Back to Motivation – Ought To

A great day today chatting to students about what motivates them to study and what their motivation is for choosing their particular field of study. Through these conversations I was reminded of how many of my students fall into what Higgins (1987,1996) categorises as ought self motivation. Put simply, ought-to motivation is characterised by students feeling a need to possess certain attributes as a result of responsibilities, obligations or perceived duties (Dornyei, 2005).

For many of my students, one of the primary factors influencing their choice of study stems from a want to fulfill their family wishes. After lengthy chats with some of the students, I was curious to gauge whether they felt this ought-to motivation was causing agitation or any discontent. It was a surprise to find that many students did not feel that their obligation to family wishes was an issue. Some even commented that if it were not for this type of motivation and expectation, they suspected they would not be as hardworking or focused on the course.

With these type of  responses from my students, I am not convinced by claims made by Higgins’s (1998) that this type of instrumental motivation prevents focus. Perhaps this pressure or anxiety is something that could  and should be capitalised on.

I see a paper in this ;-)


Dornyei, Z., 2005. The Psychology of the Language Learner: Individual Differences in Second Language Acquisition. Lawrence Erlbaum Associates, Mahwah, NJ.

Higgins, E. T. (1987). Self-discrepancy:A theory relating self and affect. Psychological Review,94, 319-340.

Higgins, E. T. (1996). The ‘self-digest’: Self-knowledge serving self-regulatory functions. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology,71, 1062-1083.

Higgins, E. T. (1998). Promotion and prevention: Regulatory focus as a motivational principle. Advances in Experimental Psychology, 30, 1-46


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