Academic journal article North American Journal of Psychology

Cross-Cultural Differences in the Academic Motivation of University Students in Malaysia and the United States

Academic journal article North American Journal of Psychology

Cross-Cultural Differences in the Academic Motivation of University Students in Malaysia and the United States

Article excerpt

Undergraduate students in the United States (172 students) and Malaysia (208 students) completed the Academic Motivations Inventory (Moen & Doyle, 1977). Malaysian students scored significantly higher than U.S. students on the following motives: Thinking, competing, desire for self-improvement, facilitating and debilitating anxiety, as well as disliking and feeling discouraged about school. U.S. students scored higher than Malaysian students on the demanding motive. A factor analysis within each sample revealed interesting similarities and differences in the structure of motivational components. The results of this study suggest that selection processes, family dynamics, and perceptions of the relative importance of effort and ability may all play a role in creating differences in academic motivation.

It is vital to the future of society to enhance the learning and academic achievement of students, especially those in higher education. Given that student motivation likely plays a key role in learning and academic performance, it is crucial to develop a better understanding of the determinants and facets of academic motivation. One key factor may be culture. In the current study, we focus on the cultural dimension of national differences that may emerge via social, political, economic, and other factors. A great deal of recent media attention has focused on explaining why students in the United States tend to under-perform relative to their peers in other nations. Recent articles in news magazines such as Time, Newsweek, and U.S. News and World Report have all focused on this issue. Unfortunately, very little research within the United States (U.S.) has examined the academic motivation of university students (for exceptions, see Church & Katigbak, 1992; Cokley, Bernard, Cunningham, & Motoike, 2001; Livengood, 1992), and only a handful of studies have examined cross-cultural influences (e.g., Bempechat & Drago-Severson, 1999; Goyette & Xie, 1999; Yan & Gaier, 1994). The current study was designed to redress these gaps in knowledge by directly examining the academic motivation of university students in two distinct cultures. Specifically, we sought to examine multiple domains of academic motivation for university students in both Malaysia and the United States and examine these motives in relation to specific social and cultural factors that likely differ in these two countries.

While researchers have long acknowledged the importance of motivation to academic success (e.g., Moen & Doyle, 1977; Pintrich, 2000; Weiner, 1985), only recently have efforts been directed to identifying the specific factors that influence motivation. In analyzing the nature of academic motivation, psychologists and educators have moved away from a cognitive model toward a socio-cognitive model (Bong, 1996; Linnenbrink & Pintrich, 2002). The cognitive model focuses on internal processes such as attributions for success and failure (Weiner). In contrast, the social-cognitive model suggests that students are motivated in multiple ways, and that motivation is influenced by both intrinsic (cognitive) and extrinsic (social and cultural) factors (Cury, Elliot, Da Fonseca, & Moller, 2006; Dweck & Leggett, 1988). These socio-cognitive factors may have special relevance for understanding cultural differences.

Existing research on cultural differences in academic motivation has examined primarily ethnic and racial differences within U.S. samples (e.g., Chao, 1996), or within a limited sample of other nations, such as Japan, China, Korea, or Turkey (e.g., Hess, Chih-Mei, & McDevitt, 1987; Kao, 1995; Verkuyten, Thijs, & Canatan, 2001). This research suggests a complex relationship between culture and academic motivation, with family and social expectations often taking on special importance within Eastern or Asian cultures (e.g., Goyette & Xie, 1999; Kao, 1995). However, only a few studies have examined cultural differences across nationalities, with Church & Katigbak (1992) studying American and Filipino students and Niles (1995; 1996) studying Asian and Australian students. …

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