Interest: Knowns, Unknowns, and Basic Processes

  • Mary AinleyEmail author


This chapter examines contemporary theories of interest highlighting some of the issues and questions that require further investigation. A major challenge for contemporary theories and perspectives on interest is the identification of basic processes operating when interest is activated. The dynamics of processes that distinguish situational interest from individual interest, and interest from interests, are examined. In particular, the Four-Phase Model of Interest Development (Hidi and Renninger, Educ Psychol 41(2):111–127, 2006) and Silvia’s (Exploring the psychology of interest. Oxford University Press, New York, 2006) appraisal theory of interest and interests are explored. Developmental implications of these theories are also examined. Particular attention is given to identifying different perspectives on how immediate experiences of interest arising from environmental triggers and/or personal factors can be distinguished. Some answers are starting to emerge from research profiling affective and temporal processes and from research mapping variance in interest due to situation-specific, cross-situational, and individual interest factors. Similar emphasis on process is characteristic of theories that locate interest in the ongoing self-regulatory system that directs behavior. While recent research on interest has built a sound knowledge base, examination of the underlying process dimensions of interest experiences highlights that there are issues and questions as yet unresolved that can readily be investigated using the tools of psychological science.


Intrinsic motivation Extrinsic motivation Focus on process Dynamic processes Attention, interest Interests Situational interest Individual interest Triggered situational interest Maintained situational interest Emerging individual interest Well-developed individual interest Stabilized situational interest Catch facet Hold facet Interest development Dynamic relational construct Interest schema In-the-moment experience Triggers of situational interest Collative variability State interest Actualized state of interest Actualized interest Psychological state of interest Phenomenological experience of interest Appraisal processes Automatic and controlled processing Primary and secondary appraisals Appraisal of novelty Appraisal of comprehensibility Emotion appraisals Intuitive and reflective appraisals Dual regulation system Emotion knowledge Meta-emotional experience Appraisal – attribution – expectations – action Self and identity Chronic interest Exploratory orientation Self-regulation Self-regulatory resources Situation-specific interest Cross-situational consistency Perceived value Goals Values Expectancy 


  1. Ainley, M. (2006). Connecting with learning: Motivation, affect and cognition in interest processes. Educational Psychology Review, 18(4), 391–405. doi: 10.1007/s10648-006-9033-0.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  2. Ainley, M. (2007). Being and feeling interested: Transient state, mood, and disposition. In P. Schutz & R. Pekrun (Eds.), Emotions and education (pp. 147–163). Burlington, MA: Academic Press.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  3. Ainley, M. (2010). Interest in the dynamics of task behavior: Processes that link person and task in effective learning. In T. Urdan & S. A. Karabenick (Eds.), Advances in motivation and achievement. The decade ahead: Theoretical perspectives on motivation and achievement (Vol. 16A, pp. 235–264). Bingley, UK: Emerald Group.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  4. Ainley, M., Corrigan, M., & Richardson, N. (2005). Students, tasks and emotions: Identifying the contribution of emotions to students’ reading of popular culture and popular science texts. Learning and Instruction, 15(5), 433–447. doi: 10.1016/j.learninstruc.2005.07.011.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  5. Ainley, M., & Hidi, S. (2014). Interest and enjoyment. In R. Pekrun & L. Linnenbrink-Garcia (Eds.), International handbook of emotions in education (pp. 205–227). New York: Routledge.Google Scholar
