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Our research group focuses on a number of overlapping questions about the function and the architecture of human motivation from both theoretical (especially focusing on the theories of intrinsic motivation, curiosity, achievement goals, and reinforcement learning) and practical (especially educational) perspectives. To achieve a better understanding of human motivation, we take a multimethod approach by drawing upon a variety of methodologies such as behavioural experiments, large sample surveys, neuroimaging (i.e., fMRI), transcranial magnetic stimulation (TMS), online experiments, experience sampling, meta-analysis, behavioural genetics, computational modelling, statistical simulation, and educational intervention. Research on motivation has been wide-encompassing implications for areas like cognitive psychology, social psychology, educational psychology, and neuroscience. With the multimethod approach, our ultimate goal is to put together these different perspectives to provide an integrative view on human motivation.

We are focused on, but not limited to, the following topics: Intrinsic motivation, interest, curiosity, competition, achievement goals, competence and challenge, effort, episodic memory, decision making, memory consolidation, learning, metacognition and metamotivation, choice, and decision conflict (dissonance). We are also interested in some statistical simulation work to improve our understanding of research methodology.

Ph. D. student/postdoc positions are occasionally available. If you would like to join in our lab as a ph. D. student or a postdoc, please email Kou Murayama (with your CV) to discuss the possibility.

Nature of Intrinsic Motivation and Interest

Extrinsic incentives, like money, can be effective motivators and its effects have been thoroughly researched. On the other hand, researchers have not paid much attention to intrinsic motivation (i.e., motivation to engage in a task for the inherent pleasure and satisfaction derived from the task itself). Intrinsic motivation (sometimes it takes the form of curiosity or interest) endows us with remarkable capacity to sustain our motivation without being fuelled by extrinsic incentives, and indeed, it constitutes an integral aspect of human motivation, supporting a variety of human behaviour throughout all stages of life, from infants to the elderly. From stories of great scientists such as Isaac Newton, it is also clear that interest underlies extraordinary human achievements such as discovery and innovation. Despite its far-reaching implications both theoretically and practically (e.g., education), the scientific examination of intrinsic motivation has still been at a nascent stage. One of the goals of our research group is to understand the nature of this intrinsic motivation (alternatively curiosity or interest) from theoretical, empirical, practical, and computational perspectives.

Motivation and Metacognition: “Metamotivation”

We often fail to regulate our motivation (e.g., people fail to work as hard as they planned). We also often fail to regulate the motivation of other people (e.g., teachers fail to motivate students). Why do these situations occur? Inspired by the work on human metacognition, we suspect that people have an inaccurate understanding of how motivation operates. For example, people may overestimate the power of monetary rewards on motivation (e.g., “If I pay them, they should work very hard”) and underestimate the amount of effort to complete a task (e.g., “This task seems to be effortful, but I should be able to do that”). Recently, we proposed to call such metacognition about motivation metamotivation, and hypothesized that such inaccurate metamotivation may lead people to endorse maladaptive motivational strategies, despite their well-meant intentions of enhancing motivation. Our research group examines the nature and the consequences of this human metamotivation.

Motivation, Learning, and Decision Making

Does motivation enhance learning and the quality of decision making? The answer may seem self-evident, but in reality the answer is not so straightforward. Motivation can facilitate task performance in the short-term with no effect in the long term, but in some other cases it can affect long-term retention (by memory consolidation) and show no effect in the short-term. Motivation can bias our decision making in a way that can increase the chance of receiving negative outcomes. Motivation can also have inimical consequences with increased competitive pressure and anxiety. Different types of motivation (e.g., rewards, mastery goals, performance goals, intrinsic motivation) should be associated with different outcomes. Our research group aims to unpack these myriad ways of how motivation influences learning and decision making.

Social Contagion of Motivation

We often regard motivation as personal, but such personal motivation can be socially constructed. If your friend likes mathematics, you may come to like mathematics by observing and interacting with your friend. We shall call this social reinforcement process of motivation social contagion of motivation (or motivation contagion). Despite the clear theoretical and practical importance of the phenomenon, these processes have attracted surprisingly little empirical attention in the field. Our research group aims to address behavioural, psychological, and neural mechanisms underlying social contagion of motivation. We do so by combining micro-level (e.g., experiments with pairs) and macro-level (i.e. collecting network-level data in relatively large social groups such as school and examine contagion using social network analysis) approach, with the aim to provide an integrated picture of how social contagion of motivation operates in our social life settings.