From Bench to Bedside: A communal utility value intervention to enhance students' biomedical science motivation

J Educ Psychol. 2015 Nov 1;107(4):1116-1135. doi: 10.1037/edu0000033. Epub 2015 Apr 20.


Motivating students to pursue science careers is a top priority among many science educators. We add to the growing literature by examining the impact of a utility value intervention to enhance student's perceptions that biomedical science affords important utility work values. Using an expectancy-value perspective we identify and test two types of utility value: communal (other-oriented) and agentic (self-oriented). The culture of science is replete with examples emphasizing high levels of agentic value, but communal values are often (stereotyped as) absent from science. However, people in general want an occupation that has communal utility. We predicted and found that an intervention emphasizing the communal utility value of biomedical research increased students' motivation for biomedical science (Studies 1-3). We refined whether different types of communal utility value (working with, helping, and forming relationships with others) might be more or less important, demonstrating that helping others was an especially important predictor of student motivation (Study 2). Adding agentic utility value to biomedical research did not further increase student motivation (Study 3). Furthermore, the communal value intervention indirectly impacted students' motivation because students believed that biomedical research was communal and thus subsequently more important (Studies 1-3). This is key, because enhancing student communal value beliefs about biomedical research (Studies 1-3) and science (Study 4) was associated both with momentary increases in motivation in experimental settings (Studies 1-3) and increased motivation over time among students highly identified with biomedicine (Study 4). We discuss recommendations for science educators, practitioners, and faculty mentors who want to broaden participation in science.

Keywords: STEM education; communion; motivation; psychological intervention; utility value.