  6. Ainley, M., Hidi, S., & Berndorff, D. (2002). Interest, learning and the psychological processes that mediate their relationship. Journal of Educational Psychology, 94(3), 545–561. doi: 10.1037//0022-0663.94.3545.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  7. Ainley, M., Hillman, K., & Hidi, S. (2002). Gender and interest processes in response to literary texts: Situational and individual interest. Learning and Instruction, 12(4), 411–428.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  8. Alexander, P. A. (2003). The development of expertise: The journey from acclimation to proficiency. Educational Researcher, 32(8), 10–14.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  9. Alexander, P. A. (2004). A model of domain learning: Reinterpreting expertise as a multidimensional, multistage process. In D. Y. Dai & R. J. Sternberg (Eds.), Motivation, emotion and cognition: Integrative perspectives on intellectual functioning and development (pp. 273–298). Mahwah, NJ: Lawrence Erlbaum Associates.Google Scholar
  10. Arnold, M.B. (1960). Emotion and personality (Vol. 1: Psychological aspects). New York: Columbia University Press.Google Scholar
  11. Berlyne, D. E. (1957). Conflict and information-theory variables as determinants of human perceptual curiosity. Journal of Experimental Psychology, 53(6), 399–404.CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  12. Berlyne, D. E. (1960). Conflict, arousal and curiosity. New York: McGraw-hill.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  13. Berlyne, D. E. (1974). Studies in the new experimental aesthetics: Steps toward an objective psychology of aesthetic appreciation. Washington, DC: Hemisphere.Google Scholar
  14. Boscolo, P., Ariasi, N., Del Favero, L., & Ballarin, C. (2011). Interest in an expository text: How does it flow from reading to writing? Learning and Instruction, 21, 467–480. doi: 10.1016/j.learninstruc.2010.07.009.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  15. Canning, E. A., & Harackiewicz, J. M. (2015). Teach it, don’t preach it: The differential effects of directly-communicated and self-generated utility value information. Motivation Science, 1, 47–71. doi: 10.1037/mot0000015.CrossRefPubMedPubMedCentralGoogle Scholar
  16. Chen, A., & Ennis, C. D. (2004). Goal, interest, and learning in physical education. The Journal of Educational Research, 97, 329–338. doi: 10.1080/0304430290000.753.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  17. Cribbs, J. D., Hazari, Z., Sonnert, G., & Sadler, P. M. (2015). Establishing an explanatory model for methematics identity. Child Development, 86(4), 1048–1062. doi: 10.1111/cdev.12363.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  18. De Garmo, C. (1894). Introduction to: Apperception. A monograph on psychology and pedagogy. In C. De Gamo (Ed.), Apperception. On psychology and pedagogy (p. viii). Boston: D.C. Heath & Co.Google Scholar
  19. deCharms, R. (1968). Personal causation: The internal affective determinants of behavior. New York: Academic Press.Google Scholar
  20. Dewey, J. (1913). Interest and effort in education. Boston: Houghton Miffler.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  21. Durik, A., & Harackiewicz, J. M. (2007). Different strokes for different folks: How individual interest moderates the effects of situational factors on task interest. Journal of Educational Psychology, 99(3), 597–610. doi: 10.1037/0022-0663.99.3.597.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  22. Ellsworth, P. C. (2003). Confusion, concentration, and other emotions of interest: Commentary on Rozin and Cohen (2003). Emotion, 3(1), 81–85. doi: 10.1037/1528-3542.3.1.81.CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  23. Elsworth, G. R., Harvey-Beavis, A., Ainley, J., & Fabris, S. (1999). Generic interests and school subject choice. Educational Research and Evaluation, 5(3), 290–318. doi: 10.1076/edre. Scholar
  24. Ely, R. B. W., Ainley, M., & Pearce, J. M. (2012). Establishing the interests of young people, a new exploratory approach: The My Interest Now for Engagement (MINE) project. Paper presented at the International Conference for the Learning Sciences, Sydney, Australia.Google Scholar
  25. Flum, H., & Kaplan, A. (2006). Exploratory orientation as an educational goal. Educational Psychologist, 41(2), 99–110. doi: 10.1207/s15326985ep4102_3.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  26. Fulmer, S. M., & Frijters, J. C. (2011). Motivation during an excessively challenging reading task: The buffering role of relative topic interest. The Journal of Experimental Education, 79(2), 185–208. doi: 10.1080/00220973.2010.481503.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  27. Garner, R., Brown, R., Sanders, S., & Menke, D. J. (1992). “Seductive details” and learning from text. In K. A. Renninger, S. Hidi, & A. Krapp (Eds.), The role of interest in learning and development (pp. 239–254). Hillsdale, NJ: Lawrence Erlbaum Associates.Google Scholar
