Being interested in what you’re doing makes everything better
Interest is a powerful psychological state. It makes us feel energetic and excited, fully engaged and focused. Our brains ‘work better’. Research has shown that we pay more attention, we process information better and will remember it. We tend to engage with it at a deeper level, we engage in critical thinking, make connections between old and new knowledge. We work harder, for longer. Time goes past unnoticed. And not only does it help us in the moment, but interest can sustain us over time, bringing us back to a project again and again.
Paul Silvia of the University of North Carolina has researched interest deeply. He highlights how interest gets us exploring and interested in new things, but also how it focusses our attention rather than being distracted by the huge number of possibilities and things going on around us.
It seems that schools switch off interest. Research has shown that student interest in school decreases the longer they are there, although there is a slight increase in some subject areas near to final exams.
Judith M. Harackiewicz, a researcher who carried out a seven-year study into interest points out that: “given the role that interest plays in determining the quality of the educational experience, along with the evidence demonstrating declining interest over time, student interest should be a major issue in national, state, and local educational policy.” It is not. Harackiewicz’s research showed that levels of interest are a better indicator of success than students’ grades in that initial course.
Scientists have found that strong interest can help students overcome academic difficulties and perceptual disabilities. For example, a study of high academic achievers including Nobel Laureates found that those with dyslexia managed to overcome these difficulties because of their burning interest.
Studies have consistently shown that interest increases attention, recall and levels of effort. Meta-analysis of over 150 studies undertaken in 1992 found that individual interest was correlated with both academic and laboratory performance.
Harackiewicz argues though that interest should not only be valued in terms of other benefits it brings, but that interest itself is a hugely important goal. “Interest may be viewed as essential with respect to adjustment and happiness in life.” Interest is a critical element in being fulfilled and happy, it cannot be relegated to the role of a useful tool which helps us work hard.
For many home educators enabling their children to explore and follow where their interests lead is one of the most valuable things about stepping outside of the school system. We aim to cultivate a lifelong love of learning, and for our children to discover what really makes them tick, to be able to build a life based around their personal interests.