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10 Research Question Examples to Guide your Research Project

Published on October 30, 2022 by Shona McCombes . Revised on October 19, 2023.

The research question is one of the most important parts of your research paper , thesis or dissertation . It’s important to spend some time assessing and refining your question before you get started.

The exact form of your question will depend on a few things, such as the length of your project, the type of research you’re conducting, the topic , and the research problem . However, all research questions should be focused, specific, and relevant to a timely social or scholarly issue.

Once you’ve read our guide on how to write a research question , you can use these examples to craft your own.

Note that the design of your research question can depend on what method you are pursuing. Here are a few options for qualitative, quantitative, and statistical research questions.

Other interesting articles

If you want to know more about the research process , methodology , research bias , or statistics , make sure to check out some of our other articles with explanations and examples.


  • Sampling methods
  • Simple random sampling
  • Stratified sampling
  • Cluster sampling
  • Likert scales
  • Reproducibility


  • Null hypothesis
  • Statistical power
  • Probability distribution
  • Effect size
  • Poisson distribution

Research bias

  • Optimism bias
  • Cognitive bias
  • Implicit bias
  • Hawthorne effect
  • Anchoring bias
  • Explicit bias

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85 Review Questions for Emotion and Motivation

Click here for Answer Key

Multiple Choice Questions

1 .  Need for ________ refers to maintaining positive relationships with others.

  • achievement
  • affiliation

2 .  ________ proposed the hierarchy of needs.

  • William James
  • David McClelland
  • Abraham Maslow
  • Albert Bandura

3 .  ________ is an individual’s belief in their capability to complete some task.

  • physiological needs
  • self-esteem
  • self-actualization
  • self-efficacy

4 .  Riley mows the yard of their elderly neighbor each week for $20. What type of motivation is this?

5 .  ________ is a chemical messenger secreted by fat cells that acts as an appetite suppressant.

  • angiotensin

6 .  ________ is characterized by episodes of binge eating followed by attempts to compensate for the excessive amount of food that was consumed.

  • Prader-Willi syndrome
  • morbid obesity
  • anorexia nervosa
  • bulimia nervosa
  • nucleus accumbens
  • medial preoptic area of the hypothalamus
  • hippocampus

8 .  During the ________ phase of the sexual response cycle, individuals experience rhythmic contractions of the pelvis that are accompanied by uterine contractions in those with vaginas and ejaculation in those with penises.

9 .  Which of the following findings was not a result of the Kinsey study?

  • Sexual desire and sexual ability can be separate functions.
  • Females enjoy sex as much as males.
  • Homosexual behaviour is fairly common.
  • Masturbation has no adverse consequences.

10 .  If someone is uncomfortable identifying with the gender normally associated with their biological sex, then they could be classified as experiencing ________.

  • homosexuality
  • bisexuality
  • gender dysphoria

11 .  Individuals suffering from posttraumatic stress disorder have been shown to have reduced volumes of the ________.

  • hypothalamus

12 .  According to the ________ theory of emotion, emotional experiences arise from physiological arousal.

  • James-Lange
  • Cannon-Bard
  • Schachter-Singer two-factor

13 .  Which of the following is not one of the seven universal emotions described in this chapter?

14 .  Which of the following theories of emotion would suggest that polygraphs should be quite accurate at differentiating one emotion from another?

  • Cannon-Bard theory
  • James-Lange theory
  • Schachter-Singer two-factor theory
  • Darwinian theory

Critical Thinking Questions

15 .  How might someone espousing an arousal theory of motivation explain visiting an amusement park?

16 .  Schools often use concrete rewards to increase adaptive behaviours. How might this be a disadvantage for students intrinsically motivated to learn? What are educational implications of the potential for concrete rewards to diminish intrinsic motivation for a given task?

17 .  As indicated in this section, Caucasian women from industrialized, Western cultures tend to be at the highest risk for eating disorders like anorexia and bulimia nervosa. Why might this be?

18 .  While much research has been conducted on how an individual develops a given sexual orientation, many people question the validity of this research citing that the participants used may not be representative. Why do you think this might be a legitimate concern?

19 .  There is no reliable scientific evidence that gay conversion therapy actually works. What kinds of evidence would you need to see in order to be convinced by someone arguing that she had successfully converted her sexual orientation?

20 .  Imagine you find a venomous snake crawling up your leg just after taking a drug that prevented sympathetic nervous system activation. What would the James-Lange theory predict about your experience?

21 .  Why can we not make causal claims regarding the relationship between the volume of the hippocampus and PTSD?

Personal Application Questions

22 .  Can you think of recent examples of how Maslow’s hierarchy of needs might have affected your behaviour in some way?

23 .  Think about popular television programs on the air right now. What do the people in these programs look like?  What kinds of messages do you think the media is sending about the people in our society?

24 .  Think about times in your life when you have been absolutely elated (e.g., perhaps your school’s basketball team just won a closely contested ballgame for the national championship) and very fearful (e.g., you are about to give a speech in your public speaking class to a roomful of 100 strangers). How would you describe how your arousal manifested itself physically? Were there marked differences in physiological arousal associated with each emotional state?

Introduction to Psychology & Neuroscience by Edited by Leanne Stevens is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License , except where otherwise noted.

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  • Front Psychol

Teaching and Researching Motivation

Yongkang yuan.

1 School of Languages and Culture, Tianjin University of Technology, Tianjin, China

Hongjie Zhen

2 Department of Maritime, Hebei Jiaotong Vocational & Technical College, Shijiazhuang, China

The third edition of Teaching and Researching Motivation offers newly-updated and extended coverage of motivation research and pedagogical practice. As in the 2001 and 2011 editions, the text provides comprehensive insights into motivation research and teaching. However, the current edition, as in the authors' words, is “not so much a revised version as a newly written book that has the same authors, the same title and the same structure as the previous one” (Dörnyei and Ushioda, 2021 , p. x). It reflects the dramatic changes in the field of motivation research and examines how theoretical insights can be used in everyday teaching practice.

The monograph comprises four parts. Part I, “What is Motivation?”, consists of four chapters. The first chapter pertains to the complex meaning of the term “motivation” and summarizes the key challenges of theorizing motivation. Appealing to us in this chapter is that the authors put a stronger emphasis on understanding motivation in relation to learning LOTEs (languages other than English) and in relation to individual multilingualism. It is altogether fitting and proper for them to hold this belief since the world is becoming more diversified in terms of multilingualism. Chapter 2 offers a historical overview of the most influential cognitive motivation theories. In the new edition, social cultural factors impacting students' motivation are elaborated in more detail. Chapter 3 presents a historical overview of theories of L2 motivation. Drawing on insights from L2 research and psychology, Dörnyei and Ushioda articulate nine interrelated conditions for the motivating capacity of future L2 self-image. With a focus on the L2 Motivation Self System theory, Chapter 4 also critically examines other new theoretical approaches emerged in the field of L2 motivation over the past decade. Finally, it highlights two new perspectives: a focus on L2 learner engagement and “small lens” approaches.

Part II, “Motivation and Language Teaching,” includes three chapters on issues related to the relation between motivation and language teaching. Chapter 5 explores the extent to which theoretical and research insights can lead to practical recommendations for motivating the students in and outside of the language classroom. Based on this principle, it presents instructive approaches to motivating language learners. It also eloquently holds that motivational self-regulation and learner autonomy are two potent energizers which will have a lasing impact beyond the classroom. Chapter 6, “Motivation in Context,” deals with the “dark side” of motivation, “demotivation.” It argues that focused interventions can have significant positive outcomes and help counteract demotivation and facilitate remotivation within second language acquisition (SLA). The last chapter in this part is of special interest as it explores the relationship between language teacher and learner motivation, highlighting possible self theory (exploring conceptual change in language teachers). As a Chinese idiom goes, teaching benefits teachers and students alike. The same is true of language teacher motivation. It argues that teachers' passion and enthusiasm facilitate their teaching and enhance students' learning; and vice versa.

Important and of significance is how to do research so that it can facilitate teaching. Part III, “Researching Motivation,” includes two chapters on issues related to primary, data-based motivation research. Chapter 8 covers the unique characteristics, challenges and research strategies that are specific to the empirical study of language learning motivation. An outstanding contribution of this chapter is that four insightful principles of designing L2 motivation studies are proposed. Followed up on an overview of the most useful methods in this field in the past, Chapter 9 examines two new research initiatives: adopting a complex dynamic system approach and researching unconscious motivation, which will hold particular promise for the future.

Part IV, “Resources and Further Information” is informative and inspiring. In Chapter 10, the authors judiciously remark that particular aspects and context of L2 learning as well as multilingual communication should be focused in the future after further elaborating the interdisciplinary nature and challenge of L2 motivation research. The last chapter contains lists of key sources and resources on motivation such as relevant journals and latest valuable collections, database, discussion groups, and networks. What is of particular value is key scholars of L2 language motivation research, as well as useful tools and measures for researching motivation.

This monograph is a thought-provoking book. Firstly, this new edition reflects the latest research advancement, providing the language teachers and researchers with insights into cultivating motivation. In terms of theoretical paradigm, the L2 Motivation Self System (L2MSS) introduces a holistic approach exploring the combined and interactive operation of a number of different factors in relation to L2 motivation rather than the traditional cause-effect relation between isolated variables. Two recent motivational paradigms originate in L2MSS: directed motivational currents and long-term motivation , focusing on not only what generates language learning motivation but also on what can sustain motivation long enough. In terms of research method, integration of quantitative and qualitative method (e.g., questionnaire + interview ) has almost become a new trend in the L2 motivation field.

Secondly, Dörnyei and Ushioda provide ideas for theoretical and empirical research by reviewing studies made by them and other researchers. Although a great deal of knowledge has been accumulated, Dörnyei and Ushioda particularly point out two under-explored topics: unconscious motivation and language learner engagement. They also recommend two cutting-edge approaches: “small lens” approaches (actual cognitive process in the mastery of an L2) and complex dynamic systems approach.

Lastly, it is a valuable guide for L2 teachers and researchers. Chapter 5 presents strategies and approaches to motivating language learners such as promoting student engagement and applying technology. Particularly, the up-to-date and rich selection of empirical studies in Chapter 9 are vivid illustration of the research methods, showing language teachers templates of doing research by teaching. The research interests of important scholars listed in Chapter 11 allow language teachers and researchers to follow the current significant research areas on L2 motivation.

Nevertheless, there are still some aspects for this book to be improved in the next edition. First, readers may hope to find a detailed discussion of the social cultural factors impacting teachers' motivation. Second, the key researchers listed in Chapter 11 are mainly in the English world. Had the authors included more key researchers in the non-English world, it would have been more insightful.

All in all, with this new edition, Dörnyei and Ushioda make a very important contribution to our radically new understanding of teaching and researching motivation. As a clear and comprehensive theory-driven account of motivation, this volume can be applied in many different ways. It can be used as a reference book for teachers and/or researchers to review and reflect on motivation teaching and research practice. In addition, it is also of significance in pre-service and in-service teacher education programme. Graduates in applied linguistics, education and psychology can gain plenty of insights from the research findings and additional information offered in this volume. Therefore, this volume is an invaluable resource for teachers and researchers alike.

Author Contributions

YY: drafts and revision. HZ: revision and supervision. All authors contributed to the article and approved the submitted version.

This opinion was supported by the Project of Teaching Reform at Tianjin University of Technology (Grant No: KG20-08).

Conflict of Interest

The authors declare that the research was conducted in the absence of any commercial or financial relationships that could be construed as a potential conflict of interest.

Publisher's Note

All claims expressed in this article are solely those of the authors and do not necessarily represent those of their affiliated organizations, or those of the publisher, the editors and the reviewers. Any product that may be evaluated in this article, or claim that may be made by its manufacturer, is not guaranteed or endorsed by the publisher.

  • Dörnyei Z., Ushioda E. (2021). Teaching and Researching Motivation . London: Taylor and Francis. [ Google Scholar ]
  • Research article
  • Open access
  • Published: 23 September 2014

A qualitative analysis of statements on motivation of applicants for medical school

  • Anouk Wouters 1 , 2 ,
  • Anneke H Bakker 1 ,
  • Inge J van Wijk 1 , 3 ,
  • Gerda Croiset 1 , 2 &
  • Rashmi A Kusurkar 1 , 2  

BMC Medical Education volume  14 , Article number:  200 ( 2014 ) Cite this article

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Selection committees try to ascertain that motivated students are selected for medical school. Self-determination theory stresses that the type of motivation is more important than the quantity of motivation. Autonomous motivation, compared to controlled motivation, in students leads to better learning outcomes. Applicants can express their motivation in written statements, a selection tool which has been found to elicit heterogeneous responses, hampering the comparison of applicants. This study investigates the content of applicants’ statements on motivation for medical school in particular, the possibility to distinguish the type of motivation and the differences between selected and non-selected applicants.

A thematic analysis was conducted on written statements on motivation (n = 96), collected as a part of the selection procedure for the graduate entry program for medicine and research at our institution. Themes were identified as motivation-related and motivation-unrelated (additional). The motivation-related themes were further classified as autonomous and controlled types of motivation. Group percentages for each theme were compared between selected and non-selected applicants using Chi-square test and Fisher exact test.

Applicants mainly described reasons belonging to autonomous type of motivation and fewer reasons belonging to controlled type of motivation. Additional themes in the statements included previous work experience and academic qualifications, ambitions, expectations and descriptions of the program and profession, personal qualities, and personal history. Applicants used strong words to support their stories. The selected and non-selected applicants did not differ in their types of motivation. Non-selected applicants provided more descriptions of personal history than selected applicants (p < 0.05).


The statement on motivation does not appear to distinguish between applicants in selection for medical school. Both selected and non-selected applicants reported mainly autonomous motivation for applying, and included a lot of additional information, which was beyond the scope of what was asked from them. The findings raise a question mark on the validity and reliability of the statement on motivation as a tool for selection. It could however be of added value to enable applicants to tell their story, which they appreciate, and to create awareness of the program, resulting in an informed decision to apply.

Peer Review reports

One of the aims during selection procedures for medical school is to get an idea of the applicants’ motivation [ 1 , 2 ]. Selection committees try to assess this through a description of applicants’ motivation in interviews, multiple mini interviews (MMI), personal statements, etc. [ 3 , 4 ]. However, a reliable assessment of motivation could be difficult to realize in high stakes situations [ 5 , 6 ], such as selection for medical school. A personal statement is a type of selection tool that often appears to evoke heterogeneous responses from applicants. In this study it is investigated whether statements on motivation as part of a selection procedure differ between selected and non-selected applicants.

By assessing the applicants’ motivation for medical school and the medical profession, selection committees want to ensure that the selected students are motivated. Self-determination theory (SDT; [ 7 – 9 ]) stresses that the type of motivation is more important than the quantity of motivation. It describes motivation as a continuum comprising of different states, namely a lack of motivation, motivation because of external factors and motivation because of internal factors (Figure  1 ). Autonomous motivation originates from within the individual and represents a sincere interest in (intrinsic motivation) and a positive personal valuation of (identified regulation) the study of medicine. Controlled motivation results from internal pressures, such as feelings of guilt or shame (introjected regulation), and external pressures, such as monetary rewards or parental pressure (external regulation). Autonomous motivation, in comparison with controlled motivation, in students has been found to result in better learning outcomes [ 10 – 15 ]. Moreover, the quality of motivation is a predictor of persistence and dropout [ 16 ].

figure 1

The Self-determination continuum of motivation (adapted from [ 8 ] ).

In selection procedures in many medical schools, applicants are asked to express their motivation for the medical study in a personal statement. Some studies have found personal statements to yield heterogeneous responses, complicating the comparison of applicants [ 3 ]. Though it is widely used, research on the personal statement’s reliability and ability to predict future performance is inconclusive [ 17 – 24 ]. In line with this, a more specific writing assignment used in selection procedures, the essay question, has been found to evoke a similar heterogeneity of responses. Applicants provide responses that went beyond the scope of the posed question, in order to “show themselves” and “tell their own story”, a phenomenon which is expected to occur regardless of the official topic [ 25 ].

In some selection procedures a statement on motivation is included. In personal statements, applicants are expected to write about a variety of issues relevant to their application, whereas a statement on motivation has a particular focus on motivation. Analysis of statements on motivation has never been done before. The current study adds to the literature by investigating the content of applicants’ statements on motivation for medical school and the ability of these statements to distinguish between applicants. The research questions were: 1) what do applicants write in their statements on motivation for medical school?, and 2) do statements on motivation of selected applicants differ from those of non-selected applicants? Statements on motivation will be analysed from an SDT perspective to identify autonomous and controlled types of motivation, and to examine whether selected applicants describe their motivation differently from non-selected applicants. Additional occurring themes will also be identified.

This study was based on the analysis of applicants’ statements on motivation for admission into a graduate entry program in medicine and research at VUmc School of Medical Sciences, Amsterdam. Applicants for this program need to have a Bachelor’s degree in Biomedical Sciences or Health Sciences. The statement on motivation was a part of the selection procedure in 2012. Of the 128 initial applicants, 116 met the educational qualifications criteria and were invited to participate in a three step selection procedure, which consisted of a basic science cognitive test, scoring of application forms (containing prior academic achievement, like GPAs, and affinity and experience with scientific research and health care) and a 6-station Multiple Mini Interview (Figure  2 ). Ultimately, the 24 best scoring applicants, based on their performance at all steps of the selection procedure, were offered admission to the program. As a part of the application form, submitted prior to the cognitive test, applicants were asked the following: “In max. 200 words, give an explanation of your motivation for applying for this graduate entry program at VUmc School of Medical Sciences” .

figure 2

Flow chart of the graduate entry selection procedure.

Data collection

Ninety-six statements on motivation were available for analysis. In order to capture all occurring themes, all submitted personal statements on motivation were included in this study after being anonymised. The statements on motivation were collected during the selection procedure, maximising the authenticity of the context for data collection. The analysis was carried out retrospectively, independent of the selection procedure.

Data analysis

A constructivist paradigm was chosen, acknowledging the subjectivity of the researchers [ 26 ]. The researchers considered the context in which the data were constructed, namely a high stakes selection procedure, and were aware of the possible influence of their prior knowledge of applicants’ approaches towards selection tools based on the literature. One researcher (IW), as the coordinator of the graduate-entry program, was involved in the selection procedure and was therefore not involved in the data analysis. The other researchers were not involved in the selection procedure.

Data were analysed in a deductive way for descriptions of motivation and other themes described by applicants simultaneously (because it was expected, based on the literature, that the statements on motivation would also contain themes beyond the scope of the assignment). After that a categorisation of the descriptions of motivation into autonomous and controlled types was conducted. Occurrence of the types of motivation and additional themes in the statements was then compared to identify differences between selected and non-selected applicants.

For identifying all themes described by applicants, a thematic analysis [ 27 ] was conducted on the statements on motivation by two researchers (AW and AB). AW is a PhD student in medical education, conducting research on selection and motivation, and was familiar with the literature on personal statements during the analysis. AB is a policy advisor on postgraduate training and was only slightly familiar with personal statements. Both researchers have an educational background in psychology and were not involved in the selection procedure. Analyses were conducted independently to identify keywords and phrases representing categories of the topics that were described. This provided the basis for a coding scheme, which was discussed and adjusted during the analysis when necessary. The coding scheme, as well as the observed patterns and new occurring categories, were monitored through the use of memo-writing and discussed between the researchers during several meetings throughout the analysis. Whenever a new category was identified, all data were screened again for occurrence of that category. Categories were clustered to form overarching themes, which were finalized through discussion and consensus. For example, the categories ambition for personal growth, ambition to contribute to society, and specified future work area together formed the overarching theme ambitions. All the research team members were involved in the final findings discussion, so there were enough checks and balances in arriving at the results.

The data on motivation were further categorised into autonomous and controlled motivation using the framework of SDT by AW and RK (an expert on SDT). Within autonomous motivation, quotes were identified as intrinsic motivation or identified regulation. Within controlled motivation, quotes were identified as external regulation or introjected regulation.

Frequency analysis was conducted for the occurrence of all identified themes, and of the different types of motivation of selected and non-selected applicants. Group percentages were compared using a Chi-square test, or a two-sided Fisher's exact test when some expected frequencies were less than 5, in order to investigate the ability of the identified themes and motivation types to distinguish between selected applicants and non-selected applicants.

Ethical approval

Ethical approval for this study was obtained from the Ethical Review Board of the Dutch Association for Medical Education (NVMO-ERB, file number 257).

Thematic analysis was conducted for all 96 statements. Eighteen of the 96 applicants withdrew their applications during the selection procedure, because they were admitted to a medical program in another school. Their statements were excluded from the analysis of frequency, as there was no way of knowing whether they would have been selected or not. The selected group consisted of the 24 applicants that were ultimately offered admission. The non-selected group consisted of 54 applicants who were rejected during the selection process or who were admitted from the waiting list, because these applicants would have been rejected if all 24 applicants who were initially invited to the program had accepted the offer of admission (see Figure  2 ).

Of the 96 applicants that wrote a statement on motivation, 27 were male (28.1%) and 69 were female (71.9%). The gender distribution of the selected group and the non-selected group was 5 males (20.8%), 19 females (79.2%) and 17 males (31.5%), 37 females (68.5%), respectively. The mean age was 23 (SD = 2) for 95 of the 96 applicants (as for one applicant information on age was not available), 22 (SD = 1) for the selected group and 23 (SD = 2) for the non-selected group.

The themes that occurred in the applicants’ statements on motivation are described and illustrated with quotes that were agreed upon by the research team as being representative for the findings. While analysing the data, two types of information were recognized. One was a description of participants’ motivation, as was intended by the selection committee. The other concerned additional personal information which seemed to be included to convince the selection committee to select the applicant. This covered a wide range of themes. There was overlap between themes, which will be addressed below.

Applicants described why they wanted to study medicine or become a doctor and/or researcher. These descriptions appeared to be in line with the published program description.

Example: “The program of the VU University leads you to become not only a doctor, but also a researcher. Both professions appeal to me, but it is especially the combination of the two that I am interested in”.

Applicants also provided statements of their enthusiasm and their strength of motivation, or they just expressed that they were motivated.

Example: “I have a lot of passion, motivation and drive for medicine, but also for research”.

They referred to their interests related to the study and profession, e.g. interest in the human body or helping people or doing research or the social aspect or specific specialties, etc. Applicants sometimes explained why these were their topics of their interest.

Example: “Since childhood I have been interested in people and their (dys)functioning. What makes a person sick and how can I make it better keeps fascinating me”

Applicants explained their choice for our institution, which could be driven by a preference for the organization of the institution or the attractions of the city.

Example: “The VU University is well organized and has a well-structured curriculum. These were the deciding factors for me to choose the VU University”.

Applicants’ motivation for applying could originate from personal life events.

Example: “But the main reason why I want to become a doctor, is because I almost lost my mother when I was ten years old. […] I've seen what the medical community meant for my mother and me and then I knew I wanted to become a doctor”.

