Attention, Learning, Motivation, Reading, Interest as a motivational construct

Education, Psychology, Science, Achievement, Affect, Attention, Commitment, Competence, Curiosity, Emotions, Expectations, Exploration, Knowledge, Learning, Memory, Motivation, Perception, Relatedness, Stimulation, Business, Games, Information Science/Technology, Marketing, Psychology
Contributors:  Pat McKenna, April 9, 2010, DPS ISchool,       
Jason Hallahan, December 2010, MLS, ISchool  

K. Ann Renninger, L. Hoffmann, and A. Krapp, 1998, Hermann Ebbinghaus, William James, John Dewey, Daniel Berlyne, Suzanne Hidi, Mary Ainley

  • Alternate approaches to Interest Development:
  • Model of Domain Learning (MDL) (Alexander, 1997, 2004)
  • Person-Object Theory of Interest (Krapp, 1999, 2002; Schiefele et al.,1983)
  •  Psychology of Constructive Capriciousness (Silvia, 2001)


Merriam-Webster defines interest as “a feeling that accompanies or causes special attention to an object or class of objects.” Various researchers including Andreas Krapp, Suzanne Hidi and K. Ann Renninger define interest as “a unique motivational variable, as well as a psychological state that occurs during interactions between persons and their objects of interest, and is characterized by increased attention, concentration and affect (i.e. feeling)” as well as “a relatively enduring predisposition to re-engage with particular content such as objects, events, ideas and tasks (Hidi, 2006).”

Renninger and Wozniak (1985) refer to research on interest as follows: "Although James (1890), Baldwin (1911), Dewey (1913) and Thorndike (1935) provided lengthy discussions of the role of interest in the explanation of attentional phenomena, only in the last few years have psychologists (e.g., Eckblad, 1981; Izard 1979; Langsdorf, Izard, Rayias, & Hembree, 1983; Wozniak, in press) once again begun to give interest serious consideration. As Eckblad suggested, interest as an affective state appears to reflect a central feature of the relationship between the knowledge/value system of the individual and the environment."

Four-Phase Model of Interest Development
"Building on and extending existing research, this article proposes a 4-phase model of interest development. The model describes 4 phases in the development and deepening of learner interest: triggered situational interest, maintained situational interest, emerging (less-developed) individual interest, and well-developed individual interest. Affective as well as cognitive factors are considered. Educational implications of the proposed model are identified." (Renniger, 2006)

Hidi and Renninger proposed the four-phase model of interest development : " The model describes 4 phases in the development and deepening of learner interest: triggered situational interest, maintained situational interest, emerging (less-developed) individual interest, and well-developed individual interest. Affective as well as cognitive factors are considered. Educational implications of the proposed model are identified." the authors note that the four-phase model "extends and further details a three-phase model of interest on which we collaborated with Krapp (2002)."

1) Phase 1: Triggered Situational Interest

Triggered situational interest can be described as short-term changes in affective (i.e. emotional) and cognitive processing sparked by content (e.g. information, tasking) that is incongruous, intense, relevant, surprising, varied and so forth. This phase is generally, but not always, externally supported by the environment. For instance, group work, puzzles, computers and technology have been found to trigger situational interest (Hidi & Renninger, 2006).

2) Phase 2: Maintained Situation Interest

Maintained situational interest is a psychological state subsequent to triggered situational interest that involves focused attention and persistence over an extended period of time for content/tasks that an individual considers meaningful or relevant. Like the first phase, the second phase is generally but not in all cases externally supported and can be fostered by understanding-conducive environments such as project-based learning, cooperative group work, and one-on-one tutoring (Hidi & Renninger, 2006).

3) Phase 3: Emerging Individual Interest

Emerging individual interest marks the beginning of a relatively enduring predisposition for an individual to seek repeated engagement with particular content or tasks over time. This phase is characterized by positive feelings, stored knowledge and stored value as the individual values to opportunity to reengage tasks related to their emerging interest and will opt to do these if give a choice (Hidi & Renninger, 2006).

4) Phase 4: Well-Developed Individual Interest

The final-phase, called well-developed individual interest, is basically an amplification of the previous third phase. It involves an enduring predisposition to reengage with particular content or tasks over time and is characterized by positive feelings, more stored knowledge and more stored value for the content. An individual with a well-developed individual interest for particular content will autonomously favor that content over other activity accompanied by lesser phases of interest, and the individual is likely to be much less dependent on external factors such as the environment to sustain their interest (Hidi & Renninger, 2006).

