Motivation and emotion/Book/2014/University student motivation

From Wikiversity
Jump to navigation Jump to search
University student motivation:
What motivates university students to study?

Overview[edit | edit source]

The start of semester is here and along with new pens and a brand new textbook you collect your unit outline for each class. For one unit you have the option to create a book chapter, an assessment item you’ve never done before AND you get to pick the topic! As a third year psychology student the ideas are flowing and you can’t wait to get started. For another class, you discover that you have to write an essay. You exaggerate that you might have written at least 20 essays over your time just at university! The topics are interesting but there is only two to choose from and you feel slightly less excited, and perhaps slightly less motivated, by the prospect of starting this assessment. Does this sound familiar?

How does the motivation to jump out of a plane differ from motivation to study at university?

Motivation is a driving force of choices made everyday. One must be motivated to get out of bed in the morning just as much as one must be motivated to take the leap out of a plane when going skydiving! However, the motivation behind behaviours differs in the quality. To understand the impact of motivation on one aspect of life (in this case motivation of university students) it is necessary to understand motivation as a multidimensional process, governing decisions we make everyday. This chapter will provide an overview of the continuum of motivation, an analysing of self-determination theory and the role of goals. We will answer these questions:

  • What motivates students to study while they are enrolled in university?
  • How can universities, including teachers and student, facilitate environments that produce the best outcomes?

Studying student motivation as a multidimensional construct has become useful to understanding ways of optimising student functioning (Ratelle, Guay, Valleran, Larose & Senécal, 2007). As a student, understanding why people are motivated to study can provide insight in to your own life. You can discover ways that you can foster the best education environment for yourself! So, are you motivated to read on?

Key concepts:

  • Self-Determination Theory
  • Conundrum of choice
  • Autonomy support and controlled motivation
  • Goal setting

Continuum of motivation[edit | edit source]

To understand the motivation of university students it is necessary to understand motivation as a driving force in all aspects of life. Motivational processes can be linked to underlying brain mechanisms but the majority of variance is a function of sociocultural conditions (Deci & Ryan, 2008). Originally, many theories of motivation focused on the social environment including rewards and incentives. However, this focus on extrinsic motivators was quickly progressed to study intrinsic motivators as well. Some theories consider intrinsic and extrinsic motivation to be an additive process, however contemporary research shows that the relationship is much more complex than this (Deci & Ryan, 2008). Motivation falls on a continuum and the quality of motivation depends on the level of internalisation (Chemolli and Gagne, 2014). At one end of this continuum is 'amotivation', that is, experiencing no motivation at all. This means that behaviour is non-intentional and displayed by lack of competence and lack of control (Deci & Ryan, 2008). At the other end is intrinsic motivation, the highest quality and in the centre lies extrinsic motivation.

High quality[explain?] motivation can contribute to self-determination[say what?]. The importance of perceived self-determination relates to intrinsic motivation alongside other motivational dimensions including optional functioning, personality integration, internalisation of extrinsic motivations and personal well-being (Deci & Ryan, 2000, Deci, Valleran, Pelletier & Ryan, 1991; Grolnick & ryan, 1987; Ryan & deci, 2000; Sheldon & Kasser, 1998; Valeran, Fortier & Guay, 1997, as cited in Reeve, Nix & Hamm, 2003). The internalisation of extrinsic motivational forces can be just as important for self-determined behaviour[factual?].

Intrinsic motivation[edit | edit source]

At one end of the spectrum of motivation is intrinsic motivation which is regulated by inherent enjoyment and interest and is displayed by satisfaction. Intrinsic internalisation refers to behaviours that an individual participates in due to an interest and enjoyment in the activity. An example of intrinsic motivation in a university student would be the motive to study based on interest and enjoyment.

Extrinsic motivation[edit | edit source]

Extrinsic motivation encompasses environmental motives such as rewards, outcomes and punishments. The internalisation of extrinsic motivators can occur in 3 ways. These types of internalisation differ in the degree to which they are regulated autonomously and the process depends on the individuals personal history and the context (Chemolli & Gagné, 2014).