  28. Harackiewicz, J. M., Durik, A. M., Barron, K. E., Linnenbrink-Garcia, L., & Tauer, J. (2008). The role of achievement goals in the development of interest: Reciprocal relations between achievement goals, interest, and performance. Journal of Educational Psychology, 100(1), 105–122. doi: 10.1037/0022-0663.100.1.105.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  29. Harackiewicz, J. M., & Hulleman, C. S. (2010). The importance of interest: The role of achievement goals and task values in promoting the development of interest. Social and Personality Psychology Compass, 4(1), 42–52. doi: 10.1111/j.1751-9004.2009.00207.x.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  30. Hidi, S. (1990). Interest and its contribution as a mental resource for learning. Review of Educational Research, 60(3), 549–571.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  31. Hidi, S. (1995). A reexamination of the role of attention in learning from text. Educational Psychology Review, 7(4), 323–350.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  32. Hidi, S. (2001). Interest, reading, and learning: Theoretical and practical considerations. Educational Psychology Review, 13(3), 191–209.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  33. Hidi, S. (2006). Interest: A unique motivational variable. Educational Research Review, 1(2), 69–82.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  34. Hidi, S., & Harackiewicz, J. M. (2000). Motivating the academically unmotivated: A critical issue for the 21st century. Review of Educational Research, 70, 151–179.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  35. Hidi, S., & Renninger, K. A. (2006). The four-phase model of interest development. Educational Psychologist, 41(2), 111–127.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  36. Holland, J. L. (1985). Making vocational choices: A theory of vocational personalities and work environments (2nd ed.). Odessa, FL: Psychological Assessment Resources.Google Scholar
  37. Holstermann, N., Ainley, M., Grube, D., Roick, T., & Bögeholz, S. (2012). The specific relationship between disgust and interest: Relevance during biology class dissections and gender differences. Learning and Instruction, 22, 185–192. doi: 10.1016/j.learninstruc.2011.10.005.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  38. Hulleman, C. S., Durik, A. M., Schweigert, S. A., & Harackiewicz, J. M. (2008). Task values, achievement goals, and interest: An integrative analysis. Journal of Educational Psychology, 100, 398–416. doi: 10.1037/0022-0663.100.2.398.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  39. Hulleman, C. S., Godes, O., Hendricks, B. L., & Harackiewicz, J. M. (2010). Enhancing interest and performance with a utility value intervention. Journal of Educational Psychology, 102(4), 880–895. doi: 10.1037/a0019506.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  40. Hunter, J. P., & Csikszentmihalyi, M. (2003). The positive psychology of interested adolescents. Journal of Youth and Adolescence, 32, 27–35.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  41. Immordino-Yang, M. H. (2011). Implications of affective and social neuroscience for educational theory. Educational Philosophy and Theory, 43(1), 98–103. doi: 10.1111/j.1469-5812.2010.00713.x.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  42. Immordino-Yang, M. H., & Christodoulou, J. A. (2014). Neuroscientific contributions to understanding and measuring emotions in educational contexts. In R. Pekrun & L. Linnenbringk-Garcia (Eds.), International handbook of emotions in education (pp. 607–624). New York: Routledge.Google Scholar
  43. Izard, C. E. (1977). Human emotions. New York: Plenum Press.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  44. Izard, C. E. (2007). Basic emotions, natural kinds, emotion schemas, and a new paradigm. Perspectives on Psychological Science, 2(3), 260–280. doi: 10.1111/j.1745-6916.2007.00044.x.CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  45. Izard, C. E. (2009). Emotion theory and research: Highlights, unanswered questions, and emerging issues. Annual Review of Psychology, 60, 1–25. doi: 10.1146/annurev.psych.60.110707.163539.CrossRefPubMedPubMedCentralGoogle Scholar
  46. Izard, C. E., & Malatesta, C. E. (1987). Perspectives on emotional development I: Differential emotions theory of early emotional development. In M. Lewis & J. M. Haviland-Jones (Eds.), Handbook of infant development (second ed., pp. 494–510). New York: John Wiley & Sons.Google Scholar
