An early established fear of failure at school can influence students’ motivation to learn and negatively affect their attitude to learning suggests research published today in the British Journal of Educational Psychology.

This is the finding of a study by Dr. Michou, (Bilkent University, Turkey), Dr. Vansteenkiste (Ghent University, Belgium) and colleagues who surveyed over 1,000 students on topics relating to their motivation to learn and the tyoe of learning strategies they use (606 high school student and 435 university students).

The analysis found that irrespective of the goal students adopt (such as ‘my aim is to completely master the material presented in this class’ or ‘my aim is to avoid doing worse than other students’) those who had developed a fear of failure at an early age were more likely to adopt the goal to validate their ego rather than for their own personal interest and development, and were less likely to use effective learning strategies but more likely to cheat.

Dr. Michou said:

“These findings suggest two important points for children’s optimal learning. First, teachers and parents have to be more sensitive on how they evaluate young children’s competence. Very high standards and criticism result in increased levels of fear of failure.

“Second, teachers and parents have to be more sensitive to the rational they provide to children to adopt a goal or engage in an activity. Suggesting children to improve their skills for their own enjoyment and development is much more beneficial than suggesting them to improve their skills in order to prove themselves. Future research would benefit from examining these ideas through longitudinal and experimental studies.”