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Harnessing Values to Promote Motivation in Education

Motivational Interventions

ISBN: 978-1-78350-555-5

ISSN: 0749-7423

Publication date: 14 November 2014



We review the interventions that promote motivation in academic contexts, with a focus on two primary questions: How can we motivate students to take more STEM courses? Once in those STEM courses, how can we keep students motivated and promote their academic achievement?


We have approached these two motivational questions from several perspectives, examining the theoretical issues with basic laboratory research, conducting longitudinal questionnaire studies in classrooms, and developing interventions implemented in different STEM contexts. Our research is grounded in three theories that we believe are complementary: expectancy-value theory (Eccles & Wigfield, 2002), interest theory (Hidi & Renninger, 2006), and self-affirmation theory (Steele, 1988). As social psychologists, we have focused on motivational theory and used experimental methods, with an emphasis on values – students’ perceptions of the value of academic tasks and students’ personal values that shape their experiences in academic contexts.


We review the experimental field studies in high-school science and college psychology classes, in which utility-value interventions promoted interest and performance for high-school students in science classes and for undergraduate students in psychology courses. We also review a randomized intervention in which parents received information about the utility value of math and science for their teens in high school; this intervention led students to take nearly one semester more of science and mathematics, compared with the control group. Finally, we review an experimental study of values affirmation in a college biology course and found that the intervention improved performance and retention for first-generation college students, closing the social-class achievement gap by 50%. We conclude by discussing the mechanisms through which these interventions work.


These interventions are exciting for their broad applicability in improving students’ academic choices and performance, they are also exciting regarding their potential for contributions to basic science. The combination of laboratory experiments and field experiments is advancing our understanding of the motivational principles and almost certainly will continue to do so. At the same time, interventions may benefit from becoming increasingly targeted at specific motivational processes that are effective with particular groups or in particular contexts.




This research was supported by the National Science Foundation (Grant DRL 0814750) to Janet S. Hyde and the National Institute of Health (Grant R01GM102703) to Judith M. Harackiewicz. The opinions expressed are those of the authors and do not represent the views of the National Science Foundation or the National Institutes of Health.


Harackiewicz, J.M., Tibbetts, Y., Canning, E. and Hyde, J.S. (2014), "Harnessing Values to Promote Motivation in Education", Motivational Interventions (Advances in Motivation and Achievement, Vol. 18), Emerald Group Publishing Limited, Bingley, pp. 71-105.



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