Four Regulations of extrinsic motivation

  1. External regulation: extrinsic motives only and cannot be internalised, most pressured and controlled type
  2. Introjected regulation: the individuals regulation is internalised from an external form such as rewards and punishment (Chemolli & Gagné, 2014).
  3. Identified regulation: a person determines the behaviour by reflecting on the value of an outcome (Chemolli & Gagné, 2014)
  4. Integrated regulation: a person takes an extrinsic motivation and integrates, includes volition and choice

The undermining effect[edit | edit source]

Research has revealed that extrinsic rewards could undermine intrinsic motivation (Deci, Koestner and Ryan (1999). This is believed to occur as rewards pressure individuals to participate in an activity for the outcome of the reward rather than their inherent desire to engage (Wiechman & Gurland, 2009). Studies of the ‘undermining effect’ use the free-choice model, where participants engage in tasks for a period when they believe they are no longer being observed (Wiechman & Gurland, 2009). Free-choice behaviour briefly polarises and then settles into the classic undermining pattern, demonstrating a relationship between the undermining effect and time. To understand the process of external rewards, one must consider the subjective experience of the individual, based on their feelings of self-determination, including autonomy (Deci, Koestner & Ryan, 1999).


Figure 1. The continuum of motivation

Self-determination theory[edit | edit source]

Earlier theories consider motivation as a unitary concept, varying only in the amount between individuals (Bandura, 1996; Baumeister & Vohs, 2007, as cited in Deci & Ryan, 2008). However, the Self Determination Theory (SDT), suggests a distinction between two types of motivation: autonomous and controlled. This distinction is more important than the distinction between intrinsic and extrinsic motivation when assessing the quality of motivational influences (Ratelle et al., 2007; Ryan & Deci, 2009). It is the type of motivation, rather than the amount, which is more important in predicting outcomes (Deci & Ryan, 2008; Vansteenkiste et al., 2009). The concept of motivation proposed by this theory is a multidimensional construct where different regulations of motivation fall along a continuum towards self-determination (Chemolli & Gagné, 2014). The premise of SDT is the fulfillment of three psychological needs that result in the individual becoming self-determined:

  • Competence: a need to be effective in interactions with the environment
  • Relatedness: a need for successful interactions with others
  • Autonomy: the need to be self directed

As Deci & Ryan (2008) discuss, contexts that facilitate the satisfaction of these three psychological needs of self-determination can support the inherent nature of the individual's motivation and produce the most positive outcomes. When analysing the motivation for students to attend university, the most important dimension of SDT is autonomy. For university students, the implications and importance of these psychological needs are clear.

In SDT, the difference between extrinsic and intrinsic motivation is interpreted in terms of autonomy and control. When people are intrinsically motivated, they experience a sense of autonomy, having their psychological need satisfied. In contrast, when people are rewarded, threatened by punishment or evaluated, they are being controlled by an extrinsic factor & the satisfaction of their need for autonomy is decreased (Deci & Ryan, 2008). Self-determined behaviours are represented by intrinsically motivated behaviours (Müller & Louw, 2004). However, there are forms of extrinsically motivated behaviour that can self-determined when they are internalised (Muller & Louw, 2004). Self-determined forms of extrinsic motivation are associated with perceived support of autonomy and competence (Müler & Louw, 2004).

Autonomy[edit | edit source]

Research has revealed that autonomy is the most important dimension of SDT when examining university student motivation (Deci & Ryan, 2008; Reeve, Nix & Hamm, 2003). Deci and Ryan (1985 as cited in Reeve, Nix & Hamm, 2003) discuss autonomy as a dimension of SDT that encompasses the endorsement of one’s actions and behaviour in terms of three distinct qualities. To the extent that an individual will experience self-determination as a combination of these three qualities, self-determination and intrinsic motivation should be increased when an environment encourages internal locus of causality, feeling free and perceived choice (Reeve, Nix & Hamm, 2003).

  1. Locus of causality
  2. Volition
  3. Perceived choice

1. Locus of causality[edit | edit source]

As Reeve, Nix & Hamm (2003) discuss, the locus of causality exists within a continuum extending from internal (personal causation) to external (environmental causation). An internal locus encompasses high self-determination whereas an external locus reflects that an environmental force has caused one’s behaviour that the behaviour is manipulated by desired environmental outcomes (Reeve, Nix & Hamm, 2003). The experience of self determination as an internal locus suggests that an internal locus of causality (rather than an external one) should increase perceived self-determination and intrinsic motivation (Reeve, Nix & Hamm, 2003).