More recently Renninger proposed the Inductive Model "An inductive model is proposed that suggests that support for the development and deepening of interest can be aided by knowledge of identity development. The model suggests that instructional practice would be usefully informed were educators (e.g., teachers, parents, museum curators, counselors) to have information about both the phase of a learner's interest and age-related expectations about their identity development, when working to promote learning of particular disciplinary content. Research describing phases in the development of interest and the age-related challenges and expectations specific to self-representation is reviewed, followed by evidence from the literature that provides preliminary support for the model. Research directions needed to challenge and refine the model follow."

"The theory of interest While interest has been described as an outcome of motivated behavior because it develops and deepens with engagement, developmentally, interest is also a mediator of engagement (Hidi & Renninger, 2006). It is a mediator in the sense that interest positions the participant to attend, set goals, and make use of learning strategies that support selfregulation of behavior. Participant interest for science is also an outcome of motivated behavior because it develops and deepens as participants continue to re-engage science. Research on interest has included both descriptive and quantitative methods. Findings from these studies indicate that there are four phases of interest development (Hidi & Renninger, 2006): a triggered situational interest, a maintained situational interest, an emerging individual interest, and a well-developed individual interest (Hidi & Renninger, 2006; see Figure 1). In its earliest phases, interest is described as being primarily triggered or maintained by the environment (others, tasks, etc.), and in later phases, interest is more likely to be self-regulated (Hidi & Ainley, in press; Sansone & Smith, 2000). In later phases of interest development, the participant is more likely to initiate engagement, and to generate and seek answers to curiosity questions about content (see discussion in Renninger, 2000). Of importance is the fact that interest is never entirely either extrinsically or intrinsically motivated (Hidi & Harackiewicz, 2000). Rather, in each phase of interest development, interest reflects what the participant brings to the task, what the environment (others, objects, etc.) affords, and the way in which the participant is able to work with the environment." (Renniger, 2007)

Interests are assessed by Holland Codes (theory of careers) as in Vocational Preference Inventory (VPI; Holland, 1985). One way of looking at interests is that if someone shows pretty strong interest in one of the 6 Holland areas, then chances of getting outcomes in that area will be extremely strong as compared to getting outcomes in areas where interest is weak.

" It is argued that interest is central in determining how we select and persist in processing certain types of information in preference to others. Evidence that shows that both individual and text-based interest have a profound facilitative effect on cognitive functioning and learning is reviewed. Factors that contribute to text-based interest are discussed, and it is suggested that interest elicits spontaneous, rather than conscious, selective allocation of attention. It is further proposed that the psychological and physiological processes associated with interesting information have unique aspects not present in processing information without such interest. Current advances in neuro-cognitive research show promise that we will gain further knowledge of the impact of interest on cognitive functioning and that we will finally be in a position to integrate the physiological and psychological aspects of interest. " (Hidi, 1990)
Joseph and Nacu (2003) make use of the design theory 'Interest-Driven Learning Framework' (IDLF by Edelson and Joseph, concerned with content and context)and the design methodology 'Passion Curriculum Design Approach' and they are concerned with Interest (that is, personal interest) in the context of engagement, attention and learning (deep learning in particular). And "interest as an important form of intrinsic motivation" (p. 87) and motivation to learn rather than to act. Regarding the designing of learning environments the authors are concerned with self-efficacy, control and self-determination. The Passion Curriculum Design Approach "relies on key learning environment design theories including Cognitive Apprenticeship and Goal-Based Scenarios."

" The study of motivation and interest appears to be at a crucial juncture. While motivation and interest research continue to be major foci of educational psychologists, these topics have been according relatively little attention in the learning sciences community. Meanwhile, accountability-oriented reforms ignore research showing that such reforms lead to disengagement of "at risk" students. Additionally, it is unclear how conventional "grand theories" of interest and motivation fit within contemporary models of educational research that focus more on developing intermediate-level theory in the context of efforts to refine practices. Our symposium features five researchers in the learning sciences community who are studying interest, engagement, and motivation. Each presenter will summarize his or her work and consider the implications of that work for diversity, learning environments, research methods, and educational policy. " (Hickey, 2004)

The importance of interest as a motivational variable and the pivotal role interest plays in education, particularly influencing achievement and learning, has been recognized for some time. Hermann Ebbinghaus and William James acknowledged that interest made a significant contribution to what people paid attention to and remembered (Ebbinghaus, 1885; James, 1890). John Dewey maintained that interest facilitates learning, improves understanding and stimulates effort as well as personal involvement (Dewey, 1913). Daniel Berlyne pointed out that researchers tended to focus on feelings and attention as the two most important components of interest (Berlyne, 1949).