The quotes in this theme were analysed further in order to identify autonomous motivation, i.e. doing something out of interest or enjoyment (intrinsic motivation) or because the behaviour is appreciated as being personally valuable (identified regulation) and controlled motivation, i.e. doing something for the promise of reward or the threat of punishment (external regulation) or because of experienced internal pressure, such as feelings of guilt and shame (introjected regulation).

Most (approximately 75%) of the reasons for applying for the graduate entry program described by the applicants could be categorised as autonomous motivation.

Example: “The human body fascinates me, right from the molecular level to the body as a whole. The way our cells communicate mesmerizes me, and the more I read about the perfect physiological functioning of the human body, the more I want to know about it”.

Within autonomous motivation, there were quotes that represented intrinsic motivation and identified regulation. Examples of intrinsic motivation are:

“My intrinsic motivation is the interest and respect I have for the patient as a human being. My fascination with the human body plays a very big role in this” “I compensate this [lack of experience in healthcare] with interest and motivation, and my affinity with science is greater than that of dopamine with its receptor”

An example of identified regulation is

“personal interaction with people is of great importance for me”.

A reason that could be categorised as controlled motivation was

“This program appeals to me because there might be more opportunities to start a PhD program during the Master education, and graduate earlier”.

Within controlled motivation, there were quotes that represented external regulation.

Example: “Next to the type of study, I would love to study in Amsterdam. I haven’t lived in a large (student) city in the Netherlands before, so I would love to experience living in the most famous Dutch city for a number of years”

No quotes were found in the introjected regulation category.

The numbers of descriptions of autonomous and controlled motivation themes were compared between selected and non-selected candidates (Table  1 ). No significant differences were found.

Additional personal information

Previous work experience and academic qualifications.

Applicants gave an overview of their prior education and work experience. They described how this had sparked their desire to become a doctor and researcher, what they missed and how the graduate entry program could fulfil their needs, and how these prior experiences made them suitable for the program.

Example: “At the moment I am a third year Bachelor student Biomedical Sciences at the VU, in addition I have gained managerial experience, I work as a volunteer in healthcare and I am doing an internship at the child and adolescent psychiatry department of the VUmc”.

Participants’ ambitions concerned personal growth or making a contribution to the society. Also, descriptions in this theme varied from a broad ambition of becoming a doctor or to help people, to a more specified intended work area for the future.

Example: “By being scientifically engaged (especially with my background as a biomedical scientist), I want to make a contribution to medical science and development”.

There seemed to be a distinction between applicants who described their desire to combine being a doctor and researcher, and applicants who mostly described their wish to become a doctor.

Examples: “I would like to bridge the gap between scientific research and medical practice: “from bench to bedside”. Physician-scientist seems to be the designated profession for this”. ”My greatest wish is: ‘to become a doctor’!”

Expectation and description of the graduate entry program and professionM

The program was addressed in terms of a description of the program characteristics, which often reflected the published program description. Applicants also described their expectations of the program. This concerned the expected challenging nature of the program, sometimes followed by a presentation of some of their personal qualities, to show how or why they would be able to handle this challenge. Descriptions also contained elaborations on the future profession, for example in terms of its societal relevance. Many applicants referred to how this program and profession would enable them to represent the link between science and health care, “theory and practice”.

Examples: “The combination of physician and researcher in this program is a great addition to my education, to get the complete picture of illness, health and the human being as a whole. The approach to bring these domains together is crucial to provide optimal care to patients”. “The graduate entry program of VUmc provides the possibility for conducting research full-time for a period of 8 months during the Master phase of medical education, and part-time during the clerkships”

Personal qualities

Applicants listed their personal qualities, either with or without providing an explanation or describing situations in which they had shown these qualities. Promises for future performance were made, like how well they would behave or perform in their studies, or how well they would function as doctors. Some applicants displayed their need to portray their relevant knowledge, for example of the human body or chemistry. Statements of self-confidence were also observed in this theme, which could entail applicants expressing their suitability for the program and their expectation to be chosen.

Examples: “If I get the chance to follow this program, I will make the maximum use of it. I think I'm fit as a candidate because I am passionate and critical, well capable of collaboration, and I can contribute to the learning process through active participation and discussions”. “I would like to let you know that I am a suitable candidate for admitting into the graduate entry program of the VUmc, and for completing it with satisfactory results” “Reliability, empathy, analytical ability, perseverance, and punctuality are the qualities that I pack in my suitcase for my medical journey”.

Personal history

Personal details concerned life experiences, which could be related or unrelated to health care, the applicants’ application history, and “near and dear ones” working in health care. Life experiences related to health care were descriptions of how the applicant, a relative or a friend was struck by a disease and the health care they received, observed or witnessed. Life experiences unrelated to health care entailed, for example, stories on migration and difficulties experienced in previous education.

When describing their path towards the current application, applicants wrote about the strength of their desire to become a doctor. This was expressed either in terms of how early in their childhood they had identified this desire, or the effort they had invested to be able to study medicine (e.g. the purpose of engaging in certain educational activities), or the disappointment and consequences that followed former failed applications.

Examples: “From early on in my high school years, I knew that I wanted to become a doctor. After finishing high school I enrolled into a pre-medical track … I knew that, after completing this, I would have a good chance of getting admission into a medical program. My secondary education and the University College have been a good preparation for the graduate entry program”. “Ever since my childhood, I have had to deal with a lot of sickness in my immediate environment” “As a political refugee from a country where people rarely have access to basic needs such as health care, and my experience with it, at a very young age I knew that I wanted to become a doctor and that I wanted to support less fortunate people”. “To my great sorrow, I was not admitted to medical school the past 3 years”.

Social aspect

Applicants described how the social nature of the medical profession appealed to them. This was often included in their description of what they missed in their current situation.

Example: “…, the medical profession appeals to me, because I like to have personal contact with people”.

Shortcomings in current situation

Applicants explained their current educational or professional situation and how this was not completely to their satisfaction. This often concerned their need for social interaction (with patients), which they expected to be fulfilled in the medical profession.

Example: “I think research is fun, useful and important, but if I do only research, I miss the contact with patients and what do they experience. And especially the feeling that I can (directly) help someone, that I can cure someone, that’s what I miss”.

Hope was expressed with regards to a successful outcome of the selection procedure. Applicants referred to their wish to proceed to the next step of the selection procedure or to be selected for medical school.

Examples: “I hope you give me the chance to explain more in an interview” “I really hope that I can participate in the next rounds of the selection procedure and I assure you of a 100 percent commitment to this study.”

In addition to the above mentioned themes, the use of strong words (superlatives) was observed in almost all applicants’ writings.

Examples: “The ultimate chance” “An enormous drive of motivation” ”a lifelong exciting adventure in the medical world” ”I am 100 percent convinced that I was born to work with people” “My dream, which gives an endless motivation”

Overlap between themes

As can be seen in previous examples, some quotes contained more than one theme. Mainly, there was overlap between the motivation theme and one of the additional personal information themes, as applicants used the additional information to explain their motivation. This is illustrated by an example of the overlap between motivation and personal history.

Example: “From the early years in my childhood, I have been confronted a lot of times with sickness in my immediate environment. This created a strong drive and passion in me to help people improve their health”.

Within the additional personal information themes, especially the overlap between the social aspect theme and the shortcomings in current situation theme was common.

Example: “I do follow my current Bachelor of Biomedical Sciences course with enthusiasm and great interest, but I miss the human interaction, the involvement with people and being able to mean something for them”.

The occurrence of all themes that were identified in the personal statements of the selected and the non-selected applicants was calculated separately in order to establish whether the most successful applicants (from the whole selection procedure) mentioned different themes. Table  2 shows the number of statements on motivation in which the themes were mentioned for the selected and non-selected applicants, as well as percentages. P-values are reported for the differences between the groups. Non-selected applicants (33/54, 61.1%) more often described their personal history than selected applicants (8/24, 33.3%, p < 0.05). Differences for other themes were not statistically significant.

This, to our knowledge, is the first study which reports about the type of motivation that applicants describe in statements on motivation used in a selection procedure for medical school. The reasons both selected and non-selected applicants provided for applying to the program were in line with findings from other studies [ 18 , 21 , 28 – 31 ] and concerned mainly autonomous motivation. There are two possible explanations for this finding. One is that those who apply to this program have higher autonomous motivation compared to controlled motivation. In another study (Wouters A, Croiset G, Galindo-Garre F, Kusurkar RA: Motivation of medical students: selection by motivation or motivation by selection, in preparation) on the selected population only (n = 21), we found high scores on autonomous motivation and moderate scores on controlled motivation (average scores of 6.19 and 4.12 on a Likert-scale of 1 to 7). Putting these results and those of the current study together, the large difference between reported autonomous and controlled types of motivation (75.4% autonomous motivation versus 16.9% controlled motivation), was not fully reflected in the motivation scores observed in the study on the selected population. This discrepancy indicates that applicants tend to emphasize their autonomous motivation and underreport their controlled motivation. This raises a question on the validity and reliability of a statement of motivation as a tool for selection. Similar behaviour was reported in research on essay questions [ 32 ]. A “hidden curriculum of admissions” was detected, described as ‘What do they want me to say’, which states that applicants estimate the expectations of the selection process and adjust their answers accordingly. The question remains whether a reliable assessment of motivation is possible in a high stakes situation such as selection.

Apart from the expressions of motivation, another type of information could be identified in the statements on motivation. This concerned information, which was beyond the scope of what was asked from them. Similar to findings from other studies, the inclusion of information about the personal qualities, prior education, and work experience of the applicants was observed [ 19 , 29 ]. This type of information might have been included to show the applicant’s suitability for the medical program. We hypothesize that applicants provided a description of their personal circumstances, because they expected other applicants to be suitable as well, portraying similar qualities in their statements. The personal information might be perceived by the applicants as a means to convince the selection committee to select them over other applicants. Especially candidates who expect to fall short in terms of education and experience compared to the other candidates, might rely more on the impact their personal story has on the selection committee’s decision [ 29 ]. This could explain the difference in the number of statements of personal history between selected and non-selected applicants.

Without the ability to distinguish between applicants, could a written statement still be of added value in selection procedures? From the applicants’ point of view, the ability to tell their story and present themselves as unique individuals is much appreciated [ 25 , 29 ]. Our results indicate that applicants read the website and/or flyers about the program, and used the information to write their statements. Thus, from the selection committee’s point of view, the statement can be a useful tool to make those who are interested in studying medicine aware of the program characteristics. Especially when students receive insufficient information on a medical career from their schools, this tool will encourage them to explore the course characteristics, in order to be able to make a well-informed decision on whether or not to apply [ 31 ].

A written statement is a “difficult to score” tool, because of the heterogeneity of responses. In addition, written statements are subject to embellishment [ 33 ]. Applicants are likely to provide socially desirable answers in such a high stakes situation [ 34 , 35 ], and to get help in writing their statements [ 3 , 18 , 36 ]. Applicants turn to their peers, family or even professional agencies for input for their statements. Though written statements do not have a prominent role in selection in the Netherlands (which may reduce the likelihood of applicants turning to professional agencies), the findings on the content of the statements in this study are consistent with findings observed in countries where the personal statement is given more importance.

A strength of the present study was that some research team members were experts on SDT and others were not. This facilitated in-depth analysis of the data as well as identification of the whole range of themes unrelated to SDT, but important in getting an insight into the use of “statements on motivation” by applicants. This study has some limitations. First, the background of the researchers could have biased the analysis and interpretation of the data. In qualitative research however, and especially in accordance with the constructivist paradigm, reflection on the background of the researchers can benefit the research. Prior knowledge does not necessarily infer, and can even contribute to a more meaningful interpretation of the data. Second, although for the selected applicants we were able to compare findings from the current study with measurements on autonomous and controlled motivation from a previous study, such comparisons were not possible for the non-selected applicants. It is expected that selected and non-selected applicants show similar behaviour in response to a writing assignment during a selection procedure. A third limitation is the difficulty we experienced in categorising a few of the motivation quotes (especially the intrinsic motivation and identified regulation quotes). We resolved differences of opinion through discussion and consensus.

This study provided an insight in the statement on motivation as part of a selection procedure for medical school. Both selected and non-selected applicants described mainly autonomous motivation for applying and were less elaborate on their controlled motivation. Our results suggest that a statement of motivation is not a valid and reliable tool for the assessment of motivation. The statement on motivation could be of value to make applicants aware of the program characteristics, resulting in an informed decision to apply, and to provide space for telling their story.

Authors’ information

AW, MSc, is a PhD student in medical education at VUmc School of Medical Sciences.

AB, MSc, is the Head of Faculty Development and a policy advisor on postgraduate medical education at VUmc School of Medical Sciences.

IW, PhD, is coordinator of the graduate entry program in medicine and research at VUmc School of Medical Sciences.

GC, MD, PhD, is Professor in medical education and the Director of VUmc School of Medical Sciences.

RK, MD, PhD, is an Assistant Professor and the Head of Research in Education at VUmc School of Medical Sciences.


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The authors thank Jennie Souissa, management assistant graduate entry program in medicine and research, VUmc School of Medical Sciences, for gathering and anonymising all statements on motivation.

This research was partly funded by The Netherlands Federation of University Medical Centres (NFU).

We and the applicants used VU and VUmc interchangeably, addressing the same institution.

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All authors were involved in the conception and design of the study and the interpretation of data. IW was responsible for the acquisition of data. AB, RK and AW performed the data analysis. AW was responsible for drafting the manuscript. The other authors contributed to the writing process by providing critical appraisal. All authors contributed towards important intellectual content in the manuscript. All authors read and approved the final manuscript, and agree to be accountable for all aspects of the work in ensuring that questions related to the accuracy or integrity of any part of the work are appropriately investigated and resolved.

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Wouters, A., Bakker, A.H., van Wijk, I.J. et al. A qualitative analysis of statements on motivation of applicants for medical school. BMC Med Educ 14 , 200 (2014). https://doi.org/10.1186/1472-6920-14-200

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  • Medical school selection
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ISSN: 1472-6920

sample research questions on motivation

A Self-Determination Theory Approach to Work Motivation of Autistic Adults: A Qualitative Exploratory Study

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  • Volume 53 , pages 1529–1542, ( 2023 )

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  • Yael Goldfarb   ORCID: orcid.org/0000-0002-9895-6195 1 ,
  • Ofer Golan 2 , 3 &
  • Eynat Gal 1  

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The study explores work motivation of autistic adults through the lens of Self-Determination Theory (SDT). Twelve autistic employees (ages 28–47; 3 females) participated in semi-structured qualitative interviews about their work experience. Analysis combined inductive and deductive approaches, identifying motivational themes emerging from the interviews, and analyzing them according to SDT concepts. Two major themes emerged: (1) work motivation factors positioned on the self-determination continuum: income and self-reliance; a daily routine; social/familial internalized norms; meaning and contribution; and job interest; and (2) satisfaction of psychological needs at work, postulated by SDT: competence, social-relatedness, and autonomy and structure. Findings are discussed in relation to current literature, and practical applications are suggested for meeting the motivational needs of autistic employees and promoting employment stability.

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Successful employment integration is a desired outcome in adulthood, but growing research shows that for autistic adults this goal is not easily achieved. Research assessing employment outcomes of autistic adults shows lower employment rates and inferior job conditions (e.g., fewer hours of work per week, lower salary, reduced job variation) in relation to the general population and to other adults with disabilities (Beenstock et al., 2020 ; Roux et al., 2013 ; Wilczynski et al., 2013 ). Further evidence suggests that while some autistic adults manage to obtain a job, fewer are able to maintain their position over time. Instead, they tend to experience postsecondary vocational disruption (Taylor & DaWalt, 2017 ; Taylor & Mailick, 2014 ).

Poor employment outcomes are related to both personal and environmental factors. Personal factors are associated with the autism diagnosis (American Psychiatric Association, 2013 ), expressed in communication and social interaction difficulties in the workplace, as well as restricted repetitive patterns of behavior, and sensory sensitivities that affect one’s work experience and performance. Additional challenges stem from co-occurring neuro-psychiatric conditions such as ADHD, anxiety, and depression (Anderson et al., 2020 ; Black et al., 2020 ; Hedley et al., 2018 ; Scott et al., 2019 ), that are commonly associated with autism. Environmental factors that impede work possibilities may include stigma, a lack of modifications in recruitment processes, and work settings that do not enable proper accommodations (Black et al., 2020 ; Johnson et al., 2020 ; Waisman-Nitzan et al., 2019 ). Therefore, efforts to promote employment outcomes of autistic adults call for collaboration between multiple stakeholders (Nicholas et al., 2018 ).

In attempt to improve vocational integration of autistic adults, several studies have aimed to identify factors that predict positive employment outcomes. Key factors highlighted include daily functional performance (e.g. daily living skills, communication abilities, self-care skills), family background and parental involvement, work environment accommodations, vocational supports, and transition services providing early workplace experience (Black et al., 2020 ; Hayward et al., 2019 ; Wong et al., 2020 ). The concept of self-determination has also received growing attention in recent years. Although the conceptualization of the term is somewhat different across disciplines and studies, definitions share the common theme of a behavior that is self-regulated, volitional, goal-directed and autonomous (Cheak-Zamora et al., 2020 ; Test et al., 2014 ; Wehmeyer et al., 2017 ). Scholars highlight fostering self-determination as an important element in high quality transition services for young autistic adults (Lee & Carter, 2012 ). Common work-related self-determination skills are self-advocating for job accommodations, solving problems in the workplace, fulfilling work responsibility and developing career plans (Wong et al., 2020 ). However, at least in the employment arena, associations between self-determination and employment outcomes did not show significant results (Wong et al., 2020 ; Zalewska et al., 2016 ). Thus, further research employing different measures and refined methods is needed in order to capture the role of self-determination in employment processes of autistic adults.

Self-Determination Theory (SDT) of motivation has been suggested as a useful framework for navigating employment for autistic adults (Goldfarb et al., 2019 ). The theory is concerned with the motivation behind work choices, focusing on the degree to which an individual's behavior is self-determined. Employee motivation is a fundamental concept in work-related research, affecting performance, job satisfaction and commitment, and promoting job success (Kehr et al., 2018 ). However, this concept was seldom mentioned in relation to employment of autistic adults. Work motivation seems particularly relevant in this population, due to a commonly found mismatch between interests, individual skills and employment (Anderson et al., 2020 ). Consequently, in order to secure a job, autistic individuals are often obligated to work in jobs that might not fit their abilities and perform tasks they may not find interesting. These are demonstrated in the common gap between educational attainment and job characteristics in autism, known as 'over-education' (Baldwin et al., 2014 ). When jobs do not match interests or do not manifest abilities, a decrease in work motivation may follow, possibly leading to turnover and reduced employment stability.

Theories of motivation commonly differentiate intrinsic motivation (i.e., an engagement in work primarily for its own sake, because the work itself is satisfying or interesting) from extrinsic motivation (i.e. receiving something apart from the work itself, such as income and other benefits). SDT goes beyond this dichotomous view, and suggests a further distinction between autonomous and controlled motivation (Gagné & Deci, 2005 ). Autonomous motivation is experienced as self-determined, an act of choice and free will, while controlled motivation is determined by external factors. According to SDT, intrinsic motivation presents the highest level of autonomous behavior. However, extrinsic motivations for work can also be experienced as autonomous, even in the absence of an intrinsic drive (Ryan & Deci, 2000 ).

The extent of autonomy driving the behavior is described by means of a continuum ranging from amotivation, lacking self-determination, to intrinsic motivation, which is invariantly self-determined. Between amotivation and intrinsic motivation , different types of extrinsic motivation are situated, ordered by the degree of self-determination regulating them (Gagné & Deci, 2005 ). External regulation , the classic type of extrinsic motivation, is described as acting in order to obtain an external purpose. The succeeding extrinsic motivations are considered to have an internalized self-regulatory nature which does not demand an external contingency. Introjected regulation refers to behaviors led by ego-involvement and self-esteem, such as pressure to feel worthy and avoidance of shame. Identified regulation describes activities that are instrumentally important for personal goals, even though not enjoyable. For example, a teacher may be motivated to grade papers because she thinks it supports her students’ learning, even if she does not enjoy the activity. According to this model, the more internalized the motives are, the more self-determined the motivation is, promoting pathways to meaningful work (Duffy et al., 2016 ). See Table 1 for an illustration of the continuum, ranging from amotivation to intrinsic motivation. 

SDT further states that the process of internalization does not occur in a void but can rather be supported and promoted by satisfaction of three psychological needs in the workplace: competence, social-relatedness, and autonomy. Competence refers to a person's need for experiencing mastery of performance; Social-relatedness means being connected to others in meaningful ways; and autonomy provides a sense of authenticity, choice, and volition. Accordingly, SDT suggests that frustration of these needs can decrease motivation (Baard et al., 2004 ; Deci et al., 2001 ; Gagné et al., 2015 ; Reis et al., 2000 ). Among these basic psychological needs, addressing the need for social-relatedness appears to be especially relevant for autistic adults, since social difficulties are at the core of the autism diagnosis. While there is evidence of diminished motivation for social stimuli and social ties (Chevallier et al., 2012 ; Clements et al., 2018 ), studies that look into experiences of autistic adults clearly show an expression of social interest (Jaswal & Akhtar, 2018 ; Krieger et al., 2012 ), highlighting it as a potentially important work-related need. A central benefit of recognizing the relevance of these needs to autistic adults, is the idea that motivation is not just a given state a person either has or does not have, but rather something that can be facilitated. Thus, the theory holds the promising possibility of promoting self-determined motivation by providing an environment that responds to these needs, even in the absence of intrinsic motivation.

The purpose of the current study is to explore work motivation of autistic employees through the lens of SDT. Due to the preliminary nature of this inquiry, qualitative methodology was chosen. The research questions were: (1) What are the motivational factors that guide autistic adults in their work? (2) How do they relate to the SDT self-determination continuum? and (3) How are the needs for competence, social-relatedness and autonomy, defined by SDT, experienced and fulfilled by autistic adults in the workplace?

Study Design

The research design is embedded within a realist/essentialist paradigm, assuming that experience and meaning are shared in a straightforward way, which is fitted for assessing the construct of motivation (Braun & Clarke, 2006 ). Semi-structured interviews were carried out, constructed and analyzed according to two methodological approaches: thematic analysis, offering an inductive (‘bottom up’) process, coding the content of the data in order to recognize emerging themes (Braun & Clarke, 2006 ); and theory-driven analysis (MacFarlane & O’Reilly-De Brún, 2012 ), analyzing the data in a deductive (‘top down’) process, relating the content to SDT constructs. These approaches inform the design of the interview protocol, which included both general questions regarding work motivation and specific questions relating to SDT concepts. These approaches also guide the process of data analysis.


