Although motivation in the area of L2 studies has attracted the interest of numerous researchers, there have been very few studies conducted regarding factors involved in bringing about motivation, or in other words, strategies that enhance motivation. To address this gap, Noels and her coresearchers have used Self-Determination Theory (SDT), a well-developed motivation theory in psychology, to examine factors behind the intrinsic motivation of L2 students (e.g., Noels, 2001; Noels, Pelletier, Clément, & Vallerand, 2000).
SDT focuses on the source of human motivation and deals with the manner in which the inclination and physiological/psychological needs toward growth innately possessed by human beings evolve or are attenuated as people interact with surrounding sociocultural factors. In addition, this theory assumes the existence of three psychological needs (i.e., for autonomy, competence, and relatedness) as prerequisites for enhancing student motivation. SDT hypothesizes that if these psychological needs are met, intrinsic motivation will be enhanced; whereas, if they are not met, intrinsic motivation will be undermined.
The studies conducted by Noels et al., which examined factors behind L2 students’ motivation, demonstrate to a certain extent the significance and potential for invoking SDT in L2 motivation studies. However, their studies are limited to an examination of the correlation between motivating factors (i.e., the three psychological needs) and intrinsic motivation. Furthermore, the causal relationship between these factors and motivation has not been established. In other words, is intrinsic motivation really enhanced if psychological needs are satisfied?
Thus this study investigates whether or not it is possible to enhance intrinsic motivation in Japanese EFL university students by introducing an educational intervention that stimulates the three psychological needs put forth in SDT. We decided to use the “Group Presentation Activity” (GP Activity; Tanaka, 2005) for this purpose because this activity has the potential to stimulate the three needs simultaneously. Therefore, the purposes of this study are as follows: (a) to examine whether the GP Activity enhances intrinsic motivation in Japanese EFL university students, and (b) to examine which psychological need (the need for autonomy, competence, or relatedness) plays the most significant role in students’ motivational development.
Seventy-eight university students (58 males and 20 females) who were enrolled in a second-year English language course participated in this study. The students met once a week in a 90–minute class. The GP Activity was used with them for five weeks. Prior to the beginning of the intervention, students were given questionnaires about language learning motivation and the three psychological needs. The same questionnaires were administered at the end of the intervention. Changes in scores (i.e., the difference between pretest and posttest scores) served as the measures of development of students’ motivation. In addition, to investigate in detail the manner in which the three psychological needs act in terms of enhancing motivation among students, we examined the data from the perspectives of general tendency and individual differences.
The results showed that: (a) GP Activity had a significant positive effect on students’ intrinsic motivation; and (b) from the perspective of general tendency, satisfaction of the need for autonomy had a strong relationship with students’ motivational development. These two findings corresponded to previous studies based on the SDT. On the other hand, a more detailed analysis focusing on individual differences revealed that (c) the facilitating role of the three psychological needs varied according to students’ motivational profiles. In short, while less motivated students seemed to benefit the most from the satisfaction of the need for competence, students with a medium level of motivation required that both the need for autonomy and competence be met for their motivational development. This suggested that teachers who intend to enhance students’ motivation should differentiate their teaching strategies depending on the motivational profiles of their students.