Does Materialism Affect Student Motivation?

The war on materialism is no longer just for hippies and communists. According to new study in the Journal of Educational Psychology, students who are less materialistic are less likely to suffer a decline in academic performance and more likely to be driven to learn for intrinsic reasons (e.g. learning in order to be knowledgeable) rather than extrinsic reasons (e.g. good grades).

Study 1 tested the theoretical model in 4 groups of teenagers drawn from 2 different educational stages (Year 9 and Year 12) and two societies of different cultural heritage (United Kingdom and Hong Kong). Results supported the model that materialism was associated with lower intrinsic mastery goals, and higher extrinsic performance goals in all of the 4 groups…Furthermore, earlier endorsement of materialistic values also predicted later deterioration of school performance.

There are a few noteworthy things about the findings. First, as the authors point out, the results indicate it may not be a good idea to emphasize the financial benefits of schooling. At the moment every political speech on education focuses on the need to prepare workers to compete in a 21st century economy. While the message is more about acquiring the skills needed to survive rather than the skills needed to afford three beach houses, the overall sentiment of the messaging may still be slightly counter-productive.

Second, the results of the study are especially interesting in light of new research on positive student outcomes in extremely rigorous, extended school day charter schools. Schools tend to emphasize knowledge and community, and therefore they are not likely to be places that increase a sense of materialism. As a result, when students spend an extra hour in school instead of an extra hour playing X-Box or shopping for shoes, it’s likely their outlook will become less materialistic and their school performance will improve. The discussion about longer school days tends to focus on the obvious direct learning benefits of more school time, but these findings indicate that there is also the indirect psychological benefit of decreased materialism.

What’s more, that may not even be the only psychological benefit of longer school days. For example, if students conditioned to feel negatively about school are forced to spend a lot of time there, they may rationalize their time allocation by taking up a more favorable view of school. The purpose of the rationalization would be to maintain a more positive view of themselves and the system they are in, but a byproduct would be an increase in achievement resulting from their higher affinity for school.
Ku, L., Dittmar, H., & Banerjee, R. (2011). Are materialistic teenagers less motivated to learn? Cross-sectional and longitudinal evidence from the United Kingdom and Hong Kong. Journal of Educational Psychology DOI: 10.1037/a0025489

2 Responses to Does Materialism Affect Student Motivation?

  1. krishna says:

    this is very good step

  2. I know how materialistic students are. Having taught school for several years, I have seen how well students have gotten the message that an adult’s value in society is based on how much money they make. These students then seem to feel that it isn’t important to listen to teachers because “Teachers don’t get paid very well.”

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