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High school students' motivation tends to increase over time, study finds

Kids are more likely to become motivated when they develop a sense of belonging

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A new study conducted by researchers from Ohio State University has found that kids’ motivation to perform well in school may not be set in stone. 

According to their findings, high school students are particularly susceptible to building motivation as they get older. The researchers also found that students can develop stronger motivational skills if they have a strong sense of belonging at school and within their groups of friends.

“Our results point to a more hopeful picture for students who start out with lower levels of motivation -- they tend to shift toward more adaptive profiles with better motivational characteristics over time,” said researcher Kui Xie. 

Building motivation

For the purposes of the study, the researchers followed more than 1,600 high school students for two school years. Each year of the study, the participants completed surveys that assessed both their motivation and their perceived sense of belonging in school. The researchers compared their results with motivational profiles to see what trends emerged among the participants. 

Ultimately, they learned that many of the students were capable of changing their motivational styles. Although some started out the survey with a very poor motivation to perform academically, changes occurred in 40 and 77 percent of the students over time. It’s also important to note that kids who were inherently motivated at the start of the study were likely to maintain their motivation long-term. 

The team found that more time in high school led to fewer kids in the least motivated category, and the percentage of students who were self-motivated increased over the course of the study. The researchers attribute this to several different factors. They theorized that many students feel motivated by the idea of getting into a good college; others like the feeling of getting good grades and are pushed to keep excelling. Others adopted more motivation as they felt a greater sense of belonging among their peers. 

“This may be one area where we can help students become more motivated,” said Xie. “Belongingness is something schools can change. They can find ways to help students feel like they are a part of the school community.” 

As school officials think about ways to keep kids engaged and focused, the researchers hope that these findings come into play. Motivation doesn’t have to be fixed and rigid, and kids are likely to adapt to several different approaches. 

“When we design interventions, we should think about gradually shifting students to more adaptive profiles,” said Xie. “We need to tailor the motivation strategies to specific profiles. There is no one universal strategy that will work for all groups.” 

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