinsic/utility values. Students’ week-specific expectancy-value beliefs, reported at the beginning of the semester, showed no significant alignment and spillover effects. Differences in students’ course- or week-specific expectancy-value beliefs favored male and higher-achieving students and were largely time-invariant. Alignment between course-specific expectancy and value beliefs was higher for students who failed or dropped out of their math courses compared to those who succeeded. Greater motivational alignment can thus indicate greater disengagement from (math) coursework in challenging academic contexts. These findings highlight the importance of differentiating between-person and within-person motivational processes, suggest that summative versus situation-specific assessments of motivational beliefs may show different developmental patterns, and demonstrate that motivational alignment and spillover effects can be a sign of maladaptive motivational processes concerning students’ persistence in challenging STEM contexts.

Contemporary Educational Psychology, 73