Human Motivation & Affective Neuroscience Lab
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Latest News: 1 September 2014
New meta-analysis: Low to no correlation between implicit and explicit motive measures

Can we replace time-consuming content coding measures with more economical questionnaires? After countless studies on the convergence of implicit and explicit motive measures, research associate Martin G. Köllner and HuMAN-Lab director Oliver C. Schultheiss answered this question in a comprehensive meta-analysis (recently published in Frontiers in Psychology) spanning more than half a century of research and more than 50 studies on the relationship of the Picture Story Exercise (PSE) and a broad range of questionnaire-based assessments. They found that even the small, negligible correlations between those measurement traditions may still be an overestimation of the relationship due to selective publishing practices (see figure) in the early years of motive assessment.

study correlation

Relationship of year of publication with implicit-explicit correlation of motivational measures. Presumably due to a diminishing positive-results bias in the literature, implicit and explicit motive measures cease to have any reliable association with each other around the year 2000.

Based on the findings of the present research integration there is simply no empirical basis for claiming that implicit motives can be assessed using any kind of established self-report measure”, Köllner and Schultheiss state. Using a large study pool spanning more than half of a century of research (49 papers, 56 independent samples, 6151 subjects, and 167 correlations), they obtained very small, positive correlations between implicit and explicit motive measures for the domains of achievement and affiliation as well as for the overall correlation of those measure types, all in the range of around .10. For power, the relationship did not even reliably differ from zero.
While the small relationships found are negligible in terms of variance overlap anyway, in addition they possibly still are an overestimation due to earlier studies being published selectively because of their significance, as publication year showed a strong negative association with the overall correlation. As can be seen in the figure, the small positive relationship vanishes approximately by the year 2000 – so perhaps earlier research was published only when it showed the occasionally significant implicit-explicit correlation while many studies without significant results were never published. In the authors´ view, this very likely reflects the intensive search for questionnaires capable of substituting the time-consuming PSE in earlier years which ended when between-systems independence of implicit and explicit motivation was finally accepted by most motivational researchers.
The authors summarize their conclusions as follows:  “It is reasonable to conclude from those findings that implicit and explicit measures indeed tap distinct personality dimensions, as initially stated by McClelland and his colleagues.” Based on more recent studies, they suggest that the zero relationship between implicit and explicit motive measures also extends to so-called grid measures of motivation, which also rely on self-report and appear to have little to no variance overlap with picture-story based motive measures (see Schultheiss, Yankova, Dirlikov, & Schad, 2009).

Previous releases:

Content-coding motive measures can be approcimated with automated word counts

Exploiting the full potential of thematic apperception through profile analysis

High progesterone is associated with less coherent brains (August 2012)

What color naming speed reveals about the wisdom of one's goal choices (December 2010)

Are you high on testosterone and is that a good thing? Listen to Podcast of interview with Dr. Oliver Schultheiss on UM NewsService

New edited book on implicit motives available (October 2009)

What the word "not" may reveal about your ability to handle stress (October 2008)

Estrogen fuels female power (February 2008)

High-testosterone people reinforced by others’ anger, new study finds (February 2007)

Study finds US students more motivated to achieve, less power-hungry than German students (August 2006)

Are all people stressed out by a defeat or does it hurt some more than others? (April 2006)

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