A purposeful selection of participants was carried out through organizations and service-providers working with autistic adults (such as vocational counselors and vocational rehabilitation coaches). They were asked to forward an advertisement including information about the study to potential participants. The advertisement included information about the study and the criteria for participation. Inclusion criteria were: (1) a formal diagnosis of ASD by a psychiatrist or a psychologist, based on DSM-IV or DSM-5 criteria. An alternative criterion was the approval and formal recognition of an ASD diagnosis as the individual’s primary disability by the National Insurance Institute or by the Ministry of Labor, Social Affairs and Social Services of Israel—since they require a formal DSM-based diagnosis; (2) a minimum age of 18; (3) at least 12 years of formal education (i.e. completion of secondary education, which is a prerequisite for many jobs in the competitive job-market). (4) having worked for at least 6 consecutive months in competitive employment (i.e. earning a salary), within the last 2 years, either in the current job, or in a former one.

Participants who expressed interest in participating, contacted the researcher through an e-mail address or a phone number mentioned in the advertisement. They were contacted in response, in order to validate inclusion criteria, provide further information about the study, and schedule an interview. All of the participants who answered the advertisement and agreed to participate were included in the study, without further exclusion.

Interviews were conducted with twelve adults (3 females), ages 28–47 (M = 35.0, SD = 5.5). A sample size consisting of 12 participants was established according to the researcher's evaluation that data saturation was achieved at this point, meaning that no new information or themes were observed from additional interviews (Boddy, 2016 ). Participants’ educational level varied. One participant had a high-school diploma, one was a student beginning his academic education track, six attained non-academic vocational training in various fields, and four had an academic degree. As for job descriptions, five worked in jobs related to computer and science (e.g. quality assurance or data science), and the others had various jobs in fields such as music, food services, gardening, and administrative office-work. Participants' education and employment information are presented in Table 2 . Most of the participants reported disclosing their diagnosis to their employers. Recruitment through vocational coaching and employment services perhaps influenced this proportion since work-place job coaching and accommodations require such disclosure.


Demographic questionnaire.

Participants were asked to fill out a short questionnaire collecting background information regarding: gender, age (at time of interview), post-secondary education, and current or most recent job.

Semi-structured Interview

According to the study’s design, the interview protocol included both general questions tapping into work motives, and specific questions relating to SDT concepts. At first, participants were asked to share information about occupational background, including prior and current work experiences. Succeeding questions related to general work motives, and motivational factors at the current job. For example, “why do you work”? and “what do you enjoy in your work”? These general questions were followed by more specific open-ended questions guided by the SDT conceptual framework, specifically addressing work experiences related to the three basic psychological needs (a) autonomy at work (e.g., “to what extent do you feel you have freedom of choice in doing your job”?); (b) relationships with the employer and co-workers at the workplace (e.g., “tell me about the social environment at your workplace”); and (c) the feeling of competence at work (e.g., “do you feel you are doing your job well”?). To broaden the scope of information collected, questions about interviewees’ perceptions of supporting factors and barriers in vocational integration were included. Finally, questions about interests and hobbies were asked in order to identify interest areas and their possible relation to employment. See Online appendix 1 for the full interview protocol.

The research was approved by the ethics committee of the first author’s University. Coordination of the recruitment process and all interviews were carried out by the first author, a vocational psychologist with extensive experience counseling autistic adults. The interview took place in a quiet location agreed upon with the participant, mostly at a university office or the counseling clinic of the interviewer. Before the interview, participants expressed their informed consent in writing and filled out a written demographic questionnaire. Interviews were conducted in a fluent associative manner, allowing the participant to lead the conversation with little intervention, while the protocol was used by the interviewer to ensure all subjects were addressed. Therefore, the sequence of the questions varied from one interview to the other. The interviewer's professional background helped her navigate the interview and ensure that the questions were understood by the participants. At the end of the interview, participants were monetarily compensated for their time. Interview duration ranged between 48 and 75 min. Interviews were audio-recorded and later transcribed verbatim. All names mentioned (of people, places, and institutions) were changed in the transcription process. Data were collected prior to the COVID-19 pandemic, and therefore did not affect the participants’ experiences.

Data Analysis

Analysis involved two processes (Moran et al., 2014 ): (1) An inductive process using thematic analysis to identify motivational themes that emerged from the interview materials. (2) A deductive process in which themes were related to SDT constructs, observing congruencies with SDT, supplemented by unique aspects portrayed by the study's participants.

It included the following stages (Howard et al., 2019 ): (a) reading of the first transcript line by line; (b) noting descriptive comments and coding initial segments of the data which seemed relevant to the research questions; (c) noting emergent themes. Codes included both information that was ‘data-driven’, i.e., statements relating to work motivation in general, and ‘theory-driven’, i.e., statements relating to SDT constructs that address work-related needs; (d) repeating stages a-c for all transcripts; (e) gathering and reorganizing data into a coding book, allowing the researcher to attain a comprehensive overall assessment and identify emerging themes across accounts; (f) clustering themes into a list of master and sub-themes.

The coded data converged under two major themes. The first, related to general work motives, i.e., reasons that participants stated as to why they work or invest in their work. The theme was further sub-categorized into the different work motives mentioned in the data. Finally, each sub-theme was assessed in relation to a specific category of the self-determination continuum, (illustrated in Table  1 ). The second theme included statements about work-related needs and their satisfaction or frustration in the workplace. Sub-themes were informed by SDT construct of the basic psychological needs at work—competence, relatedness and autonomy.

The following measures were taken in order to enhance the credibility of the study (Brantlinger et al., 2005 ):

The interviews and initial analysis were carried out by the first author, a vocational psychologist who was aware of her position outside of the autistic community, possibly representing neurotypcial expectations of adjustment to work. This position was kept in mind when attentively listening to the work motives mentioned, some were not the common motives that come to mind (such as the need for a daily structure), and may seem different from career advancement or prestige, motivations that come to mind for neurotypicals.

In order to enhance reflectivity and trustworthiness, a reflective diary was sketched, documenting the interviewer's thoughts and feelings and their impact on study process and data interpretation. While documenting the first author’s thoughts, she noticed that for some of the participants, her presence was experienced as a representative of normative society and expectations, and the content of the interviews was shaped by their reactions to such figures (whether a tendency to please the other, or a defiance of work-related norms). These impressions complimented the motives that participants portrayed, as work itself is a societal construct to which they react in various ways.

After the initial analysis made by the interviewer, further analysis was conducted, in collaboration with the second and third authors, evaluating the data. Both are researchers with extensive knowledge and experience in the field of autism, rooted in different professional disciplines (clinical psychology and occupational therapy), thus conducting investigator triangulation to enhance credibility. Like the first author, they are not members of the autistic community. All authors reviewed the coding book comprising coding categories and themes and agreed upon the themes and sub-themes presented in the findings. The relations between the findings and SDT were specifically discussed in length, aiming to highlight which motives may appear to be more common in the general population and SDT literature, and which are more unique, possibly relating to employment circumstances of autistic adults.

Thick descriptions of the themes and demonstrative quotes are provided in order to support interpretations and conclusions suggested in the findings. Since the number of quotes that can be provided is limited in a report of this length, the number of participants making a statement associated with a theme is mentioned to enhance credibility of the analysis.

Two major themes emerged from the data. The first theme offers an answer to the first research question—what are the motivational factors that guide autistic adults in their work? It focuses on motives that the participants stated for working and putting effort into work. In the initial analysis, these motives were grouped into five sub-themes. Subsequently, the motives were positioned progressively along the self-determination continuum, from the most extrinsically regulated behavior, to more self-determined behavior. This procedure, positioning the motives in relation to the continuum, responds to the second research question asking how do they relate to the SDT self-determination continuum. The second theme corresponded with the psychological needs described by SDT, and with the third research question examining how the needs for competence, social-relatedness and autonomy are experienced and fulfilled by autistic adults in the workplace. The categories and representative quotes are illustrated in Fig.  1 .

figure 1

Emerging themes and quotes, positioned along to the self-determination continuum (Gagné & Deci, 2005 ), and in relation to the three psychological needs postulated by SDT

Theme 1: Work Motivation Positioned on the Self-determination Continuum

A variety of motivations for work emerged from the data. The majority of the participants reported more than one work motivation and different types of regulations guiding their behaviors simultaneously.

Sub-theme 1: Income and Self-reliance

Income was the most mentioned motivation for working, raised by ten of the participants. Often, participants who mentioned this motivation also said it is the main or most prominent reason why they go to work every day. For some it was a necessity, enabling subsistence. Others mentioned it in relation to self-reliance, permitting them to be their own masters, make decisions, and live independently without having to rely on their parents. Most of the participants did not refer to the level of income, but to the fact that they needed money for their everyday necessities:

"Why do I work? for a living… I don't need to elaborate because it's obvious… the only thing that's important to me is to work and earn really well so that I can move into my own apartment" (Eli).

Only a few mentioned they strive to reach a high salary, or progress in their income level. This externally regulated reason for working fits the common definition of extrinsic motivation, depending on a contingency of reward.

Sub-theme 2: A Daily Routine

Another common motivation to work, raised by seven of the participants, was having a daily routine, a structure arranging their daily lives. Work is experienced as a positive way of keeping busy and finding a sense of stability:

"It's not just the money, it's being occupied. I can't sit as home… [when I work,] I go out, I see places, I see people… it fills an important part of the day, there's a daily schedule, you don't feel like your life is wasting" (Michelle).

Concurrently, the absence of routine holds negative emotional consequences, leading to depression and feelings of emptiness. In relation to the self-determination continuum, the theme posits an internal motive, which fits the 'introjected regulation' category, valuing the positive effect of being active, and avoiding the negative emotions that arise from unemployment. While this theme does not fully match the motives commonly related to introjected regulation which emphasize ego-involvement and are more socially dependent (e.g., strive for prestige or shame resulting from failure) they are actions regulated by internal states of emotion.

Sub-theme 3: Social/familial Internalized Norms

Five participants referred to their work motivation as a basic given state, nested in family and society. Principles of work as a fundamental value were mentioned along with experiences of working from a relatively early age. Work was considered a 'normal' human experience and a way of being, that all individuals should be included in:

"That's what I saw at home. I was educated on work, responsibility and diligence. My brothers started to work at the age of 13. I also went to work. I think I would have gone crazy at home and I think that I am qualified enough to work. I know my value, in spite of all my difficulties". (Shelley).

The unquestioned norm of working was suggested to come at the expense of trying to find a job that fits abilities and needs:

"I always felt I had to work… I think you can say it motivated me all these years and as a consequence I worked in jobs that didn't fit me" (Aaron).

Others associated not working with negative values such as immorality, being a 'bum', and living on other people's expenses. To a further extent, work motivation was mentioned by Joey from a global modern economic perspective: "Without the institution called work, the human society would have not progressed…".

The experiences shared demonstrate how voices of family and values of society are internalized to become in inner-voice identifying with the value of work as an aim for itself, and thus can be positioned within the category of identified extrinsic regulation.

Sub-theme 4: Meaning and Contribution

Finding meaning in work was the second most common motive mentioned, raised by seven of the participants. Meaning was sometimes directly related to the role and tasks performed. Leo for example, worked as a lab manager in an educational environment, and was driven by being able to positively influence students: "This job is a mission, it's education. It's the job of making others love science". For others, the sense of meaning was indirect. Aaron found meaning in working in a company which manufactured products that could better the lives of the consumers, and even referred to the possible change led by the product as "healing". Shelley found meaning in giving service to clients in a medical setting and contrasted her experience to other jobs that, according to her, do not contribute to others, such as sales.

Two of the participants did not fulfill an aspect of contributing to others in their current job, but mentioned it as something they aspire to, or enjoyed in the past. They expressed a desire to do good and stated that even if not being able to manifest it in a paying job, they would volunteer: "I would have liked to be of service to someone… I would volunteer and donate money for different causes" (Andy). Future plans for higher education were also related to purpose and meaning. It is evident in the experiences shared that the values expressed through jobs and career goals reflect personal goals and as such also align with identified regulation.

Sub-theme 5: Job Interest

Eight of the participants addressed the issue of job interest, but only three of them mentioned some degree of interest in their current job and added reservations about their level of interest. Although participants were not asked to rate their work motives, descriptions suggest that it was not the first and most important motivation, and that this aim was compromised for the goal of finding and maintaining a job. Noah, working in software quality assurance, expressed overall satisfaction with his job, but nonetheless did not find inherent enjoyment in it:

"I learned software programming and there's nothing in this job that would make me want to invest more in the field in my spare time. I mostly do the job and just turn to a different mode".

Aaron also mentioned a certain extent of interest in his job, but it was not equivalent to his priority interest in history:

"It's relatively nice… I like that there's a huge variety… I have some interest in high-tech and that we're working on something innovative… but to tell you it's a source of joy? No, it isn't. If it was up to me, I would work in what I love…".

Other participants did not find particular interest in their jobs but did mention it as an aspiration. Two participants addressed the combination of income and interest as a contradiction. All in all, interest in a job did encompass a theme that threaded through the experiences of the participants, but other motivations were more prominent in work choice, and those who did achieve this aspiration did so partially.

Theme 2: Satisfaction of Psychological Needs

Participants extensively related to all three psychological needs defined by SDT as nutriments of the motivational process: competence, social-relatedness, and autonomy. All three components were mentioned as positive factors when satisfied, and negative factors when these needs were not fulfilled. Specific information regarding fulfillment of these needs emerged from the data, outlining how satisfaction can be achieved by the participants.

Sub-theme 1: Competence

All of the participants described experiences of competence in a positive light and experiences of incompetence in a negative context, mostly in relation to former jobs from which they were fired. Many described the feeling of competence as building up over time and established with experience:

"I persisted because once you are experienced at your job you know how to practice, it's like football training, that you perform many times and then you become a better player" (Joey).

The feeling of competence grew as the job became more familiar, concurrently with an elevated feeling of independence since having a familiar work schedule reduced dependence on instructions from others. A collective aspect of competence was that it depended on explicit feedback about the quality of the work. The feeling of competence was related to external evaluations.

Feelings of incompetence were sometimes associated with the autism diagnosis or other co-occurring disabilities such as dyscalculia, spatial orientation difficulties, insufficient initiative, or social deficits. The satisfaction of the need for competence was vividly portrayed in Rey's experience, after being repositioned within the organization:

"When they figured out I had a problem with costumers, they let me run quality assurance and sort hardware. They gave me boxes and boxes and boxes of hardware that wasn't surely working. And you need to clean it, and sort it, and rearrange, and I was very good at it... I was alone and I sorted, and everything was okay" (Rey).

The participants' descriptions stress the necessity of gaining work experience and external feedback in building competence. When a stable feeling of competence was achieved, it was contextually related to work satisfaction and motivation.

Sub-theme 2: Social-relatedness

Social-relatedness was a highly referenced theme, described by all of the participants. Two kinds of workplace relationships reflected the feeling of social-relatedness: friendly relationships with colleagues, and constructive relationships with employers, that included a sense of care and security.

Social-relatedness to Employers and Supervisors

Positive emotions were associated with employer-employee relationships that included compassion and respect. Participants mentioned a specific understanding of their needs due to their diagnosis, and flexibility in relation to these needs, such as individual work hours or longer breaks. These aspects were evident in Noah's words:

"I was accepted to work by a person who treated me very respectfully. He learned quickly that if I need to stay overtime, he should give me an early notice so I can prepare myself… the managers were attuned to my needs".

A positive relationship with an employer was also evident in Sarah's description portraying a reciprocal relationship and feelings of caring and empathy:

"When the owner and I work together—it's positive… the dynamic is good, there's cooperation. Maybe because it's one-on-one… you can trust… and also say the unpleasant things… feedback, what you liked, what you didn't like… you sometimes need to sit together and ask, how are you feeling? Is there something you need?".

Participants also gave examples of reassurance they received from their supervisors, that gave them a sense of security. Aaron thankfully described a situation in which his manager protected his rights when HR wanted to cut back in his days off and successfully demanded his work conditions are preserved.

In contrast, examples of mistreatment were described as negatively affecting the work experience:

"If someone speaks to me in an unpleasant way, I take it personally and then it brings me to, I wouldn't say anxiety, but it would lead to a touch of depression. How could he speak to me that way? What did I do?" (Rey)

The influence of negative experiences in employer-employee relationships is evident in the data and reflects a personal feeling of hurt and injustice.

Social-relatedness to Colleagues

Participants articulated the feeling of social-relatedness through descriptions of work anecdotes that reflected positive feelings of being part of a social atmosphere, sharing inner-jokes and being accepted:

"I had an amazing team. Well connected, knew the work… we also had funny moments… jokes and nonsense, laughter. You sit and talk about what you're going through and then someone throws a comment and then there's a joke. There was a really really good feeling of friendship" (Joey).

As with employer-employee relationships, a sense of reciprocity was also evident as contributing to a feeling of social-relatedness and satisfaction: "I feel I could ask for help, and they would come and help me. And when they ask, I would come. It feels like a reciprocal interaction" (Eli).

Not all participants shared experiences of ideal social interactions, but the importance of the factor and a yearning for closer social relationships at work was evident:

"Relationships are okay. We're not friends outside of work, but we're like a family in the workplace… we sit together and see each other more than any other person in the world. A comfortable and positive atmosphere. But the restaurant vouchers destroyed social relationships. Each person prefers something else and eats alone. In my former workplace, there was time in the cafeteria when everyone ate lunch together" (Nathan).

For some of the participants, the feeling of social relatedness specifically differentiated a good workplace from a bad one:

"I had good company, people that are warm and supportive…everything flows like a river, fun and smooth… in other places, like now, I don't have the fun. I come without energy." (Michelle).

Social-relatedness was also mentioned as a buffer, helping to manage work pressure: "We are constantly being monitored so we make use of the time to do more… it's a lot of pressure, but on the other hand, when you're together then there's the feeling that everyone pitches in and contributes" (Aaron).

The various experiences shared reflect the centrality of social-relatedness in the workplace. Satisfaction of the need positively influences well-being at work, and negative consequences follow when these needs are unfulfilled.

Sub-theme 3: Autonomy and Structure

Eleven of the participants referred to autonomy and choice as a relevant and meaningful factor in their job. The importance of autonomy was evident along various stages of the work integration process: choosing post-secondary education; choosing a specific workplace; choosing which tasks to perform as part of the job; and managing the daily schedule. One of the participants described work itself as promoting a feeling of autonomy and independence in transition to adulthood.

There was some variability in the degree of the need for autonomy. Michelle expressed the highest need for support, mentioning difficulty with decision making, needing to constantly consult with a trusted friend. She also expressed a need for a very structured daily routine, with little room for change. On the other end of the scale, Sarah expressed a high need for autonomy, reflected in a preference for working as a self-employed event-designer:

"Tell me in the morning what you want me to do. But in the middle of the day don't tell me 'you didn't do this, you didn't do that'. That’s unacceptable because I have my order. I don't work the way that other people plan".

Most of the participants ranged between these two ends.

The need for choice and autonomy was expressed along with a preference for a stable structure and/or a person that can offer advice. In fact, it appears that structure functions as a facilitator, enabling the fulfillment of the need for autonomy. Participants mostly preferred to be given a few options to choose from, instead of having an undefined range of possibilities. For one participant autonomy took the form of disobedience and unwillingness to conform to the job rules that he didn't agree with. This was an exception, as most participants described a combination of understanding the norms and demands of the job, seeking a structure, while still having a sense of choice and control.

The current study offers a first look into work motivation of autistic adults through the lens of SDT. We combined inductive and deductive approaches that allowed to identify motivational themes emerging from interviews, and then to analyze them according to SDT concepts. Findings highlight the motives that drive participants to enter the work force and sustain their jobs, situate them in relation to the self-determination continuum and to the subjective experiences of satisfaction and frustration of psychological needs in the workplace.

Next, we present the associations between the work motives found and current literature, highlighting resemblances to the SDT literature along with unique characteristics of autistic employees. Further, we discuss ways to promote satisfaction of basic psychological needs of autistic employees and suggest practical implications of the study’s findings.

Work Motivation Positioned on the Self-determination Continuum

The first and most widely stated motivation for work was earning money. It is apparent from the data that money is not an aim by itself, but a mean for achieving independence and basic subsistence. This motivation is in line with Maslow's ( 1943 ) classic hierarchical model of psychological needs defining that behavior is governed first by physiological and safety needs, deemed more urgent for survival. At the same time, it also expresses a desire for self-support, reducing reliance. Further on the continuum, the need for daily occupation was also a widely stated work motivation. This motive is not commonly demonstrated in the STD literature. Although the participants held fairly stable jobs, many of them described a discontinuous employment history, common for autistic adults (Taylor & DaWalt, 2017 ). Given the negative influence of unemployment on mental health (Paul & Moser, 2009 ), it may be that individuals who experienced the undesirable consequences of being unemployed, have learned to appreciate the daily routine that a regular job can offer.

Other motives showed a more internalized drive for work. The process of internalization was demonstrated through references to environmental factors, such as family values and cultural conventions. This process highlights how familial and societal values are intertwined with the voices of the participants and their value systems. Parents are often an ongoing source of support in the transition of autistic youth to adulthood, and parental expectations were shown to impact adult outcomes in employment (Carter et al., 2012 ; Chen et al., 2019 ; Kirby, 2016 ). Our findings portray a possible underlying process through which familial values are internalized to become a self-determined work motivation. Furthermore, they demonstrate the influence of cultural norms establishing the centrality of work aspirations, and align with previous findings that show the influence of cultural scripts on self-perception of autistic people (Brezis et al., 2016 ).

Other internalized motives describing a sense of purpose and meaning were the most self-determined extrinsic motivations mentioned. Participants strive to find meaning in their jobs, on different levels—the role, the organization and the workforce. This is a central aspect in SDT literature (Gagné & Deci, 2005 ), and a vital component in the possibility of maintaining work motivation in limiting circumstances (Duffy et al., 2016 ). Autistic employees appear to share this drive with the general population and can benefit from active attempts to promote their connectedness to organizational goals.

The motivation for working in an interesting job, (i.e., 'intrinsic motivation'), was addressed by the participants, but rarely fulfilled. Even participants who found some interest in their job, would have preferred a different vocation if interests were the main motivation driving them. For others, manifesting interests was not a goal they achieved at all, or even expected to. In a recent study examining the role of self-determination in shaping university experiences (Lei & Russell, 2021 ), autistic students stated being motivated only to pursue goals that aligned with their intrinsic interests, focusing on specific related professions. In our group of employed autistic adults who maintain a steady job, interests do not appear to be a primary consideration. Arguably, motivations and characteristics that drive and enable academic success may differ from those that lead to job integration, adding complexity to the transition from academic education to job-market integration.

Satisfaction of Psychological Needs

The minimal emphasis in the data on intrinsic motivation for work, highlights the importance of recognizing other motivational incentives. These can be found in the need for competence, social-relatedness and autonomy defined by SDT. Findings support the notion that satisfaction of these needs plays an important role in work integration of autistic adults, and further point to modifications specifying how these needs could be satisfied. Autistic adults are often considered to prefer and even enjoy monotonic repetitive tasks (Hagner & Cooney, 2005 ). Our data suggests that these tasks are not necessarily liked, in the sense of enjoyment or intrinsic motivation. Even so, it may be that the familiarity of the structured activity, along with the feeling of competence it fulfills, may outweigh the desire to work in an interesting job and help maintain motivation over time. Participants' accounts in the current study mostly associate an established feeling of competence to the existence of explicit feedback from managers. Previous studies support this relation, suggesting that autistic individuals show better assessment of self-knowledge when it is inferred through external cues (Dritschel et al., 2010 ; Mynatt et al., 2014 ) and prefer an explicit manner of communication (Waisman-Nitzan et al., 2019 ).

