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The relationship of personality traits and achievement motivation to course and career choice: a theoretical exploration and empirical investigation

posted on 26.02.2017, 22:41 by Quin, Kevin Frederick
Explaining how people direct their behavior, establish intentions, make choices and implement those choices through their actions, is the fundamental task of psychology. Psychological researchers and theorists have attempted explanations of these matters using a rich but bewildering variety of terms, concepts, theories, orientations, perspectives and traditions. Many theorists and researchers have called for theoretical integration and conceptual clarification in their areas of interest. Part I of this three-part thesis was termed a Theoretical Exploration to identify its purpose as exploring theories, terms and concepts employed in the psychological literature, clarify usage and identify commonalities. Part II of the thesis was termed an Empirical Investigation; it investigated and demonstrated some associations between constructs from different theories. The demonstrated associations suggested directions for theoretical integration and conceptual clarification. Part III provided more detailed directions for theoretical integration by identifying important and fundamental commonalities between theories. Part I, the Theoretical Exploration ranged over a number of theories including: Social Cognitive Theory, Personality Theory, Theories of Emotion, Motivational Theories, Theories of Value, and Evolutionary Theory. In addition to these broad theories, more specifically oriented theories were considered: Achievement Motivation Theory, Expectancy-Value Theory, Holland’s Theory of Vocational Interests, and Social-Cognitive Career Theory. Specifically oriented theories are often based on a wider theory, (Social-Cognitive Career Theory, as the name suggests, is based on Social-Cognitive Theory), and so are influenced by the wider theories on which they are based. However, theories reciprocally influence each other, often in subtle ways; they share terms and concepts, but usages might differ. Part I identified historical origins, theoretical links and conceptual commonalities as an indicator of possibilities for integration. The thesis took course choice and career intention as exemplars of intentionally directed action. Using these exemplars of behavior, the study discussed intention formation, its relationship with choice, and the varieties of meanings associated with usage of the term choice. Part I Theoretical Exploration argued that empirical analysis, while essential, is only one part of scientific procedure. Part I stressed the importance of logical analysis of data, careful definition of terms, and the identification of systems and relationships as fundamental to scientific process. In Part II, an empirical investigation was undertaken to identify how participants enrolled in courses could be classified into “types” based on their personality traits. These personality types were demonstrated to be associated with their career intentions and career motivations. No significant association was demonstrated between personality type and course choice, though some interesting patterns were discerned. Significant and meaningful associations between personality type and career intention were demonstrated. A link between personality type and satisfaction with career was found. Associations were found between motivations and course choice, and motivations and career intentions. The empirical findings of this study are consistent with the Five- Factor theory of personality, Achievement Motivation theory, and Expectancy-Value Theory. A combination of the commonalities of a variety of theories and the empirical results of this study indicates one method of theoretical integration using Five-Factor Theory. Consideration of the similarities between Five-Factor theory and modern Expectancy-Value theory together with the empirical results of this study indicate ways in which traits, especially trait emotion, link with the adoption of values. Traits and associated values contribute to motivations for career intention. These findings and indications have important ramifications for job seekers, prospective employers, and course advisors. Part III returned to a wider view of theoretical integration. Using Five-Factor Theory as an overarching theory, Part III described the important commonalities between theories, to indicate a systemic understanding of decision-making and behavior.


Campus location


Principal supervisor

Helen Watt

Year of Award


Department, School or Centre



Doctor of Philosophy

Degree Type



Faculty of Education