2. Volition[edit | edit source]

Occurs when an individual experiences willingness to participate in an activity without feeling pressure (Reeve, Nix & Hamm, 2003). When the actions of the individual are fully endorsed, volition is high however when a situation does not provide the opportunity for volition, people can create pressure for themselves to use as motivation, resulting in internally generated tension (Reeve, Nix & Hamm, 2003). To the extent that a situation encourages feeling free rather than pressured, people should experience perceived self-determination and intrinsic motivation (Reeve, Nix & Hamm, 2003).

3. Perceived choice[edit | edit source]

When a situation provides an individual with decision-making opportunities this facilitates the perception of choice, increases self-determination and intrinsic motivation (Reeve, Nix & Hamm, 2003). Zuckerman (1978, as cited in Reeves, Nix & Hamm, 2003) demonstrated that some choices influence our perceived self-determination and intrinsic motivation whereas others do not. The conundrum of choice is an importance component of self-determination and is discussed in detail below.

Let’s revisit the example from the beginning of this chapter. For the book chapter, you could choose your own topic and. On the other hand, you have an essay to write choosing from one of two topics. There is still a choice in both instances, but if we apply these three qualities, which situation is likely to produce the most positive outcome? In terms of volition, the extent to which you would ‘feel free’ (perhaps to choose your own topic) rather than feeling pressured (from only having a choice between two topics) would increase self-determination and intrinsic motivation. The independent nature of these three aspects of autonomy can be demonstrated in this example. Consider the following questions: Do you have the opportunity to choose a topic you are interested in (intrinsic motivation) or is the behaviour determined by the fact that you have to choose one of the topics on offer (an external motivator)? If you do not endorse the topic that has been selected for you to choose from, will you feel pressured? Would your perception of choice be higher if you can select your own topic?

The conundrum of choice[edit | edit source]

When people are offered a choice they tend to experience greater autonomy satisfaction (Deci & Ryan, 2000). This conundrum of choice is a key feature of the SDT and has implications for university students, where choice is a key part of their everyday life. Reeves, Nix and Hamm investigated the effect of provision of choice to understand its role in self-determination. Indeed, they found that neither the provision for choice nor the subjective experience of perceived choice correlated in a meaningful way with internal locus, volition or intrinsic motivation (Reeves, Nix & Hamm, 2003). Their results consistently supported the model in which internal locus and volition are valid predictors of self-determination but do not support the significance of perception of choice. However, these results are contrary to those of previous research in which choice was found to increase intrinsic motivation (such as Zuckerman et al., 1978). Reeves, Nix & Hamm (2003) concluded that this was because in previous research, participants were able to continue making choices even after the initial choice among options. Reeves, Nix and Hamm only offered participants an initial option to choose. The ongoing opportunity to chooses effects the perception of choice as well as internal locus (participants were choosing what they wanted to do) and volition (participants were feeling no pressure to continue with a particular choice) as seen in Zuckerman,1973 (as cited in Reeves, Nix & Hamm, 2003).

The conundrum of choice can be applied to our example. In the essay assessment, you are provided with two options. Although this is a choice, it is an option choice, meaning that you have to pick between options A or B. For the other class, you are given an action choice so you get to choose the actions that you take. If you find one topic you think you might be interested in, you can go ahead with it, choosing the format. However, you then have ongoing freedom to make choices including whether to stick with it or to choose a new topic all together! Action choices means the individual is deciding how to direct their time. Which situation do you think you might succeed in?

The role of the teacher[edit | edit source]

The continuum of motivation ranges from amotivation, controlled regulation and autonomous regulation, where autonomous motivation reflects the highest quality of behaviour regulation (Ratelle et al., 2007). Controlled motivation and amotivation can lead to negative outcomes. For school students this means bad grades or dropping out of school (Vallerand, Fortier & Guay, 1997, as cited in Ratelle et al., 2007). Now that we have discovered that a self-determined student is more likely to produce the best outcomes, it is essential to look at the process of autonomy support. Autonomy support can result in an individual being a more motivated, engaged and developing student (Müller & Louw, 2011; Reeves, Nix & Hamm, 2003).