More recently, Suzanne Hidi and K. Ann Renninger built upon and extended previous research in the area of interest and proposed a four-phase model of interest development. The four phases they identify are as follows:

Why is a positive, well-developed interest so important to achievement and learning? First, a well-developed individual interest produces effort that feels effortless and enables a person to sustain long-term constructive and creative endeavors. Second, interest also supports Edward Deci’s core need of autonomy, as a well-developed individual interest encourages self-regulated pursuit of goals as well as enables a person to anticipate subsequent steps in working with content and generates more types and deeper levels of strategies for working with tasks. Finally, a learner with a well-developed individual interest will persevere to work or address a question even in the face of frustration. However, these are only a few of the many benefits and positive effects of a well-developed interest on achievement, learning and self-efficacy (Hidi & Renninger, 2006).

Relationship to Other Theories
Ainley (1998) makes a connection between interest in learning and curiosity and many other researchers reference curiosity as well.

On a general level, Interest is categorized (Eccles and Wigfield, 2002) among " theories focused on task value (theories focused on intrinsic motivation, self-determination, flow, interest, and goals)." While Achievement Goal Theory includes "interest" as one of its outcomes, with the suggestion that it also be a goal and as "independent" or moderator variable. Murray and Alexander (2000) include the 'unpacking of the Interest construct into individual and situational aspects in their research on motivation terminology.

In the ARCS Motivation Model Small (2009) refers to curiosity and interest in the context of Extrinsic-Intrinsic Orientation, Day's 'zone of curiosity' "characterized by excitement, interest, and exploration to resolve the conceptual conflict " and the need for "research ... to identify instructional strategies that help achieve that optimal level of arousal (zone of curiosity) ... during the information search process".

Butler explores interest in relation to motivational perceptions and performance in the context of Cognitive Evaluation Theory as does Lowman (1990) in Promoting Motivation and Learning. And, as well, Grolnick and Ryan (1987) in the context of autonomy in children's learning.

Expectancy-Value Theory includes interest as a related construct and "interest value" a construct similar to the construct of intrinsic motivation.

Self-Determination Theory incorporates Interest as evidenced in the work of Ryan and Deci (2000) related to intrinsic motivation, social development and well-being (see Cognitive Evaluation Theory page).

Bandura (1994) is referenced on Self-Efficacy Theory in regard to "intrinsic interest".

In looking at motivation and identity, Interest is included in a contemporary motivational framework (Kaplan and Flum, 2009) with several other theories - Expectancy-value, Self-determination Theory, Self-System, and the Sociological Perspective.


It is clear that fostering a well-developed individual interest in employees or students is critical for employers and educators looking to maximize achievement and learning. We also see that the first two phases of triggered and maintained interest can be highly dependent on the environment and how conducive it is to helping a person develop and sustain a positive interest for the objects around them either in the classroom or the workplace. In the early phases of interest development, research suggests that positive feelings about activity and solid content knowledge are important if students are to pay attention to content, set goals, and learn (Hidi & Renninger, 2006).

For the IT workplace, it is vital that the organization ensures baseline competence for individuals responsible for content/tasks as well as attempt to maximize the personal/professional relevance of such content/tasking. The organization should also provide constructive feedback, encourage curiosity questions as well as provide support for seeking answers to those questions, and finally promote resources/tools that aid understanding. Organizations that actively develop autonomous and interested individuals will have employees that more effectively further their understanding independently (i.e. ramp “up to speed”), learn from feedback (i.e. be “coachable”), maintain positive feelings for content/tasks (i.e. workplace morale) and persevere in the face of difficulty or frustration (i.e. “stick with it”).

Depending on the mission and orientation of an organization, creating an interesting workplace can be quite difficult. Flexible scheduling, job rotation, stimulating content, and personal creativity or freedom may not be practical in all cases, thus hampering the injection of humor, fun, novelty or variety into the average day. However, it is still recommended that employers learn the existing interests of their employees in addition to how their employees’ personal interests/goals might intersect with those of the organization. Managers should act as a positive and interested role model for others, communicate clearly with their staff, find humor in the little day-to-day things, provide creative outlets when possible, and support a bidirectional flow of suggestions/feedback.
REFERENCES ~ Coding Spreadsheet - Web View

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