  47. Jarymowicz, M. T., & Imbir, K. (2015). Toward a human emotions taxonomy (based on their automatic vs. reflective origin). Emotion Review, 7(2), 183–188. doi: 10.1177/1754073914555923.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  48. Kintsch, W. (1980). Learning from text, levels of comprehension, or: Why anyone would read a story anyway. Poetics, 9, 87–98.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  49. Knogler, M., Harackiewicz, J. M., Gegenfurtner, A., & Lewalter, D. (2015). How situational is situational interest? Investigating the longitudinal structure of situational interest. Contemporary Educational Psychology, 43, 39–50. doi: 10.1016/j.cedpsych.2015.08.004.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  50. Krapp, A. (2003). Interest and human development: An educational-psychological perspective. Development and Motivation, BJEP Monograph Series, Series II(2), 57–84.Google Scholar
  51. Krapp, A. (2005). Basic needs and the development of interest and intrinsic motivational orientations. Learning and Instruction, 15(5), 381–395. doi: 10.1016/j.learninstruc.2005.07.007.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  52. Krapp, A. (2007). An educational-psychological conceptualisation of interest. International Journal of Educational Vocational Guidance, 7, 5–21. doi: 10.10007/s10775-0007-9113-9.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  53. Krapp, A., Hidi, S., & Renninger, K. A. (1992). Interest, learning and development. In K. A. Renninger, S. Hidi, & A. Krapp (Eds.), The role of interest in learning and development (pp. 3–25). Hillsdale, NJ: Lawrence Erlbaum Associates.Google Scholar
  54. Krapp, A., & Prenzel, M. (2011). Research on interest in science: Theories, methods and findings. International Journal of Science Education, 33(1), 27–50. doi: 10.1080/09500693.2011.518645.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  55. Kruglanski, A. W., & Gigerenzer, G. (2011). Intuitive and deliberate judgments are based on common principles. Psychological Review, 118(1), 97–109. doi: 10.1037/a0020762.CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  56. Lepper, M. R., & Henderlong, J. (2000). Turning “play” into “work” and “work” into “play”: 25 years of research on intrinsic versus extrinsic motivation. In C. Sansone & J. M. Harackiewicz (Eds.), Intrinsic and extrinsic motivation: The search for optimal motivation and performance (pp. 257–307). New York: Academic Press.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  57. Lewis, M. D., & Granic, I. (Eds.). (2000). Emotion, development, and self-organization: Dynamic systems approaches to emotional development. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press.Google Scholar
  58. Maltese, A. V., & Harsh, J. A. (2015). Students’ pathways of entry into STEM. In K. A. Renninger, M. Nieswandt, & S. Hidi (Eds.), Interest in mathematics and science learning (pp. 203–223). Washington, DC: American Educational Research Association (AERA).CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  59. McDaniel, M. A., Waddill, P. J., Finstad, K., & Bourg, T. (2000). The effects of text-based interest on attention and recall. Journal of Educational Psychology, 92(3), 492–502. doi: 10.1037//0022-0663.92.3.492.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  60. Nieswandt, M., & Horowitz, G. (2015). Undergraduate students’ interest in chemistry: The roles of task and choice. In K. A. Renninger, M. Nieswandt, & S. Hidi (Eds.), Interest in mathematics and science learning (pp. 225–242). Washington, DC: American Educational Research Association (AERA).CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  61. O'Keefe, P. A., & Linnenbrink-Garcia, L. (2014). The role of interest in optimizing performance and self-regulation. Journal of Experimental Social Psychology, 53, 70–78. doi: 10.1016/j.jesp.2014.02.004.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  62. Palmer, D. H. (2009). Student interest generated during an inquiry skills task. Journal of Research in Science Teaching, 47, 147–165. doi: 10.1002/tea.20263.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  63. Piaget, J. (1981). Intelligence and affectivity:Their relationship during child development. In T. A. Brown & M. R. Kaegi (Eds.), Annual review monographs. Palo Alto, CA: Annual Reviews.Google Scholar
  64. Renninger, K. A. (2000). How might the development of individual interest contribute to the conceptualization of intrinsic motivation. In C. Sansone & J. M. Harackiewicz (Eds.), Intrinsic and extrinsic motivation: The search for optimal motivation and performance. New York: Academic Press.Google Scholar