Autonomy support[edit | edit source]

Autonomous motivation occurs when behaviour is initiated and endorsed by the self and controlled motivation occurs when behaviour is not initiated by the self (Deci & Ryan, 2009; Ratelle et al., 2007). Research has shown that positive indicators of student functioning are associated with high levels of autonomous motivation and negative indicators are associated with high levels of controlled motivations and amotivation (Ryan & Deci, 2000, as cited in Ratelle et al., 2007).

SDT proposes that an environment is able to foster autonomous motivation when its meets the three psychological needs. For students, this means parents and teachers who are supporting the student’s need for autonomy, competence and relatedness[grammar?]. There are a number of ways that this can be done, including an education environment based on structure, involvement and autonomy support (Vansteenkiste et al., 2009). Vansteenkiste et al. (2009) discuss the importance of aspects including teacher structure and involvement including the provision of challenging tasks, praise and encouragement (particularly after failure) and adequate help. Communication is key in terms of structure so that students have clear understanding of tasks and what is expected (Reeve, 2002; Sirence, Vansteenkiste, Goossens, Soenens & Dochy, 2009, as cited in Vansteenkiste, 2009).

Autonomy support remains the most significant influence of fostering self-determined students and has been associated with more intrinsic motivation and interest, less pressure, more flexibility and better learning (Deci & Ryan, 1987). Teachers autonomy support involves the offering of choice, minimisation of controlling language and providing rationale (Deci, Eghari, Patrick & Leone, 1995; Reeve & Jang, 2006, as cited in Vansteenkiste et al., 2009). Research has revealed the following autonomy supportive behaviours which facilitate each other (Reeve et al., 1999 as cited in Reeve, Nix & Hamm, 2003; Vansteenkiste et al., 2009)

Autonomy supportive teaching includes providing encouragement and feedback.
  • offering choice
  • minimising controlling language
  • providing rationale
  • listening
  • providing instructions
  • speaking with direction
  • asking questions
  • responsive to student questions
  • offering solutions
  • showing concern

Controlled motivation[edit | edit source]

Now that we have found that autonomy support fosters the self-determined individual who is engaged and motivated, it is necessary to understand the opposite effects. Controlled motivation occurs when a situation or context does not provide an individual with the chance to satisfy the psychological needs of self-determination.

External regulation (extrinsic motivation that has not been internalised) is the most pressured and controlled type of motivation. Study behaviour that is externally regulated aims to avoid punishment, achieve rewards or satisfy some form of external expectations (Vansteenkiste et al., 2009). The controlled nature of external regulation is characterised by an external perceived locus of causality (Vansteenkiste et al., 2009). Controlled motivation is considered to arise in a need-thwarting environment, which is created when students are pressured from the outside, through punishment, rewards or expectations (Vansteenkiste et al., 2009) Or through pressuring students from the inside which includes more subtle stresses like shaming, guilt or withdrawing affection (Vansteenkiste et al., 2009). Table 1 below summarises the different characteristics of autonomy supportive motivation environment and controlled motivation environment.

Studies have found that controlled motivation influences a variety of undesirable outcomes (Vansteenkiset et al., 2009; Ratelle et al., 2007):

  • use of maladaptive strategies such as anxiety
  • less engagement in adaptive meta-cognitive strategies, such as time management and concentration
  • less determination and more procrastination (Senécal, Julien & Guay, 2003, as cited in Vansteenkiste et al., 2009)
  • more dropout (Vallerand et al., 1997, as cited in Vansteenkiste et al., 2009)
  • lower academic achievement (Soenens & Vansteenkiste, 2005, as cited in Vansteenkiste et al., 2009)

Table 1. Autonomy support and controlled motivation

Autonomy Support Controlled Motivation
The teacher supports, shows interest

unconditional regard, listens, responsive, offers solutions supports intrinsic motivation and internalisation

students are pressured from the outside

through punishment, rewards, expectations Subtle pressure including shaming, guilt, withdrawing affection

