Talking about interest: exploring the role of social interaction for regulating motivation and the interest experience

Abstract

The Self-Regulation of Motivation Model suggests that the experience of interest is an important source of human motivation and that people often strategically regulate the experience of interest. Previous work based on this model suggests that the social context may influence this process at multiple points. The present research focuses on whether talking to others about an activity experience is one means by which individuals evaluate how interesting that activity is. In Study 1 college students completed questionnaires that asked about real life experiences where working on an activity was more interesting because they worked with others. They described experiences that occurred first in any domain, and then that occurred specifically in the school domain. Results suggested that the more students talked with others about the activity after it happened the more they reported greater interest in the activity after the conversations. In the school domain, this was especially true for Latinos and for individuals who scored higher on the Relational Self-Construal scale. Study 2 employed a lab paradigm to control for the task that individuals talked to others about and to examine whether the nature of listeners’ reactions influenced the speaker’s interest even after the study was ostensibly over. First, replicating Pasupathi and Rich (2005, ‘Inattentive listening undermines self-verification in personal storytelling’, Journal of Personality 73, pp. 1051–1086) college students who talked to a distracted friend about a computer game during the lab session reported a significant drop in interest relative to those who talked to attentive friends, regardless of whether the attentive listeners agreed or disagreed with participants. Importantly, interest ratings at a 4–6 week follow-up were affected by the perceived responsiveness of listeners during spontaneous conversational retellings outside the lab, controlling for interest levels at the end of the lab session. Taken together, results suggest that social interaction plays an important role in regulating activity interest even beyond the immediate activity experience.

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Acknowledgments

The authors thank Sara Doty, Jamie Kidder, Melissa Robinson, Jennifer Warden, and McKensey Wilson for their assistance with study 1, as well as Tim Hoyt and Ben Rich for their assistance with study 2.

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Correspondence to Dustin B. Thoman.

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Thoman, D.B., Sansone, C. & Pasupathi, M. Talking about interest: exploring the role of social interaction for regulating motivation and the interest experience. J Happiness Stud 8, 335–370 (2007). https://doi.org/10.1007/s10902-006-9016-3

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Keywords

  • interest
  • interpersonal emotions
  • intrinsic motivation
  • self-regulation
  • social construction