How Motivation Affects Behavior and Cognition

By — Pearson Allyn Bacon Prentice Hall
Updated on Jul 20, 2010

Motivation directs behavior toward particular goals.

Many psychologists believe that human beings are purposeful by nature. That is, people set goals for themselves and initiate courses of action they think will help them achieve those goals. Such goal-directed behavior appears as early as 2 months of age.Rovee-Collier, 1999. For school-age children and adolescents, some goals (e.g., “I want to finish reading my dinosaur book”) are short term and transitory. Others (e.g., “I want to be a paleontologist”) are apt to be long term and relatively enduring.

Motivation determines the specific goals toward which learners strive (Locke & Latham, 2006; Maehr & Meyer, 1997; Pintrich, Marx, & Boyle, 1993; Vansteenkiste, Lens, & Deci, 2006). Thus it affects the choices learners make—for instance, whether to enroll in physics or studio art, and whether to spend an evening playing video games with friends or, instead, completing a challenging homework assignment.

Motivation increases effort and persistence in activities.

Motivation increases the amount of effort and energy that learners expend in activities directly related to their needs and goals (Csikszentmihalyi & Nakamura, 1989; Maehr, 1984; Pintrich et al., 1993). It determines whether they pursue a task enthusiastically and wholeheartedly, on the one hand, or apathetically and lackadaisically, on the other. Furthermore, motivated learners are more likely to continue a task until they’ve completed it, even if they are occasionally interrupted or frustrated in the process. In general, then, motivation increases learners’ time on task, an important factor affecting their learning and achievement (Brophy, 1988; G. A. Davis & Thomas, 1989; Larson, 2000; Maehr, 1984; Wigfield, 1994).

Motivation affects cognitive processes.

Motivation affects what and how learners mentally process information (Blumenfeld, Kempler, & Krajcik, 2006; Hidi & Renninger, 2006; Pintrich & Schunk, 2002; Voss & Schauble, 1992). For one thing, motivated learners are more likely to pay attention, and as we discovered in Chapter , attention is critical for getting information into working memory. Motivated learners also try to understand and elaborate on material—to learn it meaningfully—rather than simply “go through the motions” of learning in a superficial, rote manner.

Motivation determines what consequences are reinforcing and punishing.

The more learners are motivated to achieve academic success, the more proud they will be of an A and the more upset they will be by an F or perhaps even a B. The more learners want to be accepted and respected by their peers, the more meaningful the approval of the “in-group” will be and the more painful the ridicule of classmates will seem (Rudolph et al., 2005). To a teenage boy uninterested in athletics, making or not making the school football team is no big deal, but to a teen whose life revolves around football, making or not making the team may be a consequence of monumental importance.

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