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Ever since the classic research of Nicholls (1976) and others, effort has been recognized as a double-edged sword: while it might enhance achievement, it undermines academic self-concept (ASC). However, there has not been a thorough evaluation of the longitudinal reciprocal effects of effort, ASC, and achievement, in the context of modern self-concept theory and statistical methodology. Nor have there been developmental equilibrium tests of whether these effects are consistent across the potentially volatile early-to-middle adolescence. Hence, focusing on mathematics, we evaluate reciprocal effects models (REMs) over the first 4 years of secondary school (grades 5–8), relating effort, achievement (test scores and school grades), ASC, and ASC × Effort interactions for a representative sample of 3,144 German students (Mage = 11.75 years at Wave 1). ASC, effort, and achievement were positively correlated at each wave, and there was a clear pattern of positive reciprocal positive effects among ASC, test scores, and school grades—each contributing to the other, after controlling for the prior effects of all others. There was an asymmetrical pattern of effects for effort that is consistent with the double-edged sword premise: prior school grades had positive effects on subsequent effort, but prior effort had nonsignificant or negative effects on subsequent grades and ASC. However, on the basis of a synergistic application of new theory and methodology, we predicted and found a significant ASC × Effort interaction, such that prior effort had more positive effects on subsequent ASC and school grades when prior ASC was high—thus providing a key to breaking the double-edged sword. (PsycINFO Database Record (c) 2016 APA, all rights reserved)


Institute for Positive Psychology and Education

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Journal Article

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