The student psychological needs are satisfied,

higher academic achievement

maladaptive strategies including less effective time management

anxiety, less determination more procrastination lower academic achievement

The role of the student[edit | edit source]

The study behaviour of students is multi-determined with multiple reasons driving behaviour including interest in the material, external expectations or career goals (Vansteenkiste et al., 2009). However, each motive may not have equal influence over a student’s behaviour. One student might find learning enjoyable and undertake a second degree right after completing their first based solely on enjoyment. Another might be highly motivated by external expectations, choosing to study only to satisfy these pressures. Just as extrinsic and intrinsic motivation is not an either or process, it has also been demonstrated that autonomous and controlled motivation can have additive or interactive effect. For students, this process can influence optimal learning. Students can regulate behaviour using both autonomous and controlled motives however, SDT states that individuals who have a higher degree of autonomous motivation will be best adapted (Ratelle et al., 2007, Vansteenkiste et al., 2009). Ratelle et al. (2007) revealed the following motivational profiles:

  1. autonomous profile: displayed by high levels of intrinsic motivation, identified regulation and low levels of introjected and external regulation and amotivation
  2. controlled profile: low levels of IM and identified regulation and moderate to high levels of introjected, external regulations and amotivation
  3. combined profile: high levels of both autonomous and controlled motivations

Vansteenkiste et al., (2009) produced similar results in their profiles:

  1. good quality: high autonomous, low controlled
  2. poor quality: low autonomous, high controlled
  3. low quantity: low autonomous, low controlled
  4. high quantity: high autonomous, high controlled

Goal setting[edit | edit source]

The role of the student can also be discussed in relation to goal setting. There are two types of goals including mastery and performance and of these two the most ideal is mastery in which the student is striving to master a task. Performance goals can go in two directions: approach and avoidance. Three goal orientations have been revealed in research:

Mastery[edit | edit source]

Goals associated with adaptive patterns of learning, leads to the students working harder, persisting longer and performing better (Gonida, Voulala & Kiosseoglou, 2009). Mastery goals have been associated with emotional engagement and positive attitudes towards studying, including enjoyment and hope, and negatively predictive of anger and boredom (Pekrun, Maier & Elliot, 2006; Gonida, Voulala & Kiosseoglou, 2009).

Performance approach[edit | edit source]

Goals are focused on demonstrating competence and gaining positive results and have been found to predict pride (Gonida, Voulala & Kiosseoglou, 2009). Therefore students with this goal are approaching a demonstration of positive performance.

Performance avoidance[edit | edit source]

Goals focused on avoiding the demonstration of a lack of competence. Students with this type of direction are avoiding negative performance. This type of goal has been found to positively predict anxiety and helplessness.

Research has shown that mastery goals are associated with adaptive learning and performance avoidance goals are associated with maladaptive learning. However, research regarding performance approach gaols[spelling?] is not as clear (Gonida, Voulala & Kiosseoglou, 2009). Some results reveal that performance approach goals have emerged as related to positive outcomes such as academic achievement (Pekrun, Maier & Elliot, 2006) but other cases have also shown correlations with negative cognitive processes such as anxiety (Gonida, Voulala & Kiosseoglou, 2009). Mastery goals, in comparison to performance goals have been found to predict active behaviour in the classroom including attention, effort and persistence ( Pekrun, Maier & Elliot, 2006; Gonida, Voulala & Kiosseoglou, 2009).

Let's return to our university student example one final time. Imagine that the teacher who assigned you with the essay assessment has provided you with clear directions, feedback, listens and answers your questions. The teacher who has assigned the book chapter topic is providing little support. They have used controlling language and you also fell pressure from your parents to perform well on this assessment. With all of the information you have received here which scenario would you prefer? Has your answer changed? Which motivational profile do you think you fit? What kind of goal would you have? This example outlines the multidimensional process of university student motivation.