Findings show the centrality of social-relatedness through many references and anecdotes about the motivational implications of social experiences. Our findings support previous research stating that that even though autistic people might appear less socially interested, they often crave social relationships, and seek them in the workplace (Krieger et al., 2012 ; Pfeiffer et al., 2018 ). Furthermore, findings associate social relatedness to managerial figures who are familiar with the autism diagnosis and allow proper workplace accommodations. These aspects were previously related to positive employment outcomes (Lindsay et al., 2021 . The undesirable consequences of negative relationships in the workplace align with SDT literature in the general population (Van den Broeck et al., 2016 ), and in employees with psychiatric disabilities (Moran et al., 2014 ), but seem especially harmful for autistic employees who may not easily recuperate from such detrimental employment experience. Recent findings suggest that highly negative employment-related social interactions can cause individuals to be left out of the work cycle for long periods of time (Anderson et al., 2020 ), perhaps also by consequently reducing work motivation.

Findings highlight autonomy as a necessity in the workplace, in line with the literature supporting recent findings suggesting autonomy is an occupational enabler (Hayward et al., 2019 ). In the current study, satisfaction of autonomy mostly occurs under the specific condition of a structured work environment. The relation between autonomy and structure as complimenting each other in fostering motivation was previously suggested within SDT literature in a learning context (Jang et al., 2010 ), and appears to also be a substantial factor in employment contexts of autistic adults. Studies in the general population show the positive aspects of creating a work environment that supports employee autonomy through acknowledging employee perspectives, and providing them with opportunities for volition over what they do and how they do it (Baard et al., 2004 ; Moreau & Mageau, 2012 ). A proposed way of promoting autonomy satisfaction is through allowing 'job crafting', a method by which employees reshape their tasks to create a better fit between their individual skills and preferences and the demands of their jobs (Wrzesniewski & Dutton, 2001 ). Slemp et al. ( 2015 ) link job crafting to autonomy supportive work climates, which synergistically promote well-being in the workplace. Allowing autistic employees, the opportunity to craft their own jobs can be beneficial in answer to the differences in autonomy needs pronounced by the participants in this study. For example, employees might request to obtain more or less decision-making authority according to their preferences and control the extent of sameness vs. change and diversity in their jobs. This preposition aligns with previous studies stressing the role of both individual workplace behaviors and the environmental/organizational context in promoting employment success of autistic adults (Black et al., 2020 ; Goldfarb et al., 2020 ; Johnson et al., 2020 ). The value of job crafting seems particularly relevant for autistic employees who often present heterogenous profiles of interests, abilities and emotional sensitivity (Goldfarb et al., 2019 ).

Practical Implications

Findings suggest a number of practical implications for stakeholders dedicated to promoting work integration of autistic adults. For the individual, a focus on motivation can help an informed process of work choice, weighing advantages and disadvantages in different work setting and making a choice that aligns with personal work-motives and enables need fulfillment. Career counselors can enrich counseling processes by addressing the SDT construct of work motivations and psychological need fulfillment and assisting clients in understanding their needs and setting priorities. On the organizational level, the outcomes highlight factors that form an autonomy-supportive environment for autistic employees, for example: providing clear instructions and expectations and offering constructive feedback can promote competence; supportive communication with the employer and a sense of respect and compassion can promote social-relatedness; and providing a clear structure and allowing the employee to prioritize can potentially enhance autonomy. Furthermore, connecting employees to organizational goals can support the motivation for meaning and purpose. Autonomy promoting practices such as 'job crating' appear to be highly relevant. Findings can also help parents understand the work-related motivational processes of their children, and minimize potential discrepancies in employment goals and preferences that sometimes occur (Anderson et al., 2020 ).

Some of these suggested practices may already be implemented in programs aimed to promote employment integration of autistic youth and young adults such as project 'SEARCH plus ASD supports' (Wehman et al., 2013 ) and 'TEACCH supported employment program' (Keel et al., 1997 ). For example, both programs include job coaches who help create structured schedules and clearly defined work tasks, but also promote self-monitoring and collaborative goal setting. This practice aligns with the basic psychological need for autonomy along with a stable structure. Furthermore, the program goals of promoting interaction with co-workers by improving the employees' social skills and educating coworkers about autism potentially promote social relatedness. Nevertheless, the theoretical lens of SDT can offer an understanding of the needs that underlie these employment-related goals. When a decline in motivation occurs, assessment of possible need-frustration, can help highlight specific areas that need attention, such as increasing a feeling of social-relatedness by encouraging social-encounters or promoting the need for autonomy by purposefully offering a choice between several possibilities. The SDT perspective can be especially relevant given that these programs usually offer internships that include a wide variety of tasks for which a profession is not a prerequisite, thus potentially limiting possibilities for the manifestation of intrinsic motivation.

Findings do not contradict or dismiss the aspired goal of matching skills, interests, and jobs to satisfy intrinsic motivation. At the same time, accumulating research on employment of autistic adults informs us that barriers are high, and compromise is often essential. For individuals who are not fortunate to work in a job they inherently enjoy, applications of the theory hold the potential to boost motivation and improve job outcomes.


The aim of this qualitative study was to achieve an in-depth understanding of the participants' work motivation through the lens of SDT, and to suggest inferences that may inform us about the general population of autistic employees. We acknowledge the relative homogeneity of the sample, which includes cognitively-able and mostly educated autistic adults. Therefore, transferring the findings to a wide population of autistic adults should be considered with caution. The study focuses on working autistic adults with fairly stable jobs, that may be more inclined to compromise. Lastly, participants were mostly reached by service providers offering vocational support to autistic adults. It is possible that such participants had more barriers to overcome, influencing their decision to seek help. Such barriers could have limited the options of finding an intrinsically motivating job, a possibility that may be more common in a wider population of autistic adults.

Further Research Directions

Expanding research to the wider autism community, both more independent and less independent (such as sheltered employment), can give a broader picture about work motivations of this population. Additionally, conducting similar research with unemployed participants can promote identification of factors that impede employment integration, motivations that are difficult to satisfy, or aspects that relate to a-motivation. These complementary viewpoints can form a comprehensive picture of motivations and needs that promote or inhibit work integration of autistic adults. A wider, more inclusive framework can extend the reach of employment interventions to individuals dealing with prolonged unemployment, and consequently diminish unemployment rates.

Given the qualitative methods used, motivations were not scaled and participants were not questioned about their relative importance. They each expressed a number of motives, that like in real life, are interrelated. SDT research has established tools that enable a quantitative examination of self-determined motivation, need satisfaction and associations between these factors. Quantitative studies that validate the applicability of these tools are necessary in order to generalize and validate the relevance of SDT for the population of autistic adults. Finally, longitudinal data, taken in different time-points of the employment integration process may reveal possible changes in motivation over time, and assess effects of experience, intervention programs or other life events on work motivation.

The current research offers a preliminary examination of work motivation of autistic adults. Findings support the relevance of the SDT framework and lead to practical implications, suggesting not only 'what works' in employment integration practices, but also why certain environment adjustments are important, and what motivational needs they serve. Emphasis on the work environment, which can be shaped and adjusted in order to respond to the workers' needs, contributes the encouraging notion that motivation is not just a given state, but something that can be facilitated towards a sense of self-determination.

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This study has been supported graduate research grants to Yael Goldfarb from the Organization for Autism Research and the National Insurance Institute of Israel. We thank the participants for devoting their time and sharing their valuable expericnes.

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Goldfarb, Y., Golan, O. & Gal, E. A Self-Determination Theory Approach to Work Motivation of Autistic Adults: A Qualitative Exploratory Study. J Autism Dev Disord 53 , 1529–1542 (2023). https://doi.org/10.1007/s10803-021-05185-4

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Research Article

When research is me-search: How researchers’ motivation to pursue a topic affects laypeople’s trust in science

Roles Conceptualization, Data curation, Formal analysis, Investigation, Methodology, Project administration, Resources, Validation, Visualization, Writing – original draft, Writing – review & editing

* E-mail: [email protected]

Affiliation Department of Psychology, Ludwig-Maximilians-Universität München, Munich, Germany

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Roles Conceptualization, Data curation, Formal analysis, Investigation, Methodology, Resources

Roles Conceptualization, Supervision, Writing – review & editing

  • Marlene Sophie Altenmüller, 
  • Leonie Lucia Lange, 
  • Mario Gollwitzer


  • Published: July 9, 2021
  • https://doi.org/10.1371/journal.pone.0253911
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Table 1

Research is often fueled by researchers’ scientific, but also their personal interests: Sometimes, researchers decide to pursue a specific research question because the answer to that question is idiosyncratically relevant for themselves: Such “me-search” may not only affect the quality of research, but also how it is perceived by the general public. In two studies ( N = 621), we investigate the circumstances under which learning about a researcher’s “me-search” increases or decreases laypeople’s ascriptions of trustworthiness and credibility to the respective researcher. Results suggest that participants’ own preexisting attitudes towards the research topic moderate the effects of “me-search” substantially: When participants hold favorable attitudes towards the research topic (i.e., LGBTQ or veganism), “me-searchers” were perceived as more trustworthy and their research was perceived as more credible. This pattern was reversed when participants held unfavorable attitudes towards the research topic. Study 2 furthermore shows that trustworthiness and credibility perceptions generalize to evaluations of the entire field of research. Implications for future research and practice are discussed.

Citation: Altenmüller MS, Lange LL, Gollwitzer M (2021) When research is me-search: How researchers’ motivation to pursue a topic affects laypeople’s trust in science. PLoS ONE 16(7): e0253911. https://doi.org/10.1371/journal.pone.0253911

Editor: Lynn Jayne Frewer, Newcastle University, School of Natural and Environmental Sciences, UNITED KINGDOM

Received: December 4, 2020; Accepted: June 15, 2021; Published: July 9, 2021

Copyright: © 2021 Altenmüller et al. This is an open access article distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution License , which permits unrestricted use, distribution, and reproduction in any medium, provided the original author and source are credited.

Data Availability: We provided all materials, the anonymized data and analyses, and supplementary materials online at the Open Science Framework via the following link: https://osf.io/phfq3/ .

Funding: The author(s) received no specific funding for this work.

Competing interests: The authors have declared that no competing interests exist.


“Being a scientist is, at the most fundamental level, about being able to study what’s exciting to you”, says Jeremy Yoder, a gay man studying experiences of queer individuals in science [ 1 ]. Like Yoder, many researchers are passionate about their research and dedicated to their field. After all, they are free to choose research questions they deem important and are interested in. Freedom of science and research secures the independence of the academic from the political and other spheres. In return, researchers are expected to be neutral and objective and make their research process transparent to guarantee that this freedom is not exploited for personal gains.

Just as people differ in what they are interested in in their personal lives, researchers differ in what they find more or less fascinating and worth studying. Such fascination can have multiple causes and is often rooted in a perceived personal connection to a topic. For instance, Sir Isaac Newton allegedly became interested in gravity after an apple fell on his head [ 2 ]. A specific type of personal connection exists when researchers study a phenomenon because they are directly (negatively) affected by that phenomenon. In 1996, Harvard alumni and neuroanatomist Jill Bolte Taylor suffered a rare form of stroke that made her undergo major brain surgery, affected her personal and academic life tremendously, and eventually awakened her interest in studying the plasticity of the brain [ 3 ]. In 2006, she published an award-winning book covering her research and her personal story that led her to pursue this path. The Jill Bolte Taylor case is, thus, a prototypical example for such “me-search”: researchers studying a phenomenon out of a particular personal affection by (or connection to) this phenomenon. “Me-search” thus means pursuing a scientific question when the answer to that question is idiosyncratically relevant for the individual researcher (as opposed to when the answer is relevant per se).

Being directly affected by a phenomenon provides researchers studying it with a high degree of expertise and motivation: Jill Bolte Taylor, for instance, claims to bring a deep personal understanding and compassion to her research and work with patients [ 4 , 5 ]. That said, being personally affected may also come at the cost of losing one’s scientific impartiality and neutrality for the subject: Jill Bolte Taylor was criticized for being overly simplistic in her scientific claims and mixing them with esoteric ideas, and for pushing her own agenda (i.e., selling her story) by dramatizing her own experiences [ 4 – 7 ].

While some criticized Jill Bolte Taylor heavily, the general public does not seem to have a problem with her research as “me-search”. Her book is currently translated into 30 languages, and thousands of people visit her talks and keynote addresses [ 4 – 6 ]. Does that suggest that the general public tends to turn a blind eye on conflicts of interest that may arise from a researchers’ personal affection by their research object? While the Jill Bolte Taylor case seems to suggest so, research on science communication and public understanding of science has shown that people are highly sensitive to potential conflicts of interest arising from researchers’ personal involvement: perceiving researchers as pursuing an “agenda” for personal reasons is a major factor predicting people’s loss of trust in researchers and science [ 8 – 11 ]. On the other hand, people may see personal (“autoethnographic”) experiences of researchers personally affected by their topic as valuable and laudable ‒ it may imply that “they know what they’re talking about” [ 12 – 14 ]. Similarly, revealing a personal interest or even passion for a particular research topic (e.g., due to being personally affected) could also overcome the stereotypical perception of scientists as distant “nerds in the ivory tower” [ 15 , 16 ]: researchers who openly disclose the idiosyncratic relevance of their research topic may appear more approachable, more likeable, and more trustworthy [ 17 – 19 ].

Thus, the public’s reaction to “me-search” seems to be ambivalent and contingent on certain boundary conditions. Thus, the question we are going to address in this article is whether and when ‒ that is, under which circumstances ‒ a researcher’s personal affection by a research topic (“me-search”) positively vs. negatively impacts public perceptions regarding the trustworthiness of the respective researcher (and the entire research area in general) and the extent to which this researcher’s findings are perceived as credible .

Perceivers’ motivated stance as a moderating variable

This potentially ambivalent perception of “research as me-search” can be understood from a motivated reasoning [ 20 ] perspective: Laypeople receive and process information in a manner biased towards their own beliefs, expectations, or hopes. This also applies to the reception of scientific information [ 21 , 22 ]: For example, laypeople are more likely to dismiss scientific evidence if it is inconsistent with their beliefs [ 23 , 24 ] or if it threatens important (moral) values [ 25 , 26 ] or their social identity, respectively [ 27 – 29 ].

However, identity-related and attitudinal motivated science reception might differ in their underlying mechanisms. For identity-related motivated science reception, biased perception of information, which is relevant to a social identity, is driven by a defense motivation to protect this positive social identity [ 30 ]. Thus, identity-threating scientific information is countered by identity-protection efforts, such as discrediting the findings and the source. These efforts will be more pronounced among strongly identified individuals [ 27 – 29 ]. For attitudinal motivated science reception, however, the mechanism might function as a broader perception filter. When confronted with new scientific information about the respective attitude object, the perceptual focus will be directed at clues helping to uphold prior attitudes (i.e., confirmation bias [ 31 ]): Potentially attitude-inconsistent information is attenuated, while potentially attitude-consistent information is accentuated. The ambivalent nature of “me-search” might allow to be easily bend in such a motivated manner and, thus, lead to biased perceptions of a researcher either way: when the findings are in line with one’s prior beliefs, being personally affected may be considered an asset–the respective researcher is perceived as more trustworthy and his/her findings as more credible (compared to no idiosyncratic relevance). However, when the findings are inconsistent with one’s prior beliefs, idiosyncratic relevance may be considered a flaw–the respective research is perceived as biased, untrustworthy, and less competent, and his/her findings are likely perceived as less credible than when idiosyncratic relevance is absent.

Prior research on motivated science reception mainly focused on laypeople’s reactions towards specific scientific findings: after learning about the outcome of a particular study, participants dismiss the research (and devalue the researcher) if these outcomes are consistent vs. inconsistent with their prior beliefs [ 23 – 25 , 27 – 29 ]. However, people might be prone to motivated science reception even before results are known, judging researchers proverbially just by their cover (e.g., by biographical data, personal and scientific interests and motivations). People who hold positive attitudes towards a certain research topic might perceive “me-searchers” as more trustworthy and anticipate their results to be more credible (before knowing the specific outcomes). By contrast, people who hold negative attitudes towards a certain research topic they might trust “me-searchers” less and expect their findings to be less credible.

Additionally, motivated reception processes can be extended over and above the specific information under scrutiny and lead to questioning the scientific method in itself–a phenomenon termed the “scientific impotence excuse” [ 32 ]. In line with that, critical evaluations of specific researchers and their findings are sometimes generalized to the entire field of research [ 27 ]. Thus, the fact that a researcher engages in “me-search” might be interpreted in a way that fits best to one’s preexisting convictions and may generalize to the entire field of research.

The present research

In two studies, laypeople read alleged research proposals concerning potentially polarizing research topics (i.e., LGBTQ issues and veganism) which were submitted by researchers who disclosed being either personally affected or not affected by the respective topic. We investigated whether ( Study 1 ) and when (i.e., moderated by preexisting positive attitudes towards the respective research topic, Studies 1 and 2) such “me-search” information increased or decreased laypeople’s perceptions regarding these researchers’ epistemic trustworthiness and the anticipated credibility of their future scientific findings. Of note, we use the term “credibility” to differentiate evidence-related trust/credibility from person-related trust/credibility (i.e. “trustworthiness”). Further, we test whether one researcher’s “me-search” impacts the evaluation of the entire respective field ( Study 2 ).

For both studies in this paper, we report how we determined our sample size, all data exclusions (if any), all manipulations, and all measures [ 33 ]. All materials, the anonymized data, and analyses are available online at the Open Science Framework (OSF; see https://osf.io/phfq3/ ). Before starting the respective study, informed consent was obtained. Participants read a GDPR-consistent data protection and privacy disclosure declaration specifically designed for the present study. Only participants who gave their consent could start the respective survey. According to German laws and ethical regulations for psychological research [ 34 ], gathering IRB approval is not necessary if (i) the data are fully anonymized, (ii) the study does not involve deception, (iii) participants’ rights (e.g., voluntary participation, the right to withdraw their data, etc.) are fully preserved, and (iv) participating in the study is unlikely to cause harm, stress, or negative affect. The present studies met all of these criteria; therefore, no IRB approval had to be obtained.

In our first study, we conducted an online experiment investigating the main effect of a researcher’s disclosure of being personally affected vs. not affected by their research on their trustworthiness and the credibility of their future research. Further, we tested whether laypeople’s preexisting attitudes towards the research topic moderate this effect.

Four-hundred and eleven German participants were recruited via mailing lists and social networks. Ninety-seven participants had to be excluded due to pre-specified criteria: Sixty-seven participants failed the manipulation check; 25 participants failed the pre-specified time criteria (viewing the manipulation stimulus less than 30sec, taking less than 3min or more than 20min for participation); 5 participants had apparently implausible response patterns (e.g., “straight-lining;” identical responses on every single item on more than one questionnaire page in a row). Eighty-five further participants failed the attention check. Excluding them did not change the overall results, so, for the sake of statistical power, we did not exclude these 85 cases. The final sample consisted of N = 314 participants. We conducted sensitivity analyses using G*Power [ 35 ] for determining which effect sizes can detected with this sample in a moderated (multiple) regression analysis: At α = 0.05 and with a power of 80%, small-to-medium effects (f 2 ≥0.03) can be detected with this sample. Participants were mostly female (74% female, 25% male, 2% other) and their age ranged between 16 and 68 years ( M = 26.79; SD = 10.18). Most participants were currently studying at a university (71%; working: 21%; unemployed or other: 8%). Participants who were currently studying or already had a university degree (93%) came from a variety of disciplines (law, economics, and social sciences: 49%; humanities: 16%; mathematics and natural sciences: 14%; medicine and life sciences: 11%; engineering: 4%).

Materials and procedure.

After obtaining informed consent, we asked participants to imagine they were browsing the website of a research institute and came across a short proposal for a new research project by a researcher named Dr. Lohr (no gender was indicated for greater generalizability and avoiding possible gender confounds). Next, participants read the beginning of the alleged proposal of a planned research project for which Dr. Lohr was allegedly applying for external funding. The text briefly introduced the planned project (i.e., investigating social reactions to queer employees at the workplace) and a statement of Dr. Lohr explaining why they were interested in conducting this project. Participants were randomly allocated to two groups. In the “not personally affected” condition, Dr. Lohr wrote:

“ I am interested in investigating this research topic in more detail not only out of scientific reasons but also because I–as someone who does not identify as homosexual and is not affected by my own research–really think we need more evidence-based knowledge about queer topics which we can implement in everyday life .”

In the “personally affected” condition, Dr. Lohr wrote:

“ I am interested in investigating this research topic in more detail not only out of scientific reasons but also because I–as someone who identifies as homosexual and is affected by my own research–really think we need more evidence-based knowledge about queer topics which we can implement in everyday life .”

We added a definition for the word “queer” below the proposal: “ Queer is a term used as self-description by people who do not identify as heterosexual and/or who do not identify with the gender assigned at birth . The term is often used as umbrella term for LGBTQ (lesbian , gay , bisexual , trans and queer) and describes all people who identify as queer .” After completing an attention check question (see pre-registration), we measured participants’ trust in Dr. Lohr with the Muenster Epistemic Trustworthiness Inventory (METI; [ 36 ]), which was constructed for measuring trust in experts encountered online. It consists of 14 opposite adjective pairs measuring an overall trustworthiness score (Cronbach’s α = .95) as well as the sub-dimensions expertise (e.g., competent–incompetent, Cronbach’s α = .92) and integrity/benevolence (e.g., honest–dishonest, Cronbach’s α = .93) on 6-point bipolar Likert scales. Factor analyses (see Appendix A in the supplementary materials, https://osf.io/phfq3/ ) suggest that a two-factor model (with expertise and integrity/benevolence) fit the data better than a three-factor model (as suggested by [ 36 ]), corroborating the idea of a cognitive-rational dimension and an affective dimension of trustworthiness [ 37 ]. Next, participants rated the extent to which they found Dr. Lohr’s research credible on a 6-point Likert scale ranging from 1 = “not at all” to 6 = “very much” (6 items, e.g., “I think Dr. Lohr’s future findings will be credible;” “I will be critical of Dr. Lohr’s research results” (reverse-coded); Cronbach’s α = .84).

Next, we measured participants’ own positive attitudes towards LGBTQ issues—the moderator variable in our design—with eleven statements developed from research on sympathy, group attitudes, and allyship [ 38 , 39 ] rated on a 6-point Likert scale ranging from “not at all” to “very much” (e.g., “I think that LGBTQ-related topics receive more attention than necessary” (reverse-coded); “I am open to learning more about concerns raised by LGBTQ people;” Cronbach’s α = .93). Next, we conducted a manipulation check by asking participants to indicate whether Dr. Lohr disclosed being personally affected by their research (“Dr. Lohr stated being personally affected;” “Dr. Lohr stated not being personally affected;” “Dr. Lohr did not say anything about being affected or not”).

