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The college journey and academic engagement: how metaphor use enhances identity-based motivation.

Journal of Personality and Social Psychology

Female, Humans, Male, Metaphor, Motivation, physiology, Young Adult, Random Allocation, Self Concept, Students, psychology, Universities, Adult

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      People commonly talk about goals metaphorically as destinations on physical paths extending into the future or as contained in future periods. Does metaphor use have consequences for people's motivation to engage in goal-directed action? Three experiments examine the effect of metaphor use on students' engagement with their academic possible identity: their image of themselves as academically successful graduates. Students primed to frame their academic possible identity using the goal-as-journey metaphor reported stronger academic intention, and displayed increased effort on academic tasks, compared to students primed with a nonacademic possible identity, a different metaphoric framing (goal-as-contained-entity), and past academic achievements (Studies 1-2). This motivating effect persisted up to a week later as reflected in final exam performance (Study 3). Four experiments examine the cognitive processes underlying this effect. Conceptual metaphor theory posits that an accessible metaphor transfers knowledge between dissimilar concepts. As predicted in this paradigm, a journey-metaphoric framing of a possible academic identity transferred confidence in the procedure, or action sequence, required to attain that possible identity, which in turn led participants to perceive that possible identity as more connected to their current identity (Study 4). Drawing on identity-based motivation theory, we hypothesized that strengthened current/possible identity connection would mediate the journey framing's motivating effect. This mediational process predicted students' academic engagement (Study 5) and an online sample's engagement with possible identities in other domains (Study 6). Also as predicted, journey framing increased academic engagement particularly among students reporting a weak connection to their academic possible identity (Study 7).

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