Conclusion[edit | edit source]

The main distinction that can be made in regards to motivation is between extrinsic and intrinsic motives. The highest quality of these is intrinsic motives, however, extrinsic motivators can still be internalised to contribute to self-determined behaviour. There is a complex relationship between these two types of motives and the most useful way of analysing them is in relation to the theory of self-determination, explaining behaviour in the context of fulfilling psychological needs and endorsing behaviour. Of the three psychological needs of the SDT, autonomy is considered the most significant for university student motivation. Autonomy means an individuals behaviour and actions are endorsed based on the qualities of psychological freedom, locus of causality and perceived choice. For university students, the implications of an autonomy supportive environment mean that they will be motivated to study and engaged in the material. Similarly, if the teacher does not provide this support and instead uses controlling motivation their influence over the student will have negative outcomes. Each students also has a unique role to play in their motivation particularly through the type of goals that they set for themselves. Motivation in university students is a multidimensional process and has implications for many.

Test yourself[edit | edit source]

1 The three main components of the continuum of motivation include ___________, extrinsic motivation and intrinsic motivation.

introjected motivation
external regulation

2 What are the three qualities of autonomy?

relatedness, competence, volition
relatedness, competence, perceived choice
locus of causality, volition, perceived choice
internal locus, volition, perceived choice

3 A self-determined individual endorses their behaviour, finds enjoyment


4 Self-determined behaviour is influenced only by intrinsic motivation


See also[edit | edit source]

References[edit | edit source]

Cameron, J. (2001). Negative effects of reward on intrinsic motivation – a limited phenomenon: Comment on Dec, Joestner and Ryan (2001). Review of Educational Research, 71(1), 29-42. doi: 10.3102/00346543071001029

Deci, E. L., Koestner, R. & Ryan, R. M. (1999). A meta-analytic review of experiments examining the effects of extrinsic rewards on intrinsic motivation. Psychological Bulletin, 125(6), 627– 668. doi: 10.1037/0033-2909.125.6.627

Deci, E L. & Ryan, R M. (1987). The support of autonomy and control behaviour. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 53(6), 1024-1037. doi: 10.1037/0022-3514.53.6.1024

Deci, E L. & Ryan, R M. (2008). Facilitating Optimal Motivation And Psychological Wellbeing Across Life’s Domains, Canadian Psychology, 49(1), 14-23. doi: 10.1037/0708-5591.49.1.14

Gonida, E N., Voulala, K., Kiosseoglou, G. (2009). Students achievement goal orientations and their behaviour and emotional engagement: co-examining the role of perceived school goal structures and parents goals during adolescents. Learning and Individual Differences, 19(1), 53-60. doi: 10.1016/j.lindif.2008.04.002

Goodman, S., Keresztesi, M., Mamdani, F., Mokgatle, D., Musariri, M., Pires, J. & Schlechter, A. (2011) An investigation of the relationship between student’s motivation and academic performance as mediated by effort. South African Journal of Psychology, 41(3), 373-385.

Müller & Louw (2004). Learning environment, motivation and interest: Perspective on self-determination theory. South African Journal of Psychology, 34(2), 169-190. Retrieved from:

Pekrun, R., Maier, M A. & Elliot, A J. (2006). Achievement Goals and Discrete Achievement Emotions: A Theoretical Model and Perspective Test. Journal of Educational Psychology, 98(3), 583-597. doi: 10.1037/0022-0663.98.3.583

Ratelle, C F., Guay, F., Vallerand, R J., Larose, S. & Senécal, C. (2007). Autonomous, controlled and amotivated types of motivation: A person-oriented analysis. Journal of Educational Psychology, 99(4), 734-756. Doi: 10.1037/0022-0663.99.4.734

Reeve, J., Nix, G. & Hamm, D. (2003). Testing models of the experience of self-determination in intrinsic motivation and the conundrum of choice. Journal of Educational Psychology, 95(2). doi: 10.1037/0022-0663.95.2.375

Vansteenkiste, M., Sirens E., Soenens, B., Luyckx, K. & Lens, W. (2009). Motivational profiles from a self-determination perspective: the quality of motivation matters. Journal of Educational Psychology, 10(3), 671-688. Doi: 10.1037/a0015083

Wiechman, B M. & Gurland, S T. (2009). What happens during the free-choice period? Evidence of a polarising effect of extrinsic rewards on intrinsic motivation. Journal of Research in Personality, 43(4), 716-719. doi: 10.1016/j.jrp.2009.03.008