Finally, we measured demographic variables (age, gender, occupation, academic discipline) and control variables: general perceptions of researchers’ neutrality (self-developed 6-point bipolar scale with 4 adjective-pairs, e.g. subjective–objective, and 6 distractor pairs, e.g. introverted–extraverted, Cronbach’s α = .81) and Public Engagement with Science (PES) with two measures adapted from a survey by the BBVA Foundation [ 40 ]: a 5-item scale measuring PES frequency (e.g., “How often do you read news about science?” 5-point Likert scale ranging from 0 =“never” to 5 =“almost daily,” Cronbach’s α = .78) and a multiple choice question measuring 15 potential PES experiences during the last 12 months (e.g., “I know someone who does scientific research;” “I visited a science museum”). Participants had the opportunity to participate in a lottery and sign up for more information and were debriefed.

Our randomized groups did not differ in regard to general perception of neutrality in science ( p = .924) or PES (PES frequency, p = .709; PES experiences, p = .533). Table 1 summarizes all means, standard deviations, correlations and internal consistencies of the measured variables.


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Main effect of being personally affected.

First, we tested the main effect of the researcher’s disclosure of being personally affected on epistemic trustworthiness and credibility of future findings. Laypeople trusted Dr. Lohr significantly more in the “personally affected” condition ( M = 4.92, SD = 0.75) than in the “not personally affected” condition ( M = 4.66, SD = 0.81), t (312) = 2.93, p = .004, d = 0.33, 95% CI d [0.11; 0.56]. For credibility, the difference between the “personally affected” condition ( M = 4.15, SD = 0.96) and the “not personally affected” condition ( M = 4.04, SD = 0.86) was not significant, t (312) = 1.02, p = .306, d = 0.12, 95% CI d [-0.11; 0.34]. Further exploring the two dimensions of epistemic trustworthiness, Dr. Lohr was perceived as higher on integrity/benevolence, t (312) = 3.19, p = .002, d = 0.36, 95% CI d [0.14; 0.59], and on expertise, t (312) = 2.17, p = .030, d = 0.25, 95% CI d [0.02; 0.47] when disclosing being personally affected.

Moderation by pre-existing attitudes.

Second, we tested whether the effect of being personally affected by the research topic on trustworthiness was moderated by participants’ pre-existing attitudes towards LGBTQ issues. Using standardized linear regression, we again found a main effect of condition on trustworthiness, beta = 0.15, p = .004, 95% CI beta [0.05, 0.26]. There was a significant main effect of participants’ pre-existing attitudes, beta = 0.30, p < .001, 95% CI beta [0.20, 0.40] and the condition × attitudes interaction effect was significant, beta = 0.19, p < .001, 95% CI beta [0.08, 0.29], increasing the amount of explained variance in trustworthiness by 3% to R 2 adj = .14. Table 2 summarizes the results. Fig 1A displays the interaction effect and standardized simple slopes analysis further qualifies it: Participants with more positive attitudes towards LGBTQ issues (+1 SD above sample mean) trusted Dr. Lohr more when the researcher was personally affected vs. not affected, beta = 0.34, p < .001, 95% CI beta [0.20, 0.49]. For participants with less positive attitudes towards LGBTQ issues (-1 SD below sample mean), this effect appears to be reversed, yet the simple slope was not significant, beta = -0.03, p = .646, 95% CI B [-0.18, 0.11]. The same pattern of interaction effects emerged for both, integrity/benevolence ( p = .009, total R 2 adj = .14) and expertise ( p < .001, total R 2 adj = .10); full analyses are reported in Appendix B (see https://osf.io/phfq3/ ).


Linear regression plots for the interaction effect of attitudes × condition on epistemic trustworthiness (Fig 1A) and credibility (Fig 1B) with 95% confidence intervals: Participants’ attitudes towards the research topic moderated how a researcher’s disclosure of being personally affected (vs. being not personally affected) by one’s own research was perceived.




Regarding our second dependent variable, credibility, we found no main effect of condition, beta = 0.04, p = .456, 95% CI beta [-0.06, 0.13]. However, there was a significant main effect of participants’ pre-existing attitudes, beta = 0.48, p < .001 95% CI beta [0.39, 0.58]: Participants with more positive attitudes anticipated a higher credibility of future research findings in this condition than participants with less positive attitudes. Similar to epistemic trustworthiness, there was a significant condition × attitudes interaction effect, beta = 0.21, p < .001, 95% CI beta [0.12, 0.31], increasing the amount of explained variance in credibility by 4% to R 2 adj = .26. Table 2 summarizes the results. Fig 1B displays this interaction effect: Again, participants with more positive attitudes towards LGBTQ issues (+1 SD above sample mean) anticipated Dr. Lohr’s future research findings to be more credible when the researcher was personally affected vs. not affected, beta = 0.25, p < .001, 95% CI beta [0.12, 0.38]. However, for participants with more negative attitudes (-1 SD below sample mean) this effect was significantly reversed: They rated the future research as less credible when the researcher was personally affected vs. not affected, beta = -0.18, p = .009, 95% CI B [-0.31, -0.04].

Results from Study 1 suggest that LGBTQ researchers are perceived as more trustworthy and their future findings as more credible when they disclose being personally affected by their research topic (i.e., being queer themselves), but only if perceivers hold positive attitudes towards LGBTQ issues. By contrast, holding less favorable attitudes towards LGBTQ issues lead to more skeptical reactions towards personally affected vs. unaffected researchers. This finding shows that learning about a researcher’s personal affection by their research can, indeed, go both ways, as suggested by our theoretical reasoning. On a more general level, our research suggests that public reactions towards “me-search” is a matter of pre-existing attitudes, and, thus, a case of motivated science reception [ 21 , 22 ].

There are some limitations to this first study: As most people in our sample held rather positive attitudes towards the LGBTQ community ( M = 4.93, SD = 1.02; on a scale from 1 to 6), predicted values on trustworthiness and credibility at the lower end of the attitude spectrum are probably less reliable. Also, we did not control for participants’ own identification as belonging to the LGBTQ community. Thus, we cannot differentiate clearly between attitudinal and identity-related effects, which is important because attitudes and identity concerns have a psychologically distinguishable impact on motivated science reception [ 27 , 28 ]. Additionally, replicating our results in a different domain is necessary to be able to generalize our findings. Another question of generalizability that is left unanswered is how such individual experiences with one personally affected researcher might impact laypeople’s perception of the entire field. This calls for more research on the double-edged nature of the moderating effect of preexisting attitudes.

In our preregistered second study (see https://osf.io/c9r4e ), we aimed to replicate our findings in a more diverse sample and with a different research topic that has the potential of polarizing participants even more strongly. We used the same design as in Study 1, but changed the proposed research topic to perceptions of vegans and introduced a vegan vs. non-vegan researcher. Again, we hypothesized that laypeople’s attitudes towards veganism moderate the effects on trustworthiness as well as credibility of future research. Additionally, we tested whether the effect of one researcher being personally affected by their own research generalizes to the broader perception of their entire field. Furthermore, we also explored whether the moderation by attitudes towards veganism prevailed when controlling for self-identification as being vegan (not included in preregistration).

We conducted an a-priori power analysis using G*Power [ 35 ] for detecting the hypothesized interaction effect in a moderated multiple regression analysis ( f 2 = 0.04, based on Study 1, with 1- β = 0.90 and α = 0.05, which resulted in a total sample of N = 265. Anticipating exclusions (see specified criteria) of comparable size as in the previous study, we aimed for a sample of at least 350 participants.

We collected data from 364 participants via mailing lists and social media. Fifty-seven participants had to be excluded due to our preregistered criteria (see https://osf.io/c9r4e ): one participant was younger than 16 years, 31 failed the manipulation check, 10 took less than 20sec viewing the proposal, 12 took less than 3min or more than 20min for participation, 3 had apparently implausible patters of response (i.e., “straight-lining;” identical responses on every single item on more than one questionnaire page in a row). The final sample consisted of N = 307 participants (76% female, 23% male, 1 other) who were between 18 and 79 years old ( M = 33.55, SD = 13.92). Approximately half of the sample (50%) was currently studying at a university, further 40% were working and 10% not working, one person was currently in training. Eighty-five percent were currently studying or already held a university degree (social sciences: 49%, humanities: 17%, natural sciences: 14%, life sciences: 8%, engineering: 6% and other 6%). Most participants did not consider themselves as vegans (89%).

We used the same materials and procedure as in Study 1 (see OSF for full materials: https://osf.io/phfq3/ ). However, we changed the research topic to “perceptions of vegans”. Participants were randomly assigned to two conditions. In the “not personally affected” condition, the researcher Dr. Lohr wrote:

“ I was interested in investigating this research questions not only out of scientific reasons but because , as someone who is not living as a vegan and , thus , not personally affected by my own research , I think we have a need for more evidence-based knowledge regarding the social embedding of vegan lifestyles , which we can acknowledge in everyday life .”
“… because , as someone who is living as a vegan and , thus , personally affected by my own research , I think we have a need for more evidence-based knowledge regarding the social embedding of vegan lifestyles , which we can acknowledge in everyday life . ”

As dependent variables, we again used the 14-item METI [ 36 ] to measure epistemic trustworthiness, but we expanded the measure for credibility of future research by adding one more item (“I would express skepticism towards Dr. Lohr’s future findings”) to better capture the behavioral aspects of credibility (now: 7 items; Cronbach’s α = .86). We also added a measure of participants’ evaluation of the entire field (not the specific researcher) as a third dependent variable. This 12-item scale was adapted from a related study [ 28 ] (e.g., “I think researchers who do research on that topic sometimes lack competence,” “I think it is difficult to apply results from this line of research to reality;” 6-point Likert scale ranging from 1 = “not at all” to 6 = “very much;” Cronbach’s α = .85). Next, participants’ attitudes towards veganism (i.e., the moderator variable) were measured with a 14-item scale adapted from the attitude measure in Study 1 by changing and adding items (e.g., “I think veganism is exaggerated” (reverse-coded) and “I can imagine being a vegan myself;” 6-point Likert scale ranging from 1 = “not at all” to 6 = “very much;” Cronbach’s α = .95).

To reduce exclusions after data collection, participants could proceed only if they answered all attention checks correctly (4 items; multiple choice). We added self-identification as vegan as a control variable (“Do you presently consider yourself a vegan?” yes/no); and an open-ended question about participants’ opinion regarding the researcher being personally affected to explore how laypeople rationalize their opinion. These responses were later coded for valence (positive, negative, mixed, or neutral) and content (deductive and inductive coding) by two raters blind to the specific research question (see Appendix C in the supplementary materials, https://osf.io/phfq3/ ; interrater reliability for valence, Cohen’s κ = .86, p < .01; and for content, Cohen’s κ = .74, p < .01). Again, the questionnaire closed with a sign-up for a lottery and more information as well as a debriefing.

Our randomized groups did not differ in regard to PES (PES frequency, p = .147; PES experiences, p = .101). However, they did differ significantly in regard to the general perception of neutrality in science ( p = .049). Possible implications are addressed in the Discussion. Table 3 summarizes all means, standard deviations, correlations and internal consistencies. In the following, we report our findings for all three dependent variables (trustworthiness, credibility, evaluation of the entire field), consecutively.




First, we ran the standardized regression model for epistemic trustworthiness. There was neither a significant main effect of condition on epistemic trustworthiness, beta = 0.04, p = .482, 95% CI beta [-0.07, 0.15] nor a significant main effect of attitudes towards veganism, beta = 0.07, p = .205, 95% CI beta [-0.04, 0.18]. However, the hypothesized condition × attitudes interaction effect was significant, beta = 0.22, p < .001, 95% CI beta [0.11, 0.34], increasing the amount of explained variance in trustworthiness by 4% to R 2 adj = .05. Table 4 summarizes the results. Fig 2A and standardized simple slopes analyses show that participants with more positive attitudes towards veganism (+1 SD above sample mean) trusted Dr. Lohr more when personally affected vs. not affected, beta = 0.26, p = .001, 95% CI beta [0.11, 0.42]. This conditional effect was reversed for participants with more negative attitudes (-1 SD below sample mean), who trusted Dr. Lohr less when personally affected vs. not affected, beta = -0.19, p = .020, 95% CI beta [-0.34, -0.03]. The interaction effect remained significant when controlling for participants’ self-identification as being vegan ( p < .001, total R 2 adj = .06). In secondary analyses, we explored the effects on the two facets of epistemic trustworthiness, separately. The same pattern of interaction effects emerged for both integrity/benevolence ( p < .001, total R 2 adj = .08) and expertise ( p = .005, total R 2 adj = .02); full analyses are reported in Appendix D in the supplementary materials (see https://osf.io/phfq3/ ).


Linear regression plots for the interaction effect of attitudes × condition on epistemic trustworthiness (Fig 2A), credibility (Fig 2B) and critical evaluation of the entire field (Fig 2C) with 95% confidence intervals: Participants’ attitudes towards the research topic moderated how a researcher’s disclosure of being personally affected (vs. being not personally affected) by one’s own research was perceived.





On credibility, there was no significant main effect of condition, beta = -.07, p = .146, 95% CI beta [-0.17, 0.03] but a significant main effect of attitudes towards veganism, beta = .35, p < .001, 95% CI beta [0.25, 0.45]. As predicted, the condition × attitudes interaction effect was also significant for credibility, beta = 0.25, p < .001, 95% CI beta [0.15, 0.35], increasing the amount of explained variance in credibility by 6% to R 2 adj = .21. Table 4 summarizes these results. Fig 2B and standardized simple slope analyses qualify the interaction effect: In line with the results for trustworthiness, participants with more positive attitudes (+1 SD above sample mean) anticipated Dr. Lohr’s future findings to be more credible when personally affected vs not affected, beta = 0.18, p = .016, 95% CI beta [0.03, 0.32], while the conditional effect for participants with more negative attitudes (-1 SD below sample mean) changed its sign, beta = -0.32, SE ( B ) = 0.14, p < .001, 95% CI beta [-0.47, -0.18]. As before, the interaction effect remained significant when controlling for self-identification as being vegan ( p < .001, total R 2 adj = .21).

Evaluation of the field.

Third, we investigated whether this moderation effect generalizes to the evaluation of the entire field of veganism research. There was no significant main effect of condition, beta = -.00, p = .989, 95% CI beta [-0.10, 0.10] but a significant main effect of attitudes, beta = -.41, p < .001, 95% CI beta [-0.51, -0.31]. Again, we found the hypothesized condition × attitude interaction effect, beta = -.27, p < .001, 95% CI beta [-0.37, -0.18], increasing the amount of explained variance in critical evaluation by 7% to R 2 adj = .27. Again, Table 4 summarizes these results and Fig 2C and standardized simple slopes analyses further qualify the interaction effect: Participants with more positive attitudes towards veganism (+1 SD above sample mean) were less critical of research on veganism when Dr. Lohr was personally affected vs. not affected, beta = -0.28, p < .001, 95% CI beta [-0.41, -0.14]. By contrast, this conditional effect was reversed for participants with more negative attitudes towards veganism (-1 SD below sample mean), beta = 0.27, p < .001, 95% CI beta [0.14, 0.41]. This interaction effect also remained significant when controlling for self-identification as being vegan ( p < .001, total R 2 adj = .28).

Participants’ opinion.

Overall, participants who responded to the open-ended question expressed mostly negative opinions about the researcher being personally affected by his own research (negative: 48%, neutral: 21%, positive: 17%, and mixed: 14%). The most frequently mentioned (negative) remark was that a “me-searcher” might be biased towards their research (60%; e.g., “ By introducing himself as being affected , I fear he cannot evaluate the results of his research objectively ”). The second most frequently mentioned remark was that such idiosyncratic relevance is irrelevant (24%; e.g., “ It wouldn’t make a difference ”). Positive remarks were mentioned less frequently: Participants ascribed more motivation (11%; e.g. “ I think interest , also personal interest , is an important prerequisite for determined research ”) or knowledge about the topic (8%; e.g. “ Very good , most likely , he thus is knowledgeable about the subject matter and can conduct the study in a more purposeful manner ”) to the “me-searcher”, or recognized the transparency (7%; e.g., “ The main thing is transparency . People are always biased , perhaps even unconsciously ”; for more details, see Appendix C in the supplementary materials: https://osf.io/phfq3/ ).

In Study 2, we replicated the moderation effect of preexisting attitudes on the effect of a researcher disclosing being personally affected (vs. not affected) by their own research on participants’ epistemic trustworthiness and credibility ascriptions regarding the research and researcher’s future findings. Further, we showed that this effect generalizes to the evaluation of the entire research area. Here, positive attitudes towards veganism determined how learning about an openly vegan researcher impacted participants’ perceptions of trustworthiness and credibility as well as the evaluation of the entire field of veganism research compared to learning about a non-vegan (i.e., non-affected) researcher. Participants who held more positive attitudes towards veganism reported more trust, higher anticipated credibility of future findings, and a less critical evaluation of the field when confronted with a vegan researcher. Conversely, for participants with less positive attitudes this effect was reversed. The moderation by positive attitudes towards veganism persisted when controlling for participants’ self-identification as vegans. Overall, the interaction effects observed in Study 2 explained similar amounts of variance as in Study 1 (epistemic trustworthiness: 3% vs. 4%, and credibility: 4% vs. 6%). Further, qualitative analyses revealed that most participants reported negative–or, at least, mixed–perceptions of a “me-searcher” (e.g., “me-searchers” may be biased, but also highly motivation and knowledgeable), which corroborated our theoretical prediction that “me-search” may be a double-edged sword. Interestingly, these qualitative findings seem somewhat contradictory to the quantitative findings, according to which there was no main effect of researchers’ idiosyncratic affection by their research topic.

In Study 2, one caveat is that the groups differed significantly in regard to participants’ general expectations of neutrality in science. Participants who read about the personally affected researcher had weaker expectations of neutrality; yet, when added to the regression model as a control, the pattern of results remained unchanged (see Appendix E in the supplementary materials, https://osf.io/phfq3/ ). Further, as a second caveat, we show that participants generalized their perceptions to the overall field of veganism research. However, this research area might be considered quite narrow and, thus, future research should investigate how far such generalization processes stretch out to perceptions of broader areas of research (e.g., health psychology).

General discussion

In two studies, we show that laypeople’s perception of researchers who disclose being personally affected by their own research can be positive as well as negative: The effect of such “me-search” was moderated by laypeople’s preexisting attitudes. Queer or vegan researchers were perceived as more trustworthy and their future findings were anticipated to be more credible when participants had positive, sympathizing attitudes towards the related research object (i.e., LGBTQ community or veganism). When participants’ attitudes were less positive, this pattern reversed. In Study 2, we extended our research from individualized perceptions of single researchers and their findings to evaluations of the entire field of research. Participants who were confronted with a personally affected researcher seemed to consider this person a representative example and generalized their judgment to their evaluation of the entire (though here quite narrow) research area.

We explored epistemic trustworthiness in more detail in both studies, namely the cognitive-rational facet of expertise and the affective facet of integrity/benevolence: Both were impacted by researchers’ disclosure of being personally affected, although effect sizes for expertise were descriptively smaller than for integrity/benevolence. This points to “me-search”–when received positively–possibly adding to the perception of competence-related aspects like a deeper knowledge of a phenomenon (e.g., via anecdotal insights) [ 12 – 14 ] and, even more so, warmth-related aspects like seeming more sincere, benevolent, transparent and, thus, approachable [ 15 , 16 , 41 ]. Disclosing such personal interest in a scientific endeavor might be able to bridge the stereotypical perception of cold and distant “science nerds” by revealing passionate, human and, thus, more relatable side of a researcher. When received negatively, however, “me-search” might be regarded as harboring vested interests, which casts doubts on a researcher’s neutrality and objectivity [ 8 – 11 , 42 ].

In general, the main models tested here explained between 5% and 28% of variance which may not appear impressive at first glance. However, our studies posed a very strict test of the effects of “me-search” by only using a subtle manipulation sparse in information followed by measures of very specific perceptions which might have contributed to an understatement of the real-world impact.

“Me-search” neither automatically sparks trust nor mistrust in laypeople, even if their explicit opinions seem rather negative. In line with assumptions from motivated science reception [ 22 , 43 ], our findings suggests that the ambivalence of the fact that a researcher is personally affected can be seized as an opportunity to interpret the situation in a manner that best fits to preexisting attitudes: Researchers, their findings and even their entire field of research are evaluated–even before learning about specific findings–based on prior attitudes towards the research topic. We show in Study 2 that the moderation effect of participants’ positive attitudes towards the respective research topic (i.e., veganism) prevails when controlling for self-identification with the topic (i.e., being a vegan). This suggests that, indeed, in motivated reasoning attitudinal and identity-related processes can be differentiated: Here, social identity protection could be ruled out as alternative explanation for the effects of pre-existing attitudes. Noteworthily, we demonstrate that motivated science reception already operates when the results are not (yet) known. This points towards a perceptual filter made up of pre-existing attitudes that is activated when confronted with scientific information and leads to biased pre-judgments: Ambivalent cues (i.e., “me-search”) are prematurely interpreted in line with prior attitudes without actually knowing whether the new scientific information will be attitude-consistent or inconsistent (when, later, results are reported).

Future research

Future research on the motivated reception of “me-search” should focus on three open questions. First, while we consider it a strength of our studies that the results of the proposed research project were not yet known, it might be interesting to see how being personally affected or not interacts with the perceived direction of the communicated scientific results (e.g. supporting vs. opposing a certain position): To what extent can the first, premature evaluation of a “me-searching” researcher be adapted if the actual results are inconsistent with this pre-judgment?

Second, the investigation of what specific characteristics of “me-search” are instrumentalized by benevolent or skeptical perceivers might not only provide practical tips on how to handle being personally affected (e.g., in science communication) but also important theoretical insights on the building blocks of trust in science and researchers (see discussion above regarding the effects on the facets of epistemic trustworthiness). As one example, knowing that a qualitative level of knowledge is highly valued could further research on the trust-benefit of enriching statistical evidence with anecdotal and narrative elements [ 44 , 45 ]. As second example, we argue that researchers’ self-disclosure of being personally affected by their research might signal transparency and, thus, improve the perception of the trust facets integrity and benevolence. Yet, even the disclosure of not being personally affected could have such an effect on a researcher’s reputation and, at the same time, it might be less ecologically valid (as, presumably, it is rather unusual to explicitly state to not be affected by something). Introducing a control group without any information about a researcher’s relation towards their research object might bring light to this.

