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To Study or Not To Study... How Do Motivational Conflicts Affect Students?

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Students, especially college students, face decisions every day about how to spend their time. Do I study for the test on Monday? Do I go out with my friends? Do I have time for both? Conflicts about what to focus on at a particular time can cause major motivational dilemmas for students, especially between study and leisure activities. A team of researchers from the University of Bielefeld set out to examine how motivational conflicts between study and leisure are related to a student’s general academic and social adaptation.

Motivational dilemmas in an educational context are generally related to a student’s self-regulation; that is, how well the student plans, maintains, and reflects on his/her actions and decisions. The team of researchers posed one main question of interest: Does the internal conflict associated with choosing a focal action over an alternative action continue to affect the student’s motivation during and after the chosen activity (both study and leisure)?  This question was based on the theory of motivational interference, which assumes that after the decision for a focal action, the motivational strength of foregone alternatives continues to influence students’ self-regulation during both study and leisure activities. Although several other studies have shown that the temptation of leisure activities can negatively affect a student’s academic achievement, little research had been conducted on how students’ leisure activities may be affected by their academic pursuits.

This research examined the relationship between these motivational conflicts and students’ academic and social adaptation, by examining the effect of a student’s Internal Conflict Experience (ICE) during studying and leisure activities on the students’ overall functioning in academic and social adaptation. They came up with a two-part experiment that involved a predefined situation and recollection of past motivational conflicts. Both parts of the study involved undergraduate college students. In the first part of the study, students were given a predefined study-leisure conflict and asked to rate their ICE regarding a chosen activity. Evaluation of academic and social adaptation was based on the Student Adaption to College Questionnaire (SACQ).

In the second part of the study, students were asked to recall a recent memory of a motivational conflict that they had experienced between study and leisure activities. Each chosen action and alternate action was categorized into either study/work-related or leisure-related (including family, friends, recreation, self-development). They were also asked to rate their regret after the activity as well as their ICE during the chosen activity.

In both parts of the study, it was found that direct relationships exist between students' Internal Conflict Experience during and after academic decisions, and their subsequent academic or social adaptation. ICE after the decision to study yielded a negative correlation with students’ academic adaptation and a positive correlation to study strain. ICE after the decision in favor of leisure activity yielded a negative correlation to students’ social adaptation and a positive correlation to study strain. This suggests in both cases that the effect of a student’s internal conflict experience after making a decision can negatively affect the quality of the student’s experience. It is important for teachers to consider and recognize the motivational conflicts that students often face in deciding when and how to study, and how the other facets of a student’s life can have an effect on their academic performance and social interactions. This study was limited by its focus only on college students; however, similar understanding of motivational conflicts and effective time management principles can be applied to younger age levels.

By: Christine Zabel, preservice teacher NCSU

Grund, A., Brassler, N. K., & Fries, S. (2014). Torn between study and leisure: How motivational conflicts relate to students’ academic and social adaptation. Journal of Educational Psychology106(1), 242-258.