Interest Fuels Effortless Engagement

Hypno master base (pos, blue)After years of struggling with dyslexia I began to find learning, or the theory behind learning, more and more interesting. Yes, I know, I’m a nerd. But the value of being a nerd is actually very important to the learning process.

One of the first people to suggest the value of being interested in a subject, over expending effort on a topic you find dull, was John Dewey. The American psychologist, philosopher and reformer of education stated simply that “willing attention” was far more effective for learning than “forced effort”.


According to Scott Barry Kaufman (of Scientific American)…


Many years of research support Dewey’s idea that interest facilitates learning, which Annie Murphy Paul nicely summarized in her recent post “The Power of Interest“. Contemporary psychologists– including Paul Silvia and Judith Harackiewicz– have found that interest is characterized by deep processing of information, effective learning strategies, academic and professional career choices and achievement, positive emotions, and a sense of being energized and invigorated. Also, when students are allowed to explore their interests and engage their natural curiosity, they expend more effort as an automatic consequence of their engagement.


So what has all this research taught us? Well, our interest in a subject can be broken down into two categories – personal and emotional interest.

Personal interest

Person interest is, as one wound imagine, how much impact a particular topic would have on our day to day lives. For example, my personal interest in learning was re-enforced by the fact it could help me do better during my education.

Emotional interest

Emotional interest is simply how learning a topic makes you feel.


The interesting thing about interest is that you need both personal and emotional interest to be a play, as Kaufman explains…


Interestingly, emotional interest without accompanying personal interest was associated with lower … performance. The researchers speculate that just having high emotional interest may put you into a broad, exploratory frame of mind where your goal is just to engage, not necessarily perform well. In contrast, when emotional interest is joined with personal interest, attention becomes more narrowed, focused, and determined. They argue that this emotional-personal combination is reminiscent of the flow state, and is most conducive to optimal performance.


We’ll put together an article on “flow state” in the future, for now you can think of it as those times in your life were everything you do just works.

What can we learn from this?

Let’s say one of your goals it to learn another language. Just plonking yourself in front of your Rosetta Stone and gunning through the material is not going to help you fully understand and absorb what you’re learning. If on the hand, you list (on paper preferably) all the ways that learning this new language will improve your life and then make the learning process fun (by involving a friend or watching your favourite show in that language) then you’ll find yourself fluent in no time.

Have fun learning.


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