Third, we demonstrated the moderation effect of preexisting attitudes for two research areas (i.e., LGBTQ and veganism) and in different populations. Yet, further research should investigate whether this effect will hold up for other areas, more diverse samples and different kinds of “me-search”, as well. For example, in some research fields being personally affected by the research might be perceived as more morally charged than in others and, thus, having stronger polarizing effects [ 46 ]: While, in veganism-research, “me-search” might be grounded in an ideological choice (e.g., thinking its morally wrong to consume animal products and, thus, being vegan), having a stroke and, following, studying stroke-related brain plasticity is likely perceived as less ideological. Also, different scientific methods (typically) used in a field might impact the perceptions of “me-search” depending on how prone for subjectivity these methods are perceived to be (e.g., qualitative “me-search” like autoethnographic analyses might be perceived more critically than when using seemingly objective, quantitative methods like physiological measures). Further, researchers who are not directly personally affected by their research but “merely” interested in something for personal reasons (e.g., being highly empathetic towards queer concerns without identifying as queer) might not profit from disclosure of such personal motivations: Such researchers might be perceived as impostors [ 47 ] lacking the expertise stemming from directly firsthand experiences.

Practical implications

Finally, for the applied perspective on public engagement with science, it should again be noted, that motivated reasoning processes are activated even before specific results are presented (e.g. before hearing a talk or reading about a study). This might be important, as judgments are quickly formed and remembered [ 48 , 49 ] and, therefore, the first impression of a researcher might set the tone for further interactions and, particularly, for the acceptance and implementation of their findings. This emphasizes the importance of researchers knowing their audience (and their attitudes) when engaging in science communication.

Of course, there are also ethical considerations concerning “me-search”: Researchers should always declare any conflict of interests when conducting research [ 50 , 51 ]. Failing to disclose being personally affected by one’s own research might backfire severely on researchers’ reputation–especially concerning their trustworthiness and the credibility of their findings–and in particular, when this information is disclosed by someone else and not themselves. At least for achieving positive reputational effects, it seems researchers need to freely initiate the disclosure of limitations and problems themselves [ 41 , 52 ]. A possible solution for reaping all the benefits and protecting against the potential harms of engaging in “me-search” might be to actively seek out mixed research teams. Including affected as well as non-affected individuals in research projects might be worth considering from the stance of the public’s trust in science: It enables deep, even personal insights to the studied phenomenon, while still securing balanced perspectives and impartiality.

Neuroanatomist Jill Bolte Taylor became famous for turning her “stroke of fate” into productive and well-selling “me-search”. Yet, she was praised as well as heavily criticized for mixing her personal and scientific motivations: When research is also “me-search”, it can be perceived positively as well as negatively depending on laypeople’s preexisting attitudes towards the research object. Researchers who disclose being personally affected by their own research can benefit from this disclosure in terms of trustworthiness and credibility when it is perceived by laypeople with positive attitudes; however, for audiences with more negative attitudes this effect is reversed and disclosure can be harmful. One experience with a personally affected researcher might be enough to impact the evaluation of the whole field. Thus, openly acknowledging “me-search” in one’s research is an ambivalent matter and its communicative framing as well as the targeted audience should be well considered.

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17 Motivational Interviewing Questions and Skills


Has a particular relationship made you feel normal, lighter, or good about yourself again? Chances are this happened in an environment that was trusting, open, and frank.

If I can provide a certain type of relationship, the other person will discover within himself the capacity to use that relationship for growth, and change and personal development will occur.

Carl Rogers

This article describes the underlying principles and techniques of one such form of communication known as Motivational Interviewing. Most commonly used to increase motivation toward behavioral change, motivational interviewing is an evidence-based approach designed to encourage clients to talk themselves into making beneficial changes in their lives.

Before you continue, we thought you might like to download our three Goal Achievement Exercises for free . These detailed, science-based exercises will help you or your clients create actionable goals and master techniques to create lasting behavior change.

This Article Contains:

What is motivational interviewing, motivational interviewing questions and skills, readiness for change and motivation, self-efficacy and motivation, decisional balance and motivation, a take-home message.

Motivation to change varies from person to person, from one situation to another, and over time. Some of us are unwilling, others are unable to change, and many are not fully ready.

Motivational Interviewing techniques rest on the findings in clinical experience and research that simply show that clients who believe that they can change do so, and “those who are told that they are not expected to improve indeed do not” (Miller, & Rollnick, 2014).

People are better persuaded by the reasons they themselves discovered than those that come into the minds of others.

Blaise Pascal

Motivational interviewing is a patient-centered counseling style based on the principles of the humanistic psychology of Carl Rogers. He argued that for a person to “grow,” we need an environment that provides us with genuine openness that enables self-disclosure, acceptance that includes being seen with unconditional positive regard , and empathy where we feel like we are being listened to and understood.

Rogers discovered that it was more effective to let clients guide the direction of the process in the person-centered form of therapy.

The curious paradox is that when I accept myself just as I am, then I can change.

Motivational Interviewing (MI) is a technique for increasing motivation to change and has proven to be particularly effective with people that may be unwilling or unable to change.

Originally used within the setting of alcohol addiction treatment in the 1980s, motivational interviewing encouraged patients to think and talk about their reasons to change. Soon it was discovered that this minimized their resistance and increased their motivation.

Part of the reason was that motivational interviewing accepts that ambivalence about change is a normal human experience and often a necessary step in the process of change.

Motivational interviewing rests on the assumption that people are ambivalent about change versus weak or resistant to doing so. It’s an optimistic approach to change aimed at resolving this ambivalence through eliciting and reinforcing change talk.

Change talk is the statements we make that reflect our desire to change, focus on our ability to do so, list specific reasons for change, and express the commitment to change. Studies show that change talk, particularly in clinical settings, has been linked with successful behavior change (Sobell & Sobell, 2008).

The only person who is educated is the one who has learned how to learn and change.

Motivational interviewing aims to encourage the patient’s autonomy in decision making where the clinician acts as a guide, clarifying the patient’s strengths and aspirations, listening to their concerns, boosting their confidence in their ability to change, and eventually collaborating with them on a plan for change.

The process consists of engaging patients, deciding on what to change, evoking their reasons for making the change, and agreeing on a concrete plan.

One relevant psychological theory that explains how and why motivational interviewing works is self-determination theory. It states that we are more likely to change if our three basic psychological needs are attended to:

  • Autonomy in making decisions
  • Mastery and a sense of our competence in making the change
  • Relatedness and a sense of being supported by key people around us, including healthcare professionals.

Another useful theory is that when we hear ourselves talk about change, it tends to increase our motivation. Within motivational interviewing, this is known as “change talk.” An emerging body of research is currently tracking the language that patients use when talking about change, and it appears that change talk predicts better outcomes (Gaume, at al, 2013).

Finally, it was also noted that practitioners’ behavior could influence clients’ behavior in measurable ways. One review of research suggests that minimizing practitioners’ behavior that is inconsistent with motivational interviewing, such as disagreeing with and confronting clients, has a clear positive influence on outcomes (Gaume, at al, 2013).

Counseling interview questions

And all this despite ambivalence and what often seems like resistance, which is considered a normal part of the change process.

Evoking is central to motivational interviewing, but it is also most challenging to master as it is vastly different from traditional advice-giving.

Motivational interviewing requires four key communication skills that support and strengthen the process of eliciting change talk, also known as OARS:

  • Open-ended questions
  • Reflective listening
  • Summarizing

Open-ended questions in motivational interviewing allow us to find out more about the client’s perspective and ideas about change. They are also crucial in building and strengthening a collaborative relationship. Finally, they are also useful in the process of evoking the client’s motivations for change.

Affirming can be done through recognizing and commenting on the patient’s strengths and abilities. Affirming is excellent for rapport building and can increase it further by using some of the well-known coaching techniques and incorporating acknowledging and validating clients’ emotions.

Sounds like this is really challenging. No wonder you feel overwhelmed.

Reflective listening can be employed effectively through summarizing. When we repeat what the client has told us in our own words and in the form of a statement rather than a question, we encourage them to continue talking. The most crucial benefit of reflective listening is that it helps to build engagement with the client, particularly when he or she is upset or angry as it can help them to calm down and feel understood.

What I hear you say is…

Most importantly, however, reflective listening allows practitioners to clarify what the client is saying both for the purpose of understanding correctly but also to reflect back to the client so they can hear what they are saying and can either pause to reflect or choose to move forward.

In motivational interviewing, reflective listening is used purposefully to help the patient consider a change. This is one of the strongest characteristics of the evoking process.

Summarizing is also used for further collection of reflections, allowing the practitioner and the client to identify the core ideas of the client’s story. When we employ reflective listening and combine it with effective summarizing, the clients find themselves hearing themselves talk about change.

As the practitioner empathically reflects back to the client what they just said, it becomes a part of the powerful process of evoking the client’s own motivation for change.

In motivational interviewing, OARS or open-ended questions, affirmations, reflections, and summarizing are employed toward eliciting change talk. Evoking self-motivational statements is a primary goal of MI approach and unlike OARS, is more directive. The goal is to help the client identify and resolve ambivalence so he or she can move forward.

Change talk is the client making statements that are in favor of change. It signals he or she is more willing, able, or ready to make the change. The practitioner’s role is to elicit change talk from the client in a collaborative fashion and avoid imposing it. Motivational interviewing is a consensual, negotiated process between the counselor and client.

Change talk can occur in several forms and is exemplified by a statement that indicates the desire for, the ability to, the reasons for, and the need to change.

Desire statements indicating a desire to make a change:

Getting in shape would make me feel so much better about myself .

Ability statements speak to the client’s self-efficacy or belief in the ability to make changes:

I think with some help, I might be able to cut back .

Reasons statements reflect the reasons the client gives for considering a change:

I have to quit smoking because of my asthma .

Need statements indicate a need for change where the emphasis is more emotional than in the case of reasons statements, which are more cognitive and rational:

Something has to change, or my marriage will fall apart .

The most important aspect of motivational interviewing is for the practitioner to recognize and then emphasize change talk and pay particular attention to commitment language. When the client uses verbs that express authentic and robust commitment to change, this presents an opportunity to get them to elaborate further and strengthen the commitment level.

Miller worked with a linguist to show that commitment language matters, and the more a client is making strong commitment statements, the more likely the client’s behavior is going to change.

The process of eliciting change talk must also take place with adequate focus. After the client and practitioner have clarified a goal for change, an agreement should be established on the direction for the conversation. This helps to avoid making assumptions and jumping too quickly into a new change topic.

It is also a great opportunity to raise a difficult subject in a non-confrontational way by merely mentioning it and allowing the patient the opportunity to decide whether to talk about it.

There is also an issue of information sharing and advising, which could become a deterrent if not used appropriately. It should be reserved for when the patient asks, or more spontaneously when there is good engagement.

When some level of rapport is established, a practitioner can also initiate a more formal discussion about the stages of change or level of the client’s motivation. This may include helping the client develop a rating of current importance, confidence, readiness, and commitment to change to explore how any of these dimensions might be strengthened.

This is a more directive way of eliciting a client’s change talk and addressing a client’s commitment to change in a way that resembles planting the seed and gradually moving toward the negotiation of specific change plans.

Motivational Interviewing skills are not unlike some of the coaching skills, but never the less they are not easy to master. There are several training manuals for how to practice motivational interviewing skills, and here are a few of them. One way to assess the practitioner’s ability to elicit change talk is to compare it to the following examples of higher skill:

  • The practitioner uses evocative questions that are targeted to the client’s current level of motivation, e.g. if the client recognizes a problem with his behavior, the practitioner asks the client to explore any concerns or problematic aspects of it;
  • Practitioner query the client about factors that might impact intent or optimism for change when the client is uncertain about his or her capacity to change;
  • The practitioner explores current readiness to change in depth by combining rating scales and open-ended follow-up questions and reflections that prompt the client’s arguments for change, optimism, and self-efficacy (see the next section on readiness for change, self-efficacy and decisional balance).

What is motivational interviewing? – Dr William Miller

What people say about change predicts subsequent behavior because it reflects motivation for and commitment to change. When clients make arguments against change, often counterproductively referred to as exhibiting resistance, it produces less change.

Today we know that successful interventions into behavioral change require a systematic stage-based approach that involves first assessing readiness to change and then application of motivational strategies that target the context of change defined by the client’s stage of readiness (Zimmerman, Olsen, & Bosworth, 2000).

The Stages of Change model of Prochaska, et al. (1994), also known as the Transtheoretical Model of Change (TMC), defines the stages of change.

The model identifies six stages ranging from a “pre-contemplation stage,” where there is no intention to change, to a “termination stage,” where the desired behavior is well established, and a life-long change is part of the individual’s new identity (Zimmerman, Olsen, & Bosworth, 2000; Winnipeg Regional Health Authority, 2007).

TMC informs approaches to therapy so practitioners can tailor them to clients’ current level of motivation.

Stage: Precontemplation

Attitude:  No

Core thoughts: I don’t need to change

Critical Markers:

  • Rationalizing


In the precontemplation stage, there are four possible reasons for resistance to change:

  • Reluctance : the client is unwilling to consider change, comfortable and averse to taking a risk, unaware of consequences.
  • Rebellion : client can be resistant to change because they value their independence.
  • Resignation : client feels helpless and overwhelmed by problems and feels like a failure.
  • Rationalizing : client employs rationalization as a form of protection; unlike rebellion more about thoughts than emotions.

Stage: Contemplation

Attitude:  Yes and No

  • Ambivalence
  • In the contemplation stage, the client is thinking about the change but is ambivalent while weighing and examining the benefits of and obstacles to change.
  • Some clients will find themselves in this stage for prolonged periods experiencing stress as they feel stuck.

Stage: Preparation

Attitude:  Yes, but…

Core thoughts: I will change

  • Procrastination
  • In the preparation stage, clients will see change as important and view themselves capable of change but will often make “yes, but” statements and put off taking steps toward change.
  • They will usually find themselves having experimented with changing the desired behavior, seeking support, identifying barriers, and resources.

Stage: Action

Attitude:  Yes

Core thoughts: I am changing

  • Behavioral Steps
  • In the action stage, change is visible and equated with progress.
  • Alterations in awareness thought processes, emotions, and self-image occur as client exhibits diligence and puts a lot of effort into the process.
  • Most clients will experience setbacks and periodically resume the old behavior at this stage, which may halt the change process, make them feel demoralized over occasional “slips,” and can sometimes result in the client giving up.
  • These are normal, and a part of this stage and are not seen as failure or relapse.

Stage: Maintenance

Core thoughts: I have changed

  • In the maintenance stage, the client has successfully made the change in behavior and accomplished the goals he set for himself, usually after six months.
  • This is a difficult stage as clients can become complacent, and onsets of negative circumstances can influence the commitment and threaten the sustained, long-term effort if no maintenance strategy is developed.

Markers of readiness for change

Both TMC and Motivational Interviewing (MI) recognize three critical markers of readiness for change:

  • willingness to change,
  • ability to make the desire changed and
  • readiness to take action to make the change.

In the early stages of change, the level of ambivalence the clients are experiencing is usually high. In the case of clients who score high in the pre-contemplation stage, willingness or ability are usually implicated in one’s levels of motivation to change behavior.

Motivational Interviewing techniques used in the pre-contemplation stage intervene in the client’s beliefs about the importance of change and may also be used to increase self-efficacy about the ability to make the desired changes.

This distinction can be based on either a formal readiness assessment or a self-reported measurement like the change readiness ruler.

To assess the desire and willingness, we may ask the client to rate the importance of making the desired change using the following questions:

Step 1. Assess the importance of change

On the scale of 0 to 100, how much do you want to make this change right now? Answer the question by marking 1 if making the change is not at all important and selecting 100 if you are willing to work hard to achieve the desired change.

Use the following scale as a visual aid:

Write your importance rating (1-100) here: _______

Step 2. Reflect on the answers provided

Ask the client to reflect on the reasons for their answers, inquiring about the answer that produced the lower score first. You may phrase the question as follows:

  • What led you to choose this specific number on the scale versus a lower number?
  • What would it take for you to move to a higher number?

Step 3. Elicit change talk

If the client scored low on willingness to change, explore values or hopes, and elicit change talk through introducing discrepancy.

– Values

When a client has a low desire to change, exploring the discrepancy between the client’s values and the current state can be an effective method to encourage change talk. Explore the client’s current values by asking the following or similar questions:

  • Tell me what is most important in your life at this moment?
  • Tell me about the things you value and are a priority?
  • In what way are you living out these values?

– Hopes and Goals

When a client struggle with seeing the importance of change it may also help to explore the client’s hopes and goals by asking the following or similar questions that can lead to the exploration of the WHY of the change:

  • What are some of the things you wish to move toward in your life?
  • When you think about the future, what are some things you would like to have in it?
  • When you were a child, what did you dream about doing with your life? How about now?
  • If we were to be successful in our work together, what would that look like?

Another formal method to elicit future goals is to engage the client in the envisioning process.

– Elicit Discrepancy

Elicit discrepancy by placing the current behavior in the context of current values or desired future.

  • Tell me about the times you are not living out your values as fully as you would like?
  • How does your current behavior fit within your values?
  • How can this value help you achieve the aims you set for yourself?
  • How does your current behavior support your future goals?

Motivational Interviewing Toolkit

As Bandura (1986) suggests, “ unless people believe that they can produce desired effects and forestall undesired ones by their actions, they have little incentive to act. Whatever other factors may operate as motivators, they are rooted in the core belief that one has the power to produce the desired results ” (p.228).

A key construct in this context is self-efficacy. A person who has a high level of self-efficacy generally believes he or she can carry out what is necessary to realize his or her goals (Bandura, 1997). This person is confident that he or she can employ the strength-based skills required to resist temptation, cope with stress, and mobilize necessary resources to meet the situational demands.

Because people with high self-efficacy beliefs assume that they have high ability, they adopt more challenging goals and perform better on tasks compared to people with low self-efficacy beliefs (Brown et al., 2011). Studies show that adopting more difficult goals is linked to superior performance (Locke & Latham, 1990).

Some changes look negative on the surface but you will soon realize that space is being created in your life for something new to emerge.

Eckhart Tolle

Self-efficacy beliefs determine whether instrumental actions will be initiated, how much effort will be expended, and how long it will be sustained in the face of obstacles and failure (Bandura, 1992, Bandura & Cervone, 1983).

In contrast, if a person sees no possibility that a goal can be reached, little or no effort will be put in trying to reach the goal, no matter how much the goal might be valued. For that reason, exploring levels of client’s self-efficacy in any behavioral change intervention is crucial.

Assessing the lack of self-efficacy can be done by observing the client, making statements that have the following characteristics:

  • avoid accepting challenges as they fear failure.
  • firmly believe that they are not capable of performing complicated tasks.
  • focus on failures and adversities as personal shortcomings.
  • are less confident about themselves.
  • lack a sense of commitment to their works.
  • have a hard time recovering from setbacks and under-achievements.
  • quickly lose interest in activities and works they were a part of.
  • expect results without putting in an effort.
  • are highly susceptible to depression and anxiety about facing failures.
  • focus more on their weaknesses and less on their strengths.

Motivational Interviewing (MI) has proven to be particularly useful with clients that lack self-efficacy and believe they may be unable to change.

Motivational Interviewing, when used as a technique to increase self-efficacy, is more than merely planting a seed that change is possible. It is very much a collaborative process of careful cultivation of the client’s belief in his or her ability to achieve their goals. Motivational interviewing strategies increase what is known as change talk. They do not ask if the client is motivated, but instead, what motivates him or her.

We can assess levels of self-efficacy, asking the client to rate his or her ability to make the desired change. You may phrase the question as follows:

On the scale of 1 to 100, how confident are you that if you chose to make the change, you could change. Mark 0 if you do not at all believe that you can succeed and select 100 if you are extremely confident that you have the skills to achieve your goals for change. Use the following scale as a guide.

Building Self-efficacy

If the client scored low on the self-efficacy scale and feels resigned and unable to change, increasing optimism about the possibility of change and focusing on internal strengths are some of the effective methods to encourage change talk and increase belief in one’s ability to change.

This can be done through the following questions:

  • Tell me about a time you made changes in your life. How did you do it?
  • What personal strengths do you have that would help you succeed?
  • Imagine you decided to change, what about you would enable you to do it?
  • What encourages and inspires you?
  • Who could offer you support in making this change?

sample research questions on motivation

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We all differ in the extent to which they are motivated and able to change. Often, people say they want to change, but they do not know-how, are unable to, or are not fully ready to change.

Simply put, it is not that people do not want to change, but they are often not ready yet. Employing a directive, client-centered style of interaction, motivational interviewing aims to resolve this ambivalence and help people to make positive changes (Miller & Rollnick, 2002).

This can be accomplished through questions or comments designed to:

  • promote greater awareness of a problem,
  • recognition of the advantages of change,
  • increased intent to change, or
  • elaboration on a topic related to change.

While doing so, the motivation comes from the other person. One does not give or instill motivation in the other person to change their behavior. Instead, motivation is elicited.

One tool that can help a client resolve ambivalence about making the change is the Decisional Balance worksheet. It explores Pro’s and Con’s or the good and not-so-good things about the behavior in question. The counselor can facilitate the process during the session by eliciting client responses that would correspond with each of the four quadrants representing differing aspects of changing the behavior or making a change.

Doing this cost-benefits analysis includes discussing specific consequences of the client’s behavior, and assessing the positive or negative aspects of the client’s past, present, or future. An essential component of using this tool effectively is to verbalize an appreciation for ambivalence as a normal part of the client’s experience as he/she considers change.

The goal here is to discuss the client’s ambivalence in detail and facilitate a costs/benefits analysis through soliciting the client’s input about making a change versus continuing the same behavior. It can also be done by developing a written Pros and Cons list with the client, either during the counseling session or reviewing in detail, a list completed before the session.

sample research questions on motivation

17 Tools To Increase Motivation and Goal Achievement

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Created by Experts. 100% Science-based.

Carl Rogers used to say that psychologists had the most important job in the world, because ultimately, what we need more than new discoveries in the physical sciences are better interactions between human beings.

The good life is a process, not a state of being. It is a direction not a destination.

Motivational interviewing strategies do not ask IF the client is motivated, but WHAT motivates him or her.

Do you believe motivation is something we all possess?

We hope you enjoyed reading this article. Don’t forget to download our three Goal Achievement Exercises for free .

  • Biswas-Diener, R. (2010). Practicing Positive Psychology Coaching: Assessments, Activities and Strategies for Success. New York, NY: John Wiley & Sons.
  • Beck, R. C. (2004). Motivation: Theories and principles (5th ed.). Englewood Cliffs, NJ: Prentice Hall.
  • Deckers, L. (2014). Motivation: Biological, psychological, and environmental (4th ed.). Boston, MA: Allyn & Bacon.
  • DiClemente, C. C., & Prochaska, J. O. (1998). Toward a Comprehensive, Transtheoretical Model of Change: Stages of Change and Addictive Behaviors. In: W.R. Miller & N. Heather (Eds.).
  • Treating Addictive Behaviors, (2nd. Ed.). New York, NY: Plenum Press.
  • Foster, & Auerbach, (2015). Positive Psychology in Coaching.
  • Gaume, J., Bertholet, N., Faouzi, M., Gmel, G., & Daeppen, J. B. (2013). Does change talk during brief motivational interventions with young men predict change in alcohol use?.  Journal of substance abuse treatment ,  44 (2), 177-185.
  • Kretzschmar, I., (2010). Exploring Clients’ Readiness for Coaching.
  • Miller, W. R., & Rollnick, S. (2013). Motivational Interviewing: Helping People Change. New York, NY: Guilford Press.
  • Reeve, J. (2015). Understanding motivation and emotion (6th ed.). Hoboken, NJ: Wiley.
  • Tosey, P., & Mathison, J. (2009). Neuro-Linguistic Programming: A Critical Appreciation for Managers and Developers
  • Winnipeg Regional Health Authority. (2007). Health Behavior Change: Participant Workbook. Winnipeg: WRHA.
  • Zimmerman, G.L., Olsen C.G., & Bosworth, M.F. (2000). A “Stages of Change” Approach to Helping Patients Change Behavior, American Family Physician. 61 , 1409-1416.

