First steps in the development of an adaptive theory of motivation

James Middleton, Zulbiye Toluk

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

22 Scopus citations


Research on academic motivation has, in the past, focused primarily on the expectancy aspects of motivation. Although the importance of the value academic tasks take on in determining engagement patterns has not been entirely ignored, there has not been an adequate mechanism for explaining how values are constructed, modified, and structured. In this article, we describe a first attempt at positing such a mechanism. First we clarify our perspective on the nature of student motivation. We then argue for a perspective on understanding motivation as adaptive knowledge. Drawing from a diverse range of theory in motivation and cognition, the model we present attempts to explain students' motivational decisions in terms of their adapti vity to situational demands. The model differs from more traditional lenses on motivation in that it is ideographic as opposed to nomothetic, focused on student-task interaction as opposed to general motivational orientations, and comprehensive in terms of its attention to both intrinsic and extrinsic processes. Finally, we highlight new questions of interest in motivational research that an adaptive perspective makes possible.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)99-112
Number of pages14
JournalEducational Psychologist
Issue number2
StatePublished - Jan 1 1999

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Developmental and Educational Psychology


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