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Unconscious motivation in the cassroom



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9th Saudi Students Conference in the UK - 2016
13 - 14 February, 2016
The International Convention Centre (ICC)
Birmingham, United Kingdom
Abstracts of Accepted Papers and Posters
9th Saudi Students Conference in the UK - 2016
First published 2016
© The Scientific Society for Saudi Students in the UK, 2016.
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The Scientific Society for Saudi Students in the UK
The Scientific Society for Saudi Students in the UK
9th Saudi Students Conference in the UK - 2016
Submission No. 42: Unconscious Motivation in the Cassroom
Ali H. Al-Hoorie
School of English, The University of Nottingham, University Park, Nottingham, NG7 2RD, UK
English Language Center, Jubail Industrial College, PO Box 10099, Jubail Industrial City, 31961, KSA
The field of second language (L2) motivation is approaching 60 years old since Gardner and
Lambert’s (1959) seminal paper. Examination of this extensive literature reveals one constant trend:
Motivation is considered a conscious process that participants can readily verbalize introspectively.
This perspective is unsurprising, as it is in line with the general trend in motivational psychology
since the cognitive revolution. With the waning of the cognitive revolution in mainstream psychology,
however, more and more influence is now attributed to unconscious processes of motivation. In this
study, I present empirical evidence that L2 motivation can operate at an unconscious level and can
have an impact on learning outcomes.
I will first briefly explain how to measure unconscious motivation, because it is not
straightforward. Researchers cannot simply ask their participants about it, e.g. through a
questionnaire. Instead, researchers have to devise ways to measure it indirectly. An important measure
of implicit processes is the Single-Target Implicit Association Test (ST-IAT, Karpinski & Steinman,
2006). The ST-IAT is a psychological reaction-time experiment that requires the participant to press a
left or right button on the keyboard in order to categorize a series of stimuli appearing in the center of
a computer screen. Figure 1 offers an example of what the participant sees on the computer screen.
Figure 1: A trial of the ST-IAT.
In Figure 1, the participant has to decide, as fast as possible, whether the word Honest belongs
to the left box (and in this case the participant should press E on the keyboard) or to the right box (and
then press I). The correct answer in this example is E. After making this decision, a new stimulus
appears replacing Honest, and again the participant has to decide on the correct answer. Some of the
9th Saudi Students Conference in the UK - 2016
stimuli belong to the Pleasant category (e.g., kind, beautiful, optimistic, fair), others belong to the
Unpleasant category (e.g., mean, ugly, cheerless, dirty), and the rest belong to L2 Speakers (e.g.,
George, Elizabeth, New York, Britain). The trick is that, after completing this part, the L2 Speakers
category moves to the second box to pair with Unpleasant. The rationale of the ST-IAT is that
response speed in the two conditions is compared, and faster performance implies a stronger
association between L2 Speakers and the respective category. Table 1 presents a detailed outline of
the ST-IAT used in this study.
Table 1: Overview of the L2 Speakers Single-Target Implicit Association Test.
Response key assignment
Left button (E)
Right button (I)
Pleasant or L2 Speakers
Pleasant or L2 Speakers
Unpleasant or L2 Speakers
Unpleasant or L2 Speakers
In the present study, young adult learners (N = 311) studying English at a higher education
institution in Saudi Arabia completed the ST-IAT, as well as the following self-report scales: Attitudes
toward the L2 Course (ATLC, 8 bipolar adjective scales, α = .87), Intended Effort (5 items, α = .67),
and Ethnocentrism (2 items, α = .59). I then used t-tests to compare high achievers (i.e., students who
obtained A or B in their final examination) with low achievers (who obtained D or F). The results
showed that high achievers scored significantly higher in both the ST-IAT [t(254) = 2.26, p = .025, d
= 0.27] and ATLC [t = 3.51, p < .001, d = 0.42], but significantly lower in Ethnocentrism [t = 4.46, p
< .001, d = 0.54] than did low achievers.
These results demonstrate that unconscious processes, represented here by the ST-IAT, are
associated with both student motivation and final achievement in language learning. This conclusion
is significant in that it is no longer justifiable for researchers to rely solely on self-report
questionnaires if they aim to capture student motivation. Self-report questionnaires can capture only
conscious processes, while unconscious processes require indirect measures such as the ST-IAT used
in this study.
Gardner, R.C. and Lambert, W.E. (1959) Motivational variables in second-language acquisition.
Canadian Journal of Psychology/Revue canadienne de psychologie, 13 (4): 266272. doi:
Karpinski, A. and Steinman, R.B. (2006) The Single Category Implicit Association Test as a measure
of implicit social cognition. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 91 (1): 1632. doi:
ResearchGate has not been able to resolve any citations for this publication.
"Montreal high school students studying French as a second language completed a battery of tests including measures of linguistic aptitude, verbal intelligence, and various attitudinal and motivational characteristics. Analysis of the intercorrelations of these tests yielded two orthogonal factors equally related to ratings of achievement in French: a "linguistic aptitude" and a "motivational" factor. It was also found that maximum prediction of success in second-language acquisition was obtained from tests of: verbal intelligence, intensity of motivation to learn the other language, students' purposes in studying that language, and one index of linguistic aptitude." From Psyc Abstracts 36:05:5KL66G. (PsycINFO Database Record (c) 2012 APA, all rights reserved)
The Single Category Implicit Association Test (SC-IAT) is a modification of the Implicit Association Test that measures the strength of evaluative associations with a single attitude object. Across 3 different attitude domains--soda brand preferences, self-esteem, and racial attitudes--the authors found evidence that the SC-IAT is internally consistent and makes unique contributions in the ability to understand implicit social cognition. In a 4th study, the authors investigated the susceptibility of the SC-IAT to faking or self-presentational concerns. Once participants with high error rates were removed, no significant self-presentation effect was observed. These results provide initial evidence for the reliability and validity of the SC-IAT as an individual difference measure of implicit social cognition.