Researchers find that independence is a better motivator than interdependence

Feb. 5, 2013, 11:02 p.m.

Promoting independent thought can stimulate greater output in individuals, while promoting interdependent though has little positive impact on individuals’ motivation and can in fact decrease it, according to a new study by Stanford psychologists.

The study, which was published in the January issue of Psychological Science, found that for white American students, messages of interdependence had a negative effect on both a student’s level of motivation to complete a task and on the student’s predicted level of motivation in a hypothetical course about environmental sustainability.

Students were more likely to support making the course a University requirement and predicted that they would put more effort into the course when the course description included information about independent behavior such as developing personal skills and learning to work independently.

The effect of the messaging, however, was not consistent across ethnicities. The Asian American students who participated in the study did not show differing motivational results depending on whether they were presented with messages of interdependence or independence.

These findings confirmed the hypothesis that white Americans, who have a more historically independent mindset, would respond more positively to independent messages rather than interdependent messages, according to the study.

The study was conducted by Professor of Psychology Hazel Markus, Center for Comparative Studies in Race and Ethnicity Associate Director MarYam Hamedami Ph.D. ’08 and fourth-year graduate psychology student Alyssa Fu.

“Currently, if we want to inspire Americans to think and act interdependently, it may work best to actually emphasize their independence to motivate them to do so,” Hamedani told the Stanford News Service.

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