Interest Theories

Closely related to the intrinsic interest component of subjective task value is the work on "interest" (Alexander, Kulikovich, & Jetton, 1994; Hidi, 1990; Renninger, Hidi & Krapp, 1992; Schiefele, 1991). Researchers in this tradition differentiate between individual and situational interest. Individual interest is a relatively stable evaluative orientation toward certain domains; situational interest is an emotional state aroused by specific features of an activity or a task. Two aspects or components of individual interest are distinguishable (Schiefele, 1991): feeling-related and value-related valences. Feeling-related valences refer to the feelings that are associated with an object or an activity itself—feelings like involvement, stimulation, or flow. Value-related valences refer to the attribution of personal significance or importance to an object. In addition, both feeling-related and value-related valences are directly related to the object rather than to the relation of this object to other objects or events. For example, if students associate mathematics with high personal significance because mathematics can help them get prestigious jobs, then we would not speak of interest.

Much of the research on individual interest has focused on its relation to the quality of learning (see reviews by Alexander et al., 1994; Renninger, Hidi & Krapp, 1992, and Schiefele, 1991). In general, there are significant but moderate relations between interest and text learning. More importantly, interest is more strongly related to indicators of deep-level learning (e.g., recall of main ideas, coherence of recall, responding to deeper comprehension questions, representation of meaning) than to surface-level learning (e.g., responding to simple questions, verbatim representation of text, Schiefele, 1996).

Most of the research on situational interest has focused on the characteristics of academic tasks that create interest. (e.g., see Hidi 1990; Teigen, 1987). Among others, the following text features arouse situational interest: personal relevance, novelty, activity level, and comprehensibility (Hidi 1990). Empirical evidence has provided strong support for the relation between situational interest and text comprehension and recall (see Schiefele, 1991).

Developmental Changes in Interest

Travers (1978) analyzed the earliest phase of interest development. He assumed that only "universal" interests would be evident in very young children, for example, the infant's search for structure or control. Later, depending on the general cognitive development of the child, these universal interests should become more differentiated and individualized. According to Roe and Siegelmann (1964), the earliest differentiation occurs between interest in the world of physical objects versus interest in the world of people. Todt (1990) argued that this early differentiation eventually leads to individual differences in interests in the social vs. the natural sciences.

The next phase of interest development—between 3 and 8 years of age—is characterized by the formation of gender-specific interests. According to Kohlberg (1966), the acquisition of gender identity leads to gender-specific behaviors, attitudes, and interests. Children strive to behave consistently with themselves and, thus, evaluate "male" and "female" activities or objects differently. Activities or objects that are consistent with the children's gender identity will be more positively evaluated than other activities or objects. As a consequence, boys and girls develop gender role stereotypes interests (see Eccles, 1987; Eccles & Bryan, 1994).

Like the work of Eccles and colleagues discussed earlier, several European researchers have found that interest in different school subject areas declines continuously during the school years. This is especially true for the natural sciences (e.g., Baumert, 1995; Hedelin & Sjiberg, 1989; Lehrke, Hoffmann, & Gardner, 1985). For example, Hedelin and Sjiberg (1989) investigated students in Grade 1-9 of the Swedish comprehensive school. Similar to the findings of Eccles, Wigfield, and their colleagues in studies of American children (e.g., Eccles et al., 1993; Wigfield et al., 1991), the students' ratings of their interest in mathematics and Swedish reading and writing showed declines over time, especially in mathematics. These researchers have identified a number of instructional variables that contribute positively or negatively to interest in school mathematics and science. Among these factors are: clarity of presentation, monitoring of what happens in the classroom, supportive behavior, cognitively stimulating experiences, self-concept of the teacher (educator vs. scientist), and achievement pressure (e.g., Baumert, 1995; Eder, 1992; Lehrke, 1992).

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Joy Of Modern Parenting Collection

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