Short gratitude intervention can increase academic motivation

Count Your Blessings: A brief gratitude intervention can increase academic motivation. Research by Ritsumeikan University and the National Institute for Information and Communication Technology (NICT) in Japan shows that keeping a daily gratitude journal for just two weeks has a positive effect on academic motivations. Photo credit: Ritsumeikan University and National Information and Communication Technology Institute (NICT), Japan

Due to the ongoing pandemic, lifestyle has changed drastically and dynamically, and many work and study-related activities are now conducted entirely online. This has made it difficult for some people to stay focused and motivated, among other things, and psychology researchers are trying to find effective and generally applicable solutions to address such problems.

In a study recently published in BMC Psychology, researchers from Ritsumeikan University and the National Institute of Information and Communication Technology (NICT), Japan examined a simple strategy to increase college student motivation by promoting a positive emotion: Gratitude. Many studies have shown that even brief “gratitude interventions,” which are activities that increase an individual’s awareness of feelings of gratitude, can have a lasting positive effect on that person’s mood, satisfaction, and wellbeing. However, based on previous studies, the available evidence for the impact of such interventions on academic motivation is inconclusive. This prompted the researchers to test the effects of another type of gratitude intervention: daily gratitude journal.

“Our main hypothesis was that taking part in an online gratitude journal by writing down up to five things that one felt grateful for each day could raise students’ awareness of their academic opportunities – their ‘blessings’ – and help them with their motives and reassess behaviors goals that ultimately improve their motivation, “explains Dr. Norberto Eiji Nawa from NICT, the study’s lead author. They recruited 84 participants, all Japanese students, and divided them into a control group and an intervention group. Within two weeks, students in both groups had to evaluate aspects of their daily life using online questionnaires every day, but only the intervention group had to keep the daily online gratitude journal. At the beginning of the intervention and after one to two weeks and one to three months, participants had to complete the Academic Motivation Scale (AMS), a proven tool for measuring various aspects of academic motivation.

The results were promising; Through statistical analysis, the researchers found that the gratitude intervention through daily journaling significantly increased students’ academic motivation. In particular, this robust positive effect was not limited to the two-week period of the intervention, as the increased academic motivation was maintained even after three months. In addition, through an exploratory analysis, the researchers found that the improvement in academic motivation was mainly due to a decrease in “amotivation scores”. Amotivation in this context refers to the state in which a person perceives that their own actions are irrelevant to the resulting outcomes, leading to a feeling of helplessness and incompetence.

Academic motivation can be a major factor in both academic performance and satisfaction with school life. Developing generally applicable intervention strategies is critical to promoting student growth. “Online interventions have the advantage of being more accessible, scalable and affordable for large segments of the population. Gathering solid evidence to support their use is critical to unlocking their true potential in the future,” concludes Professor Noriko Yamagishi of the Ritsumeikan- University. It appears that the positive effects of gratitude interventions go well beyond the already documented effects on individual well-being.

This study was supported in part by a research grant from the Ritsumeikan Inamori Philosophy Research Center. This center aims to promote the multidisciplinary research on management philosophy carried out by Dr. Kazuo Inamori, a well-known Japanese entrepreneur and renowned philanthropist, will be represented. With this in mind, Professor Yamagishi and Dr. Nawa worked on the scientific elucidation of the emotions of “altruism” and “gratitude” from the point of view of cognitive psychology and neuroscience. This particular study was conducted as part of this wider research. By the day these human feelings become clearer, we can safely offer this advice: Remember to count your blessings.

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More information:
Norberto Eiji Nawa et al., Improved Academic Motivation Among University Students After Two-Week Online Gratitude Journal Intervention, BMC Psychology (2021). DOI: 10.1186 / s40359-021-00559-w

Provided by Ritsumeikan University

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