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I found this lesson to be very good education and helps me be more knowledgeable and confident for anytime I need to use this type of communication with my consumer.

Sylvia Martinez

Thank you so much I will use this. It is very informative.

Janice Freel

A timely, most relevant, well-written article. I’ll use this in my practice with my clients who have anger management issues, and with emotionally challenged family members. Janice, RN, Anger Management Specialist-II/Coach

Kelly W.

Such a well written article that provides crucial information about MI to practitioners and clients. Thank you!

Sylvia Busch

Great information and tools for motivational interviewing.

There was a lot of good pointers in the article. I particularly found the points on building self-efficacy very interesting and helpful.

Andrea G.

Thank you for this. It is concise and well-written. I will show this to my staff who struggles to change the energy in sessions and difficult or tough conversations. The questions seem like they would work hand-in-hand with SFBT.

Andrea, M.S., MC

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Research Aims, Objectives & Questions

The “Golden Thread” Explained Simply (+ Examples)

By: David Phair (PhD) and Alexandra Shaeffer (PhD) | June 2022

The research aims , objectives and research questions (collectively called the “golden thread”) are arguably the most important thing you need to get right when you’re crafting a research proposal , dissertation or thesis . We receive questions almost every day about this “holy trinity” of research and there’s certainly a lot of confusion out there, so we’ve crafted this post to help you navigate your way through the fog.

Overview: The Golden Thread

  • What is the golden thread
  • What are research aims ( examples )
  • What are research objectives ( examples )
  • What are research questions ( examples )
  • The importance of alignment in the golden thread

What is the “golden thread”?  

The golden thread simply refers to the collective research aims , research objectives , and research questions for any given project (i.e., a dissertation, thesis, or research paper ). These three elements are bundled together because it’s extremely important that they align with each other, and that the entire research project aligns with them.

Importantly, the golden thread needs to weave its way through the entirety of any research project , from start to end. In other words, it needs to be very clearly defined right at the beginning of the project (the topic ideation and proposal stage) and it needs to inform almost every decision throughout the rest of the project. For example, your research design and methodology will be heavily influenced by the golden thread (we’ll explain this in more detail later), as well as your literature review.

The research aims, objectives and research questions (the golden thread) define the focus and scope ( the delimitations ) of your research project. In other words, they help ringfence your dissertation or thesis to a relatively narrow domain, so that you can “go deep” and really dig into a specific problem or opportunity. They also help keep you on track , as they act as a litmus test for relevance. In other words, if you’re ever unsure whether to include something in your document, simply ask yourself the question, “does this contribute toward my research aims, objectives or questions?”. If it doesn’t, chances are you can drop it.

Alright, enough of the fluffy, conceptual stuff. Let’s get down to business and look at what exactly the research aims, objectives and questions are and outline a few examples to bring these concepts to life.

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Research Aims: What are they?

Simply put, the research aim(s) is a statement that reflects the broad overarching goal (s) of the research project. Research aims are fairly high-level (low resolution) as they outline the general direction of the research and what it’s trying to achieve .

Research Aims: Examples  

True to the name, research aims usually start with the wording “this research aims to…”, “this research seeks to…”, and so on. For example:

“This research aims to explore employee experiences of digital transformation in retail HR.”   “This study sets out to assess the interaction between student support and self-care on well-being in engineering graduate students”  

As you can see, these research aims provide a high-level description of what the study is about and what it seeks to achieve. They’re not hyper-specific or action-oriented, but they’re clear about what the study’s focus is and what is being investigated.

Need a helping hand?

sample research questions on motivation

Research Objectives: What are they?

The research objectives take the research aims and make them more practical and actionable . In other words, the research objectives showcase the steps that the researcher will take to achieve the research aims.

The research objectives need to be far more specific (higher resolution) and actionable than the research aims. In fact, it’s always a good idea to craft your research objectives using the “SMART” criteria. In other words, they should be specific, measurable, achievable, relevant and time-bound”.

Research Objectives: Examples  

Let’s look at two examples of research objectives. We’ll stick with the topic and research aims we mentioned previously.  

For the digital transformation topic:

To observe the retail HR employees throughout the digital transformation. To assess employee perceptions of digital transformation in retail HR. To identify the barriers and facilitators of digital transformation in retail HR.

And for the student wellness topic:

To determine whether student self-care predicts the well-being score of engineering graduate students. To determine whether student support predicts the well-being score of engineering students. To assess the interaction between student self-care and student support when predicting well-being in engineering graduate students.

  As you can see, these research objectives clearly align with the previously mentioned research aims and effectively translate the low-resolution aims into (comparatively) higher-resolution objectives and action points . They give the research project a clear focus and present something that resembles a research-based “to-do” list.

The research objectives detail the specific steps that you, as the researcher, will take to achieve the research aims you laid out.

Research Questions: What are they?

Finally, we arrive at the all-important research questions. The research questions are, as the name suggests, the key questions that your study will seek to answer . Simply put, they are the core purpose of your dissertation, thesis, or research project. You’ll present them at the beginning of your document (either in the introduction chapter or literature review chapter) and you’ll answer them at the end of your document (typically in the discussion and conclusion chapters).  

The research questions will be the driving force throughout the research process. For example, in the literature review chapter, you’ll assess the relevance of any given resource based on whether it helps you move towards answering your research questions. Similarly, your methodology and research design will be heavily influenced by the nature of your research questions. For instance, research questions that are exploratory in nature will usually make use of a qualitative approach, whereas questions that relate to measurement or relationship testing will make use of a quantitative approach.  

Let’s look at some examples of research questions to make this more tangible.

Research Questions: Examples  

Again, we’ll stick with the research aims and research objectives we mentioned previously.  

For the digital transformation topic (which would be qualitative in nature):

How do employees perceive digital transformation in retail HR? What are the barriers and facilitators of digital transformation in retail HR?  

And for the student wellness topic (which would be quantitative in nature):

Does student self-care predict the well-being scores of engineering graduate students? Does student support predict the well-being scores of engineering students? Do student self-care and student support interact when predicting well-being in engineering graduate students?  

You’ll probably notice that there’s quite a formulaic approach to this. In other words, the research questions are basically the research objectives “converted” into question format. While that is true most of the time, it’s not always the case. For example, the first research objective for the digital transformation topic was more or less a step on the path toward the other objectives, and as such, it didn’t warrant its own research question.  

So, don’t rush your research questions and sloppily reword your objectives as questions. Carefully think about what exactly you’re trying to achieve (i.e. your research aim) and the objectives you’ve set out, then craft a set of well-aligned research questions . Also, keep in mind that this can be a somewhat iterative process , where you go back and tweak research objectives and aims to ensure tight alignment throughout the golden thread.

The importance of strong alignment 

Alignment is the keyword here and we have to stress its importance . Simply put, you need to make sure that there is a very tight alignment between all three pieces of the golden thread. If your research aims and research questions don’t align, for example, your project will be pulling in different directions and will lack focus . This is a common problem students face and can cause many headaches (and tears), so be warned.

Take the time to carefully craft your research aims, objectives and research questions before you run off down the research path. Ideally, get your research supervisor/advisor to review and comment on your golden thread before you invest significant time into your project, and certainly before you start collecting data .  

Recap: The golden thread

In this post, we unpacked the golden thread of research, consisting of the research aims , research objectives and research questions . You can jump back to any section using the links below.

As always, feel free to leave a comment below – we always love to hear from you. Also, if you’re interested in 1-on-1 support, take a look at our private coaching service here.

sample research questions on motivation

Psst… there’s more (for free)

This post is part of our dissertation mini-course, which covers everything you need to get started with your dissertation, thesis or research project. 

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Isaac Levi

Thank you very much for your great effort put. As an Undergraduate taking Demographic Research & Methodology, I’ve been trying so hard to understand clearly what is a Research Question, Research Aim and the Objectives in a research and the relationship between them etc. But as for now I’m thankful that you’ve solved my problem.

Hatimu Bah

Well appreciated. This has helped me greatly in doing my dissertation.

Dr. Abdallah Kheri

An so delighted with this wonderful information thank you a lot.

so impressive i have benefited a lot looking forward to learn more on research.

Ekwunife, Chukwunonso Onyeka Steve

I am very happy to have carefully gone through this well researched article.

Infact,I used to be phobia about anything research, because of my poor understanding of the concepts.

Now,I get to know that my research question is the same as my research objective(s) rephrased in question format.

I please I would need a follow up on the subject,as I intends to join the team of researchers. Thanks once again.


Thanks so much. This was really helpful.


i found this document so useful towards my study in research methods. thanks so much.

Michael L. Andrion

This is my 2nd read topic in your course and I should commend the simplified explanations of each part. I’m beginning to understand and absorb the use of each part of a dissertation/thesis. I’ll keep on reading your free course and might be able to avail the training course! Kudos!


Thank you! Better put that my lecture and helped to easily understand the basics which I feel often get brushed over when beginning dissertation work.

Enoch Tindiwegi

This is quite helpful. I like how the Golden thread has been explained and the needed alignment.

Sora Dido Boru

This is quite helpful. I really appreciate!


The article made it simple for researcher students to differentiate between three concepts.

Afowosire Wasiu Adekunle

Very innovative and educational in approach to conducting research.

Sàlihu Abubakar Dayyabu

I am very impressed with all these terminology, as I am a fresh student for post graduate, I am highly guided and I promised to continue making consultation when the need arise. Thanks a lot.

Mohammed Shamsudeen

A very helpful piece. thanks, I really appreciate it .

Sonam Jyrwa

Very well explained, and it might be helpful to many people like me.


Wish i had found this (and other) resource(s) at the beginning of my PhD journey… not in my writing up year… 😩 Anyways… just a quick question as i’m having some issues ordering my “golden thread”…. does it matter in what order you mention them? i.e., is it always first aims, then objectives, and finally the questions? or can you first mention the research questions and then the aims and objectives?


Thank you for a very simple explanation that builds upon the concepts in a very logical manner. Just prior to this, I read the research hypothesis article, which was equally very good. This met my primary objective.

My secondary objective was to understand the difference between research questions and research hypothesis, and in which context to use which one. However, I am still not clear on this. Can you kindly please guide?

Derek Jansen

In research, a research question is a clear and specific inquiry that the researcher wants to answer, while a research hypothesis is a tentative statement or prediction about the relationship between variables or the expected outcome of the study. Research questions are broader and guide the overall study, while hypotheses are specific and testable statements used in quantitative research. Research questions identify the problem, while hypotheses provide a focus for testing in the study.

Saen Fanai

Exactly what I need in this research journey, I look forward to more of your coaching videos.

Abubakar Rofiat Opeyemi

This helped a lot. Thanks so much for the effort put into explaining it.

Lamin Tarawally

What data source in writing dissertation/Thesis requires?

What is data source covers when writing dessertation/thesis

Latifat Muhammed

This is quite useful thanks


I’m excited and thankful. I got so much value which will help me progress in my thesis.

Amer Al-Rashid

where are the locations of the reserch statement, research objective and research question in a reserach paper? Can you write an ouline that defines their places in the researh paper?


Very helpful and important tips on Aims, Objectives and Questions.

Refiloe Raselane

Thank you so much for making research aim, research objectives and research question so clear. This will be helpful to me as i continue with my thesis.

Annabelle Roda-Dafielmoto

Thanks much for this content. I learned a lot. And I am inspired to learn more. I am still struggling with my preparation for dissertation outline/proposal. But I consistently follow contents and tutorials and the new FB of GRAD Coach. Hope to really become confident in writing my dissertation and successfully defend it.


As a researcher and lecturer, I find splitting research goals into research aims, objectives, and questions is unnecessarily bureaucratic and confusing for students. For most biomedical research projects, including ‘real research’, 1-3 research questions will suffice (numbers may differ by discipline).


Awesome! Very important resources and presented in an informative way to easily understand the golden thread. Indeed, thank you so much.


Well explained

New Growth Care Group

The blog article on research aims, objectives, and questions by Grad Coach is a clear and insightful guide that aligns with my experiences in academic research. The article effectively breaks down the often complex concepts of research aims and objectives, providing a straightforward and accessible explanation. Drawing from my own research endeavors, I appreciate the practical tips offered, such as the need for specificity and clarity when formulating research questions. The article serves as a valuable resource for students and researchers, offering a concise roadmap for crafting well-defined research goals and objectives. Whether you’re a novice or an experienced researcher, this article provides practical insights that contribute to the foundational aspects of a successful research endeavor.

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20 Key Questions on Motivation and Habits, Answered

“Habits are at first cobwebs, then cables.” – Spanish Proverb

Post written by Leo Babauta .

It’s that time of year — the end part — when people start thinking about their lives, their goals, their habits, and how to change everything for the better.

As always, I’m here to help if I can.

Today I’ve answered 20 questions from your fellow readers, who submitted them via the Zen Habits Twitter stream . I don’t claim to be perfect, but have learned a lot about habits and motivation in the last four or five years of habit changes (see My Story for more). I share some of what I’ve learned with the caveat, of course, that what works for me might not work for you. I hope it helps nevertheless.

1. How do you motivate yourself to get work done after trying many things and failing over and over again? (via @ankit_patel ) Motivation is first just about taking that first step — just getting excited about something enough to get started. Then it’s about focusing on enjoying what you’re doing, right now, instead of worrying about how you’re going to get to a destination.

You also need to forget about your failures, or at least the part of them that gets you discouraged. Take away from your failures a lesson about what obstacles stand in your way, and leave behind any bad feelings. Those are in the past. Focus on right now, and how fun the activity is, right now. 2. What moved you to first start the change into the Leo we know today? What was your very first step? (combined question from @hchybinski & @XIIIzen ) We’re the sum of all we’ve done in the past, from childhood on, so there’s no one thing that led me to the person I am or the life I’m living. However, I can definitely say that quitting smoking was a turning point for me, for a couple of reasons:

* It showed me that I could successfully change a habit, which I had no confidence in before that, after failing a number of times. * I learned a lot of successful habit change principles from quitting smoking, which I applied to all future habit changes. See my book, The Power of Less , for details.

3. Why do we willfully and consciously engage in self-destructive habits while ignoring our better judgment? (via @ajdigitalfocus ) I don’t think this has been fully answered, but in my view it’s that we don’t rationally weigh the risks vs. costs.

When we smoke, we think it’s too hard to quit, too painful over the few weeks it takes to quit (cost), but it’s not properly weighed against the risks of not quitting (major illnesses, suffering for years, early death, incredible expenses for cigarettes and hospitalization, etc.).

The same is true of unhealthy eating — not eating the junk food is too hard, but the risk of eating it is obesity, health problems, self-esteem issues, high medical bills, gym costs if we want to get back into shape, years of suffering, etc.

The pain of quitting is now, while the pain of continuing is much later, and so it doesn’t seem too bad. So the answer is to replace the bad habit with a good habit that you enjoy immensely, and focus on that enjoyment, right now, rather than the pain.

4. What is your favorite low tech and high tech way to track progress on your habits? (via @jalbright ) I’ve tried lots of high-tech trackers — from Joe’s Goals to The Daily Plate to the Daily Mile to Fit Day — but my current favorite is Daytum . It’s really easy to enter data, and you can display it publicly in many useful ways. People can look at my Daytum and see how I’m doing, and that motivates me to keep going.

As for low-tech solutions, my favorite is a Moleskine notebook. Easy to carry around, nice to use.

5. How can I become a “Morning Person”? I feel it’s a key to success. (via @DonSchenck ) While I intentionally became an early riser, and I love it, it’s not really a key to success. It’s one way to find the time to pursue your dreams, and it’s the way I chose, but I know night owls (famously, Tim Ferriss) who find they’re much more productive in the middle of the night. Find what works best for you.

But to answer your question: do it slowly, five minutes earlier each morning, and do something enjoyable with your extra time. Focus on how wonderful the time of day is, how enjoyable the activity, and not how much you’re suffering because it’s too damn early. You’ll learn to love it, and you’ll adjust over time.

6. If for a moment you start to feel overwhelmed by the complexities of life, how do you simplify to get where you want to be? (via @TroyAustria ) Take a deep breath, and let all the chaos and frustration flow out of you. Focus not all all the things you need to do, or that are coming up, or that have happened, but on what you’re doing right now. And just focus on doing one thing, right now.

I would take a walk, get some fresh air, and get some perspective. Try to think about what’s most important to you, what your perfect life would be like, what your perfect day would look like.

Then, one small step at a time, start making it happen. What’s standing in the way? What can you change right now? What can you change tomorrow? What long-term changes can you start making?

Declutter the area around you, a little at a time (or all at once, if you can find the free time and energy). Cut back on how much you’re doing, which will mean telling people who expect things of you that you just can’t do those things, because you have too much on your plate.

7. What’s the habit requiring the least effort that makes the greatest difference? (via @kofisarfo ) This will sound trite, but I’d say positive thinking. It’s not the easiest habit, as it requires that you start listening to your self-talk, and start telling yourself positive things instead of negative ones.

But it’s the one thing that will make the greatest difference, because it will enable all other habit changes. It has really made a huge difference in my life, and I think it’s a vital component to any plan to change your life.

8. What would be the 10 most motivating words I could say to myself every morning to get myself to exercise? (via @AmidPrivilege ) I would say these 10 words:

“Just lace up and get out the door. And smile.”

Once you get started, take that first step, the rest is easy. And smiling makes it enjoyable.

9. My hubby lacks interest in anything except boating. How can I motivate him to get off the sofa? (via @organizedsandra ) I don’t think you can motivate others — if they want to do something, they’ll do it. If they don’t, then don’t make them.

However, you can influence others in positive ways. I’d recommend setting an example by doing, and sharing how great it is, without judgment for what he’s doing. If he’s happy doing what he’s doing, then that’s great. If he’d like to do more, then be there for support — but don’t push.

You can ask for his help, as well, in your efforts. Sometimes spouses love to help, and that can rub off on them and get them thinking about trying it themselves. Or maybe not.

In the end, worry more about what you’re doing and less about what he’s doing — he’s living his life and you’re living yours. People don’t like to be pushed or judged or badgered, but like to be loved and accepted.

10. How to minimize tension/frustration with others who are less organized than you are! (via @originalmuggle ) It’s a matter of only worrying about what you can control, and accepting that which you can’t. You can’t control others or their organization level, so don’t even try to.

This is actually a deeper issue of control for many organized people — they want to control everything in the world around them (and for a long time I was one of them), but it’s impossible, and it only leads to stress and frustration and conflicts. Instead, learn to embrace a degree of chaos, accept that the world is out of your control, and love it. The world is a wonderfully unpredictable, wild, and beautiful place.

To learn to let go, every time you find yourself frustrated, stop, and breathe. Let the frustration flow out of you, and let peace come in. Remind yourself that you don’t have to control, and love others for their humanness. It takes time, but you can learn.

11. What is your best advice on keeping focused on the important when the distractions in our lives are constant? (via @gamesizing ) Figure out what’s distracting you, and how to minimize them, or at least put them in a certain place. Engineer your environment so the distractions are minimal. For example, shut off the Internet except for times when you really need it (predetermined times). At the very least, shut off email notifications and anything else that pops up and tells you there’s a new message or tweet or whatever. Close those programs and only have what you need for the task in front of you.

Learn to focus for short amounts of time — say 10 or 15 minutes. Then lengthen that time gradually, by 5 minutes, until you can focus for 45-60 minutes at a time — or more. And enjoy that time of focus — it’s fantastic.

12. How do you stay motivated in business when you have never done something before & the results won’t show up until down the road? (via @darinpersinger ) Learn to love the process, and don’t let your happiness be so dependent on the outcome. Be passionate about the actual things you do, do them because you love it, and you’ll stick with it. The great things that result will be a natural by-product.

13. Thoughts on getting unstuck? (via @coulter520 ) If you’re stuck on a project or task, give your brain a breather or a jolt. A breather could be going outside to take a walk, doing a little bit of easy meditation (focus on your breath as it comes in, then goes out, for a minute or two), or doing something fun like a game for a few minutes (like 5-20 minutes). A jolt could be some kind of inspiration — read blogs or books you find inspiring, look for something others are doing that inspire you to do something creative.

If you’re stuck in life, that requires a bit more work, but think of it as an opportunity to re-invent yourself and your life. Take a break from work if possible — even if it’s just for an hour or two, but a day or two is even better. Think of it as a necessary work session, because it will help you get unstuck. Take this break as a breather from your normal routine, but use it not just to veg out but to think, to get some perspective, to take a wider look at your life. What are you doing that you love doing? What can you eliminate that’s both unnecessary and unexciting? If you hate what you’re doing, can you change it to something you love, or can you change jobs? Can you automate or outsource things that you don’t enjoy, or eliminate them, so you can focus on creating, on things you do enjoy? Make a list of things you’d like to do, in the short-term and long-term, and then start implementing them, one little thing at a time.

14. How do you stay away from distractions? Do you do just one thing at a time or multitask in a planned way? (via @manshu ) I’m a big proponent of single-tasking. Multi-tasking can work in some cases but most of the time it gets in the way of focusing on what’s really important. Multi-tasking can work for little tasks, like checking email and your bank account and Facebook and things like that. But you should set aside time for the important tasks — earlier rather than later, when things might get too busy.

When you’re going to work on an important task, clear away all distractions and focus just on that one task. Close programs you don’t need, clear away clutter on your desk, turn off any notifications, turn off your mobile devices, and preferably shut off the Internet and close your browser.

15. How do you determine when you’ve reached a minimalist lifestyle? (via @clabbur ) It’s not a destination, it’s a mindset. You’re a minimalist once you decide to have less and do less, when you decided to stick with enough and not go for more. I consider myself a minimalist, but I know there’s much more I could do if I wanted to. I could go live in a cabin in the woods, in Alaska, and be off the grid. I could use or eat nothing I didn’t make myself. But that’s not realistic, for my life, so I just reduce what I own and use and do, and slowly change over time.

Any lasting change should be done slowly and gradually anyway. So think of it not so much as a destination but a long-term process, and you’ll improve over time. You’re never there, at that “minimalist lifestyle” exactly, but at the same time you’re always there, if your mind is in the right place.

16. If you could offer only one piece of advice about beginning … changing habits, starting fresh … what would it be? (via @andsarah2 ) Start with one little step at a time. That’s obvious, but you might be surprised at how many people try to change 5-10 habits at once, to start afresh. It’s too hard to make drastic changes like that.