  65. Renninger, K. A., & Hidi, S. (2011). Revisiting the conceptualization, measurement, and generation of interest. Educational Psychologist, 46(3), 168–184. doi: 10.1080/00461520.2011.587723.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  66. Rotgans, J. I., & Schmidt, H. G. (2011). Situational interest and academic achievement in the active-learning classroom. Learning and Instruction, 21(1), 58–67. doi: 10.1016/j.learninstruc.2009.11.001.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  67. Ryan, R. M., & Deci, E. L. (2000). When rewards compete with nature: The undermining of intrinsic motivation and self-regulation. In C. Sansone & J. M. Harackiewicz (Eds.), Intrinsic and extrinsic motivation: The search for optimal motivation and performance (pp. 13–54). New York: Academic Press.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  68. Sansone, C., & Harackiewicz, J. M. (Eds.). (2000). Intrinsic and extrinsic motivation: The search for optimal motivation and performance. New York: Academic Press.Google Scholar
  69. Sansone, C., & Thoman, D. B. (2005). Interest as the missing motivator in self-regulation. European Psychologist, 10, 175–186. doi: 10.1027/1016-9040.10.3.175.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  70. Sansone, C., Thoman, D. B., & Fraughton, T. (2015). The relation between interest and self-regulation in mathematics and science. In K. A. Renninger, M. Nieswandt, & S. Hidi (Eds.), Interest in mathematics and science learning (pp. 111–131). Washington, DC: American Educational Research Association (AERA).CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  71. Sansone, C., Weir, C., Harpster, L., & Morgan, C. (1992). Once a boring task always a boring task? Interest as a self-regulatory mechanism. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 63(3), 379–309.CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  72. Schiefele, U. (2009). Situational and individual interest. In K. Wentzel & A. Wigfield (Eds.), Handbook of motivation at school (pp. 196–222). New York: Routledge.Google Scholar
  73. Schraw, G., & Lehman, S. (2001). Situational interest: A review of the literature and directions for future research. Educational Psychology Review, 13(1), 23–52.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  74. Silvia, P. J. (2005). What is interesting? Exploring the appraisal structure of interest. Emotion, 5(1), 89–102. doi: 10.1037/1528-3542.5.1.89.CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  75. Silvia, P. J. (2006). Exploring the psychology of interest. New York: Oxford University Press.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  76. Silvia, P. J. (2008). Interest – The curious emotion. Current Directions in Psychological Science, 17(1), 57–60.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  77. Silvia, P. J. (2010). Confusion and interest: The role of knowledge emotions in aesthetic experience. Psychology of Aesthetics, Creativity, and the Arts, 4(2), 75–80. doi: 10.1037/a0017081.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  78. Stanovich, K. E., & Toplak, M. E. (2012). Defining features versus identical correlates of type 1 and type 2 processing. Mind and Society, 11, 3–13. doi: 10.1007/s11299-011-0093-6.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  79. Thelen, E., & Smith, L. B. (2006). Dynamic systems theories. In W. Damon & R. M. Lerner (Eds.), Handbook of child psychology (Vol. 1, 6th ed., pp. 258–312). Hoboken, NJ: John Wiley & Sons.Google Scholar
  80. Thoman, D. B., Smith, L. B., & Silvia, P. J. (2011). The resource replenishment function of interest. Social Psychological and Personality Science, 2, 592–599. doi: 10.1177/19485506114025.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  81. Valsiner, J. (1992). Interest: A metatheoretical perspective. In K. A. Renninger, S. Hidi, & A. Krapp (Eds.), The role of interest in learning and development (pp. 27–41). Hillsdale, NJ: Lawrence Erlbaum.Google Scholar
  82. Wade, S. E. (2001). Research on importance and interest: Implications for curriculum development and future research. Educational Psychology Review, 13, 243–261.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  83. Wade, S. E., Schraw, G., Buxton, W. M., & Hayes, M. T. (1993). Effects of importance and interest on recall of biographical text. Reading Research Quarterly, 28, 93–114. doi: 10.2307/747885.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  84. Wigfield, A., & Eccles, J. S. (2000). Expectancy-value theory of achievement motivation. Contemporary Educational Psychology, 25, 68–81.CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar

Copyright information

© Springer International Publishing AG 2017

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.University of MelbourneMelbourneAustralia

Personalised recommendations