Academic journal article Contemporary School Psychology

Intrinsic Motivation to Learn: The Nexus between Psychological Health and Academic Success

Academic journal article Contemporary School Psychology

Intrinsic Motivation to Learn: The Nexus between Psychological Health and Academic Success

Article excerpt

Intrinsic motivation (IM) to learn, if cultivated, can lead to many academic and social/emotional improvements among K-12 students. This article discusses intrinsic motivation to learn as it relates to Self Determination Theory and the trouble with relying solely on extrinsic motivators. The academic benefits of EVI in the specific subject areas of reading and mathematics are reviewed, as well as various psychological benefits (e.g., enhanced persistence, prosocial behavior and happiness). Science-based methods of fostering M in students are considered, especially enhancing children's environments through elevating teacher and parental autonomy support. Suggestions for integrating intrinsic motivation with behavioral interventions are also provided.

KEYWORDS: Academic engagement; intrinsic motivation; elementary school students; high school students; parenting style; behavior change

Teachers frequently struggle to motivate their students (Brophy, 2008; Froiland, 2010) and most students lose intrinsic motivation to learn each year as they move from first grade to high school (Lepper, Corpus & Iyengar, 2005). Intrinsic motivation to learn entails engaging in learning opportunities because they are seen as enjoyable, interesting, or relevant to meeting one's core psychological needs (Ryan & Deci, 2000). According to self-determination theory, all people seek to satisfy three inherent psychological needs: the need for developing competence, the need for relatedness (creating meaningful connections with others), and the need for autonomy (perceiving that one is able to initiate and regulate one's own actions). Satisfaction of these psychological needs promotes intrinsic motivation (Deci, Vallerand, Pelletier & Ryan, 1991). Motivation can fall anywhere on the continuum from amotivation (lack of the intent to act), to extrinsic motivation (seeking to avoid punishments and gain external rewards), to introjected regulation (studying or behaving well because one feels pressure from within), to identified regulation (recognizing the importance or value in developing a behavior or skill), and finally, to intrinsic motivation (behavior motivated purely by the inherent benefits) (Deci et al., 1991; Ryan & Deci, 2000). Autonomous motivation is a broad term that encompasses both identified regulation and intrinsic motivation, which arc the two highest forms of motivation, according to self-determination theory. As an illustration of the motivational continuum, an amotivated student would be uninterested in completing homework, so implementing a contingent reward system could help the student move from amotivation to extrinsic regulation, such that the student would likely study just hard enough to gain the rewards or avoid negative consequences. A student whose behavior is regulated through introjection would turn in his/her homework on time to avoid feeling like a terrible student or to avoid guilt, while a student whose behavior is regulated through identification would voluntarily study more because he/she realizes the importance of doing well in school. Intrinsically motivated students seek to learn more about a subject of interest both in school and outside of the regular school day because they find enjoyment and deep purpose in learning; their behavior is fully regulated from within. Identification and intrinsic motivation (the autonomous forms of motivation) are the most enduring forms of motivation and are robustly related to academic success and psychological well-being (Deci et al., 1991; Froiland, 2011a).

THE IMPORTANCE OF UNDERSTANDING INTRINSIC MOTIVATION IN SCHOOLS

Intrinsic motivation is associated with high levels of effort and task performance as well as preference for challenge (Patall, Cooper, & Robinson, 2008), which are desirable attributes to cultivate among students who will eventually be competing in the most educated work force in history. Children who have well developed intrinsic motivation are more likely than others to demonstrate strong conceptual learning, improved memory, and high overall achievement in school (Gottfried, 1990). …

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