The Motivational Theory of Role Modeling: How Role Models Influence Role Aspirants’ Goals

Thekla Morgenroth*, Michelle K. Ryan, Kim Peters

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleAcademicpeer-review

237 Citations (Scopus)
3826 Downloads (Pure)


Role models are often suggested as a way of motivating individuals to set and achieve ambitious goals, especially for members of stigmatized groups in achievement settings. Yet, the literature on role models tends not to draw on the motivational literature to explain how role models may help role aspirants achieve these outcomes. In this paper, we introduce role aspirants and their motivational processes into an understanding of role modeling by drawing on expectancy-value theories of motivation to bring together the disparate literatures on role models to form a cohesive theoretical framework. We first integrate different definitions of role models into a new conceptualization where we propose that role models serve 3 distinct functions in which they influence goals and motivation: acting as behavioral models, representing the possible, and being inspirational. We then build a theoretical framework for understanding not only when, but also how, role models can effectively influence motivation and goals. This new theoretical framework, the Motivational Theory of Role Modeling, highlights ways in which the power of role models can be harnessed to increase role aspirants' motivation, reinforce their existing goals, and facilitate their adoption of new goals.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)465-483
Number of pages19
JournalReview of General Psychology
Issue number4
Publication statusPublished - 1-Dec-2015


  • Goals
  • Inspiration
  • Motivation
  • Role modeling
  • Role models

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