Changes made gradually don’t seem hard at all. For example, instead of giving up meat altogether to become vegetarian, you could just eat some vegetarian dishes on different nights of the week. That will soon become normal, as you learn new recipes and adjust your taste buds. Then add more meatless meals, and so on, and each step along the way, you’ll adjust and that will become the new “normal” for you. Over time, you’ll have made great changes, but each step along the way is a small one and not difficult at all.

17. How do you sustain self-motivation when you suffer a setback toward your goals? (via @liveaudaciously ) I always try to enjoy what I’m doing. If there’s a setback, that’s not a problem, because the progress I’m making isn’t as important as doing the activity (running, reading, writing, cycling, whatever). And because I enjoy the activity, I’ll keep doing it, even if there’s a setback.

Just realize that setbacks are not the ending points, unless you let them become so. They’re just a little stone on the road — kick it aside, go over it, walk around it, but just keep walking. And enjoy the journey.

19. What do you do when you used to love your work, but passion has been killed by work/life balance issues? (via @RobinLP ) There are two approaches I’ve tried and recommend. The first is to try to reinvigorate your work, to find new appreciation and passion for your work. This is the easiest method, from one point of view, but at the same time isn’t always possible if you truly hate your job. To do it, you have to look at the things you enjoy about your job, to appreciate things about your job that you take for granted, and to try to change your job so that it’s something you love doing. You can do that by creating projects and work for yourself, with buy-in from your boss or team, that you’re excited about.

The second approach is more drastic but for me has been so much more rewarding — changing jobs to something you really love doing. This takes a little more time, and more courage. I suggest you start doing the job you want to do on the side — even for free at first, until you get good at it or spread your reputation enough that you can charge. Eventually, as you gain confidence and skills, you’ll want to take the plunge and quit your regular job.

Either way, you’ll need to address the root problem: you need to find balance in your life and time for things other than work. Workaholism is a problem when work becomes a problem — meaning if it’s sapping you of passion, you need to make a change. Set limits — stop working after a certain time, and schedule some non-work things that you enjoy. Exercise, hobbies, doing things with friends or family, creating in some way, reading, anything other than work. Find the balance that works for you — it takes time and experimenting, but most of all it takes a consciousness that you want to change your life.

20. How have the types of habits you have cultivated evolved over time? (via @rosshill ) Great question. As with anyone, my habits have changed since I started Zen Habits — I didn’t just cultivate some fundamental habits and then stop, living a static life. I’m always trying new things out, and my philosophy is always evolving as I learn. So some of the things you might’ve read when I started Zen Habits back in early 2007 don’t quite apply to what I’m doing today.

A good example is back in those days I was all about productivity in the traditional sense — knocking out tasks as quickly as possible, Getting Things Done , cranking widgets, making the most of every minute. But as I’ve evolved, that has become less important to me. I’ve simplified, and now I focus on what’s important, on enjoying what I do, on creating, rather than on getting so much done. It’s a more human approach to work, rather than an industrial drone type of approach.

In fact, I think I’ve become simpler over time. I don’t stress out about my running as much, and instead just go out to enjoy the run. I don’t worry about waking early so much, although I definitely enjoy the early morning and try to wake early so I can read and work in the quiet before dawn. I don’t keep track of all my tasks as much as I used to, so that at any given moment I might not have an up-to-date task list but I know what I want to focus on right now.

“We are what we repeatedly do. Excellence, then, is not an act, but a habit.” – Aristotle

Posted: 12.07.2009

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Blog Employee Experience

Employee Motivation Questionnaire: 20+ Questions and Free Template

Parvathi vijayamohan.

5 February 2024

Table Of Contents

  • Employee Motivation Questionnaire: Top 24 Questions
  • Internal factors: Employee motivation questions
  • External factors: Employee motivation questions

What’s the point of an  employee motivation questionnaire ?

Well, wouldn’t it be great if motivation was a mental button that we could switch on or off at will? But it doesn’t come that easy. Even the most driven of us can sometimes feel like our motivation has gone on an unapproved vacation.

But when entire teams stop caring about their work, it shows. Employee motivation surveys are a helpful tool to find out the reasons why your employees are losing steam at work . And more importantly, do something about it.

  • Employee motivation questions: Internal factors
  • Employee motivation questions: External factors

Employee Motivation Questionnaire: Top 24 Questions + Free Template

We have three goals for the employee motivation questionnaire.

  • Measure the employees’ interest toward their work.
  • Discover the factors that are affecting their work performance.
  • Use this feedback to move toward your end goal – a lively work environment with happier teams and improved morale.

Now, let’s dive into the items that make up the employee motivation questionnaire format. First, we will break down the questions by the two types of motivation that they measure.

  • Internal motivation
  • External motivation

Here’s an employee motivation template created using ThriveSparrow . You can customize it the way you like.

ThriveSparrow also lets you dive deep into the reports section and lets you understand which departments are most motivated and which aren’t.

This lets you extract meaningful insights from your employee motivation survey and drive positive organizational changes.

Sign up below to get started for free! 

14-Day Free Trial • No Credit Card Required • No Strings Attached

Now, let’s go through the questions you need to consider when crafting your motivation survey for employees.

Employee motivation questionnaire – Internal motivators

  • What do you do in the workplace/What is your role?
  • How many years have you been working in this industry?
  • You’re doing a fantastic job! But, are you happy with what you do?
  • On a scale of 1-5, how excited are you usually to go to work?
  • What’s your biggest challenge with motivation in the workplace?
  • On a scale of 1-5, how strongly does your motivation level affect your performance?
  • How would you rate the current motivation program in Wayne Enterprises?
  • What thing would motivate you to be more productive? A new coffee machine, 4-day workweek – feel free to speak your mind!
  • Are you motivated by Wayne Enterprises’s vision and mission?
  • What is your prime motivator at work right now?
  • How likely are you to recommend Wayne Enterprises as a place to work?
  • Rate your agreement with the following statements :
  • I feel driven to do my best each day.
  • I’m motivated to go the extra mile on my projects.
  • My job is interesting and challenging.
  • I get opportunities to develop new skills.
  • I feel that I’m contributing to the overall goals of my company.
  • My manager/lead has shown sincere interest in my career goals.
  • I feel that my work is seen and appreciated within my team/company.
  • The recognition I receive from my direct manager/lead/coworkers motivates me to do my best.
  • My direct manager entrusts me with a high level of responsibility.

Employee motivation questionnaire – External motivators

  • Do seniors and colleagues appreciate you for your work?
  • Do you think your current role lets you grow and develop new skills?
  • Rate your level of satisfaction with the work culture of Wayne Enterprises.
  • What type of incentives motivates you more?
  • How far are you satisfied with the incentives provided by Wayne Enterprises?
  • Are you happy with the management style of your leader?
  • Do you feel that the leadership sufficiently motivates you?
  • Do you think your views and opinions are considered when making a decision that could affect the team?
  • Are you encouraged to develop new and better ways of doing things?
  • Have you been promoted at work in the last six months?
  • Have you been nominated for training development programs for the previous six months?
  • Please rank the following workplace factors based on how important they are to you .
  • Job security
  • Growth opportunities
  • Favorable working conditions
  • Interesting work
  • Loyalty to employees
  • Constructive management
  • Organizational appreciation for work done
  • Understanding/helping with personal issues
  • Being involved in things

What is the purpose of employee motivation?

With an employee motivation questionnaire, companies can:

  • Take regular employee pulse checks to see what’s working and not.
  • Get ideas and suggestions to: change behavior, develop competencies, be creative, set goals, grow interests, make plans, develop talents, and boost engagement.
  • Manage the level and intensity of motivation – particularly in a sphere where most of the staff are working remotely or hybrid.
  • Nail the staff motivation strategies that increase employee engagement and retention.
  • Drive better outcomes with motivated employees – revenue growth, happier clients, better partnerships, and so on.

What are the top 10 motivators for employees?

Earlier, studies pinpointed five primary motivators for employees. They are:

  • Challenging or interesting work
  • Work recognition
  • Employee involvement
  • Compensation+ incentives

To that, recent studies have added five more:

  • Being in the know about company matters
  • A supportive attitude from the management
  • Career advancement opportunities
  • Working conditions
  • Constructive on-the-job feedback

The last point is the most vital. On-the-job feedback can help you act on all of these points, from working conditions to incentive schemes. Employee feedback software like SurveySparrow helps you with this by tracking the employee pulse, analyzing the data and letting you act before it’s too late.

How do you motivate an unmotivated employee?

You don’t have to see demotivated employees as a lost cause! Instead, here are some actions you can take to tackle the issue:

  • Just ask what the problem is. Sometimes, it takes a face-to-face conversation to get to the root cause. E.g., frustration at not being able to tackle a pet project, or an inability to meet deadlines due to unplanned tasks.
  • Make sure your employee knows the ‘why’ of their work . Let them know that their work is contributing to the bigger picture.
  • Set clear goals, and give the employee the tools to work towards them . That can include access to resources, career development programs, bonuses, etc.
  • Communicate about what’s going on  at the company with  remote work surveys . One of the challenges of going remote is the lack of organic, free-flowing work chatter. So sometimes, a remote employee’s understanding of their work situation may not match reality.
  • Take a good, long look at your compensation and incentive schemes . Are they sufficient to motivate staff?For example, does it make sense to have a free lunch scheme for remote employees?
  • Don’t let good deeds go unpublished . Here are  pointers for setting up a budget-friendly employee recognition scheme .

Wrapping Up

That’s all, folks! In this article, we’ve talked about the top 24 questions that make up an employee motivation questionnaire, and how a timely survey on employee motivation can help you build a happier, more productive workforce.

Think of your company as an orchard, and motivation as one of the fertilizers. You need to keep adding it, even when the impact is not immediately obvious. The net result are long-term gains in client and employee growth.

Growth Marketer at SurveySparrow

Fledgling growth marketer. Cloud watcher. Aunty to a naughty beagle.

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How to Answer “Why Are You Interested in This Position?” (+5 Sample Responses)

  • Julia Mlcuchova , 
  • Updated February 15, 2024 8 min read

Knowing how to answer 'Why are you interested in this position?' is crucial when you're stepping into a job interview .

It's one of the most common interview questions, and you're almost guaranteed to face it .

It's a powerful way to showcase your motivation and how well your goals match with what the company and the job offer.

In this article, we'll guide you through crafting the perfect response that can set you apart from other candidates and provide sample answers in case that's something you prefer.

Read this article and find out:

  • What the recruiters really want to know;
  • Things you shouldn't say;
  • How to prepare yourself for this question;
  • How to answer the question “Why are you interested in this position?“;
  • And 5 response examples . 

Table of Contents

Click on a section to skip

What are the recruiters really asking?

  • How NOT to answer 'Why are you interested in this position?

How to prepare yourself for this question? Research, research, research!

  • How to answer the question 'Why are you interested in this position?' in 4 steps 
  • 5 Sample responses
  • Key takeaways: How to Answer 'Why Are You Interested in This Position?'

Undoubtedly, “ Why are you interested in this position? ” is one of the most common interview questions you'll ever encounter. 

But why do recruiters like this question so much? 

Because it can reveal quite a lot about the candidate and candidate's work ethic:

  • Genuine interest in the role. Recruiters want details about why particular responsibilities or opportunities in the role caught your eye, indicating you've done your homework and see a match with your skills and interests.
  • Fit with the company culture. They're looking for signs that you've researched and understand the company's culture, and can articulate why you would be a good fit.
  • How the role fits into your career trajectory. Recruiters seek insights into how you view this position as a step towards your long-term career objectives, showing commitment and foresight.
  • Distinct skills or experiences you offer. They expect you to highlight specific skills or unique experiences you have that directly relate to the job's needs, showing how you stand out from other candidates.
  • Your retention potential. Onboarding and training new recruits costs time and money. Because of that, hiring managers prefer candidates who are looking to integrate into their company and stay there for many years to come.

All in all, recruiters want to probe whether you're the right person for the job – not just in terms of your skills and experience. This question is mainly about your alignment with the company's culture and direction.

How NOT to answer ' Why are you interested in this position?

You know the drill. Before delving into how to best answer, let's look at some red flag responses that would ring alarm bells in any recruiter's mind. 

Indeed, the purpose of open-ended questions at job interviews is not only to test the suitability of a candidate but also to spot certain warning signs. 

Here is a list of things to avoid:

  • Bad-mouthing your current/past employer. It reflects negatively on your professional reputation and can raise questions about your loyalty and integrity. 
  • Focusing too much on salary. Yes, money is important. But companies want to employ workers whose motivation goes beyond mere financial gain.
  • Not researching the company beforehand. How much do you actually care about joining a particular company when you don't even bother researching it? 
  • Being too vague. Answers such as “I just really need a job right now,” or “It seems like a good place to work” are really nondescript.
  • Making it all about yourself. Don't only talk about what the company can do for you! Instead, show them how YOU can contribute to the company. 
  • Considering the job position a stepping stone to bigger things. Don't mention that this job opportunity would be a great way to gain experience which you plan on using in another company in the future.

Don't let the recruiters catch you off guard!

Upload your resume and generate sample interview questions in seconds.

As you must've already noticed at this point, how well you answer hinges on the research you do prior to entering the (interrogation) room.

But do you know what exactly to look into?

Essentially, your research should be twofold : 

  • Research the company
  • Research the job position

1. Researching the company

In short, when recruiters ask, ' Why are you interested in this position?', they want to know why you're choosing their company for your accounting career, not why you became an accountant.

Here's how you REALLY research a company:

  • Visit their website and click on the 'About us' section .
  • Check their LinkedIn to understand their industry standing and find employee testimonials.
  • Scroll through their other social media to see their latest news and projects. 
  • Find any press releases, news articles, or annual report insights .
  • Get in touch with someone who has experienced it first-hand – a former employee or a current one. Conducting an informational interview is your best chance to get an objective and true picture of what a workplace is really like.  

2. Researching the role

As a part of a well-rounded answer, you should also be able to discuss the role itself in detail . 

If you want to check whether your knowledge is sufficient ask yourself these 7 question : 

  • Do I know which competences the role involves? 
  • Which are the most valuable skills and qualifications for the role? 
  • How does this role contribute to the company's overall performance? 
  • What challenges and opportunities a person in this job position usually encounters?
  • How can I potentially solve these problems?
  • How much of the said challenges have I already encountered in my work experience?
  • Do I have tangible results to corroborate it?

Please, remember that just like your resume, your interview responses must always be tailored to specific job descriptions . Hence, anything you mention (your skills, motivation, experience, achievements, etc.) should tie directly to the job position and company you wish to join.

How to answer the question 'Why are you interested in this position? ' in 4 steps  

Your resume was excellent, your cover letter outstanding. You received THE phone call, now you sit opposite to a recruiter asking you “Why are you interested in this position?”.  Here's how you can structure your response in 4 steps :

Don't know which skills to highlight? Use the job posting as your guideline. Talk about the skills that are the most valuable for the role .

Use your research of the latest annual reports, website, LinkedIn, and social media. What recent achievements or innovations of the company excite you? What about the company's culture appeals to you?

While it's tempting to focus on what the role (and company) offers you, flip the perspective to show what you offer them.

Finally, you want to reassure them that you're in for the long run. The best way to achieve this is to emphasize that for you, it's not just about the money . Therefore, you should show how the position contributes to achieving your professional goals .

5 Sample respon ses

With all the theory behind us, here is a general sample response to 'Why are you interested in this position' which you can personalise by filling in the blanks with your specific information:

#1 Sample answer to "Why are you interested in this position?"

In my [number] years working in [industry/field] , I’ve developed strong skills in [specific skills mentioned in the job posting] , perfectly suited for the [position] at [Company Name] .

I was particularly drawn to [Company Name] after reading your latest annual report. I’m impressed by [specific achievement or innovation of the company] and appreciate your commitment to [aspect of the company’s culture].

I bring a track record of success, notably in [major achievement or project you’ve partaken in] , aligning with your goals of [goals or projects of the company] . My expertise in [what you can do for them, e.g., ‘driving innovation,’ ‘leading teams,’ ‘optimizing processes’] was highlighted when I [specific example] .

This role is a key step in my career, aligning with my goal to [your long-term career goals] . I’m eager to contribute to [Company Name] and advance within your team.”

Now it's time to have a look at a few specific sample answers. 

PS: Remember that these are just our suggestions . And so, the answer you prepare can ultimately be very different. So as long as you keep in mind the dos and don'ts mentioned above, you'll be able to craft an answer which fits your particular circumstances.

#2 Accountant in a publishing company

What makes this response good? 

This response follows the above structure to a T, with each paragraph corresponding to each step, we won't analyse it in depth.

#2 Sample answer to "Why are you interested in this position?"

“Having worked as an accountant for six years, I’ve gained extensive experience with Oracle and a deep understanding of financial documentation, tax preparation, and quarterly reporting. 

After all those years , I’ve realized I wanted to be a part of a bigger picture. That’s what attracted me to your company in the first place. I’m particularly impressed by your mission to improve literacy among impoverished children and your innovative approach to promoting book recycling through the marketplace for used books. 

In my former job, I led a project to streamline tax preparation processes, resulting in a 30% reduction in processing time. And I’m excited about the opportunity to use all my skills and experience to contribute to your financial team, supporting a cause I deeply believe in. 

I see this as a perfect alignment of my professional abilities and my commitment to contributing to meaningful projects .”

#3 Sales assistant in a clothes store

#3 sample answer to "why are you interested in this position".

“Ever since I was little, I’ve had a passion for fashion. I’ve spent hours at your store, admiring the trends and quality of your clothes. It’s not just a store to me; it’s where my love for fashion blossomed.

With three years of experience in retail sales, I’ve honed my customer service and sales skills. For instance, at my last job, I noticed our accessory sales were lagging. I initiated a cross-selling strategy, personally training the team on product pairing, which boosted accessory sales by 20%.

I want to deliver outstanding customer experience in a company like yours. One that shares my belief in the power of personal appearance to boost confidence. In the future, I would like to become a store manager , so that I can further influence positive shopping experiences and cultivate harmonious work environment.”

  • This candidate started strong with an anecdote from their personal life . Without a doubt, their motivation and passion for the role is evident. 
  • They also showcase their abilities on a specific example , describing the problem; how they approached it; and what result they achieved. 
  • Also, they made it clear that they want to stay with the company long-term and climb its ranks . 

#4 Project manager in a film production company

#4 sample answer to "why are you interested in this position".

“ I’ve always been captivated by the storytelling power of film . And your company’s track record of producing box office hits like ‘Eclipse of Destiny’ and ‘The Horizon Saga’ speaks to the kind of impactful storytelling I’m passionate about. And, I’m not going to lie, the opportunity to collaborate with industry giants like Johnathan Fields and Elena Martinez is incredibly exciting to me.

I have over a decade of experience in project management. The teams I’ve led in my last job executed 15 major projects . My efforts have directly contributed to a 20% reduction in project completion times and a 30% decrease in budget overruns .  

I want to be a part of stories that captivate and move audiences globally. Joining your team as a Senior Project Manager would enable me to do that. I’m eager to bring my skills to your company and help you to continue your tradition of cinematic excellence.”

  • The candidate shows that s/he is motivated by their genuine passion for the industry , as well as the desire to work with specific employers . As a consequence, the candidate demonstrates their knowledge of the company and its structures. 
  • Again, this candidate shows their skills with specific examples and backs them by quantifiers.  
  • Finally, s/he shows that s/he would be a great cultural fit for the company , since their values and goals align . 

#5 Video editor in a marketing company

#5 sample answer to "why are you interested in this position".

“With seven years of experience as a video editor at a small production company, I’ve reached a point where I’m looking to expand my horizons and apply my skills on a global stage . Your company caught my attention a few years back and… well, it was a no brainer! Your commercials have always amazed me for their artistic touch. I was also impressed by the long list of your partners and clients in your portfolio . 

My work has garnered over 2 million views across various platforms, significantly increasing customer engagement and sales by 40% for my clients. I specialize in crafting compelling narratives that not only entertain but also educate, which I understand aligns with your company’s approach to content .

Your support for volunteering and charity initiatives matches my own values and goals. Just last summer, I volunteered my skills to produce a series of educational videos for a local non-profit focused on environmental awareness, reaching an audience of over 50,000.

I see this as the perfect opportunity for a lasting partnership where I can keep growing and help your company achieve even greater success.”

  • The candidate is obviously motivated by their own desire to grow professionally . 
  • By alluding to the company's portfolio , the candidate proves that s/he they researched their company. 
  • The candidate draws a comparison between the company's interest in charity and emphasis on educational content and her/his own volunteering experience . 
  • Moreover, s/he voices her/his intent to keep growing together with the company, indicating their long-term commitment to the employer .  

Key takeaways: How to Answer ' Why Are You Interested in This Position ? '

When conceptualising how to answer the question “Why are you interested in this position?” , we recommend following this simple structure: 

  • Start by showing your relevant skills and experience. 
  • Talk about what specifically motivates you to join the company. 
  • Make it clear what YOU can do for THEM. 
  • Show how this position aligns with your long-term career goals. 

Consequently, you'll let the recruiters know about your desire for a meaningful and lasting contribution to their company. 

Finally, be prepared to react to more interview questions, such as: 

  • Why should we hire you?
  • Why did you leave your previous job?
  • Where do you see yourself in 5 years?
  • Why are you looking for a new job?
Julia has recently joined Kickresume as a career writer. From helping people with their English to get admitted to the uni of their dreams to advising them on how to succeed in the job market. It would seem that her career is on a steadfast trajectory. Julia holds a degree in Anglophone studies from Metropolitan University in Prague, where she also resides. Apart from creative writing and languages, she takes a keen interest in literature and theatre.

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Good (and Bad) Answers to Common Interview Questions

sample research questions on motivation

Sample language to guide you through the process.

Nailing your interview is no game of luck. You need to prep through extensive research and practice. When you’re preparing your answers to common interview questions, you might find that crafting thoughtful answers is harder than you imagined. You want to refine your words without sounding too rehearsed.

  • Whether you’re a recent grad or have been in the workforce for a couple of years, the key is to frame your past experiences into compelling narratives that speak to your skills and demonstrate your ability to do the job well.
  • It’s useful to understand what components differentiate a good and bad answer to common interview questions. A good answer includes narratives or examples that are specific, clear, self-aware, relatively recent, and related to the core competencies highlighted in the job description.
  • A bad answer, on the other hand, includes narratives or examples that are too personal, unprofessional, or irrelevant, overly negative, or  are a poor reflection on your character or skills.

You submitted your resume for a role that you’re excited about. Two weeks have passed and — finally — you’ve received a message: “We would love to learn more about your background and experience. Are you available for a virtual interview on any of these dates?”

  • XW Xena Wang (pronounced Zenna) is an early career professional with experience in higher ed admissions, arts and culture, and nonprofits. She is passionate about supporting individuals’ personal and professional development through inclusive staff engagement projects and volunteer Board Member positions. Xena is a graduate of Swarthmore College and Harvard Extension School’s Museum Studies program.

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