Approach-Avoidance Motivation Research Group

Group Picture

Approach and avoidance motivation are fundamental and basic to human functioning, and the approach-avoidance perspective is a highly generative and informative lens through which to examine social, personality, and developmental processes. Accordingly, our research group investigates a variety of different topics across diverse disciplines of psychology, using a multitude of research methodologies (laboratory experiments, longitudinal studies, prospective studies, and archival analyses). 

  • Achievement goal structure and process: Examining the different ways in which individuals approach success and avoid failure in their goal pursuits, and the implications of differential goal pursuit for affect, cognition, and behavior.
  • Approach and avoidance social goals: Examining the structure of social goals, as well as the antecedents and consequences of pursuing different types of approach-and avoidance-focused social goals.
  • Competition and motivation: Examining how competition in all its forms (trait, perceived, structural) influences psychological processes and outcomes.
  • Inequality and motivation. Everything the influence of income - and race - based inequality on perceived competitiveness, approach - avoidance motivation, and downstream outcomes (e.g., health, wellbeing).
  • Meta-motivation and motivation perception: Examining the accuracy of our knowledge about our own motivation and others' motivation.

Our lab is comprised of graduate students in social-personality psychology, as well as post-docs and visiting professors, often from countries outside the US. We have ongoing collaborations with a number of other labs around the country and world. We can be reached by contacting Dr. Andrew Elliot at

Recent Visitors to the Lab (and Current Position)

2023: Tingting Zuo – Graduate Student, Nanjing Normal University
2022: Dr. Yuan Hu – Post Doc, Utrecht University
2017-2018: Dr. Tengxiao Zhang – Professor, Nanjing University
2016-2017: Dr. Martin Daumiller – Professor, University of Augsburg
2016-2017: Dr. Gregory Arief Liem – Professor, National Institute of Education
2014-2016: Dr. Malgorzata Goclowska - Professor, University of Bath
2014-2015: Dr. Jun Ma – Professor, Shanghai University 
2015: Dr. Chen Chen – Professor, Nanjing Normal University
2015: Dr. Michael Jury – Professor, Clermont Ferrand University
2015-2016: Dr. Nicolas Sommet – Professor, University of Lausanne
2015-2016: Dr. Haomin Zhang – Professor, Shanghai University

For an overview of Dr. Elliot's area of research see his "Handbook of Competence and Motivation, 2nd Edition: Theory and Application (Guilford Press)"

Selected Publications


Elliot, A. J. (2020). Competition and achievement outcomes: A hierarchal motivational analysis. Motivation Science, 6, 3-11.

Gordils, J., Jamieson, J., Elliot, A. J., & Sommet, N. (2020). Racial income inequality promotes perceptions of competition and predicts negative interracial outcomes. Social Psychological and Personality Science, 11, 74-87.

Scherrer, V., Preckel, F., Schmidt, I, & Elliot, A. J. (2020). Development of achievement goals and their relation to academic interest and achievement: A review of the literature and two longitudinal studies. Developmental Psychology, 56, 795-814.

Velesco, C., Pathak, A., Woods, A. T., Corredor, A., & Elliot, A. J. (2020). The relation between symmetry in food packaging and approach and avoidance words. Quarterly Journal of Experimental Psychology, 73, 654-663.

Young, S., & Elliot, A. J. (2020). The influence of competition and performance goals on decoding complex emotions. Motivation and Emotion, 44, 911-920.


Elliot, A. J., Weissman, D., Hangen, E., & Thorstenson, C. A. (2021). Social comparison information, performance expectancy, and performance goal adoption. Motivation Science, 7, 56-67.

Gordils, J., Jamieson, J., Elliot, A. J., & Sommet, N. (2021). The effect of perceived interracial competition on psychological outcomes. PLoS One, e0245671

Guzmán J. C., Schuenke-Lucien, K., D’Agostino, A. J., Berends, M., & Elliot, A. J. (2021). Improving reading skills in early grades: Evidence from a randomized evaluation in Haiti. Reading Research Quarterly, 56, 173-193.

Liu, Z., Elliot, A. J., & Li, Y. (2021). Social comparison orientation and trait competitiveness: Their interrelation and utility in predicting overall and domain-specific risk-taking. Personality and Individual Differences, 171, 110451.

Marsh, H., Xu, K., Parker, P., Pekrun, R., Elliot, A. J., Guo, J., Dicke, T., & Basarkod, G. (2021). Moderation of the big-fish-little-pond effect: Juxtaposition of evolutionary (Darwinian-economic) and achievement motivation theory predictions. Educational Psychology Review, 33, 1353-1378.


Gilbert, K. M., Elliot, A. J., & Le, B. M. (2022). Economic status and avoidance motivation: A meta-analysis. Motivation and Emotion, 46, 293-306.

Sarkar, A., Nithyanand, D., Sarkar, R., Mäkelä, I., Sella, F., Cohen Kadosh, R., Elliot, A. J., & Thompson, J. (2022). Knowledge of wealth shapes social impressions. Journal of Experimental Psychology: Applied, 28, 205-236.

Sommet, N., & Elliot, A. J. (2022). The effect of local income inequality on health is equivalent to zero. Quality of Life Research, 31, 1999-2009.

Wallace, A., Elliot, A. J., & Rogge, R. (2022). Spontaneous use of retrieval and rereading: Relation to achievement goals and exam performance. Journal of Educational Psychology, 114, 1412-1426.

Weissman, D., Elliot, A. J., & Sommet, N. (2022). Dispositional predictors of perceived academic competitiveness: Evidence from multiple countries, Personality and Individual Differences, 198, 11801.


Gordils, J., Elliot, A. J., & Jamieson, J. P. (2023). The effect of Black-White income inequality on perceived interracial psychological outcomes via perceived interracial competition. Journal of Educational Psychology: General, 132, 2479-2503.

Guo, J., Hu, X., Elliot, A. J., Murayama, K, Marsh, H. W., Basarkod, G., Parker, P., & Dicke, T. (2023). Mastery-approach goals: A large-scale cross-cultural analysis of antecedents and consequences. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 125, 397-420.

Pekrun, R., Marsh, H. W., Elliot, A. J., Loderer, K., Perry, R. P., Vogt, E., & Goetz, T. (2023). A three-dimensional taxonomy of achievement emotions. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 124, 145-178.

Sommet, N., Weissman, D. L., & Elliot, A. J. (2023). Income inequality predicts competitiveness and cooperativeness at school. Journal of Educational Psychology, 115, 173-191.

Weissman, D. L., & Elliot, A. J. (2023). Achievement goal perception: An interpersonal approach to achievement goals. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 125, 607-628.

In Press

Cai, Y., King, R. B., & Elliot, A. J. (in press). Income inequality is associated with heightened test anxiety and lower academic achievement: A cross-national study in 51 countries. Learning and Instruction.

Elliot, A. J., & Sommet, N. (in press). Integration in the achievement motivation literature and the hierarchical model of achievement motivation. Educational Psychology Review.

Garcia, A. M., Tor, A., & Elliot, A. J. (in press). What is the psychology of competition? In S. Garcia, A. Tor, & A. Elliot (Eds.), Oxford handbook on the psychology of competition. Oxford, UK: Oxford University Press.

Gilbert, K. M., Weissman, D., Gordils, J., Elliot, A. J., & Sommet, N. (in press). Feeling poor or feeling poorer: Comparing subjective measures of economic status in predicting health and well-being, International Journal of Social Psychology.

Sommet, N., & Elliot, A. J. (in press). Opposing effects of income inequality on health: The role of perceived competitiveness and approach/avoidance motivation. European Journal of Social Psychology.