The Concept of Intrinsic Motivation: Implications for Practice and Research with the Learning Disabled

In his 1978 article, The Concept of Intrinsic Motivation: Implications for Practice and Research with the Learning Disabled, Howard S. Adelman examines “the basic constructs underlying intrinsic motivation and discusses their implications for assessment, intervention, and research activities in learning disabilities” (p. 43).  First, Adelman considers the relationship between intrinsic motivation and three topics related to learning disabilities (LD): etiology, assessment, and intervention.  In discussing the etiology of learning difficulties, Adelman suggests that learning problems can be viewed as the consequence of environmental variables “whenever a person has insufficient opportunities to behave in ways which produce feelings of competence and self-determination;” however, he is quick to add that the causes of learning difficulties have not been empirically proven (1978, p. 47). Adelman then states that assessments are not able to detect the complex causes of, or contributors to, learning disabilities.  He discusses the effects of low motivation during the assessment process itself, as well as the difficulties separating the results of long-term low motivation from learning disabilities themselves, noting that many of the coping strategies developed by students with LD “are incompatible with performing up to one’s fullest capacities” (Adelman, 1978, p. 48).  Adelman also addresses assessor predispositions, as well as the question of whether children who struggle in school come to view assessments as inherently threatening and, consequently, expect to fare poorly and therefore experience decreased intrinsic motivation (1978, p. 48-49).  The relationship between intrinsic motivation and interventions is also discussed.  Adelman notes that intrinsic motivation alone may be enough for a child to overcome mild learning problems, or what are perceived to be learning problems, and suggests ways to increase intrinsic motivation.  Finally, Adelman discusses the paucity of research on intrinsic motivation and LD, and calls for further research in this area.
Until this article, Adelman notes, “intrinsic motivation [had] been virtually ignored in the field of learning disabilities” (1978, p. 43).  Adelman’s insights into this area contributed a new way of looking at learning disabilities (in terms of motivational factors).  His recommendations for further research also suggested a new direction in the field, an approach that takes organismic approaches to motivation into account, that is, research that “assumes that humans act on their environments rather than being passively controlled by previous reinforcers and current environmental contingencies” (Adelman, 1978, p. 44).

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Adelman, 1978
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© Rose Atkins 2009