Enhanced academic motivation in university students following a 2-week online gratitude journal intervention

BMC Psychol. 2021 May 13;9(1):71. doi: 10.1186/s40359-021-00559-w.


Background: Past studies have associated gratitude interventions with a host of positive outcomes. However, there is a dearth of research regarding the impact such interventions have on the academic motivation of university students, thought to be a primary determinant of academic achievement and overall satisfaction with school activities. Here, we examined the effects of a 2-week online gratitude journal intervention on the academic motivation of university students.

Methods: Eighty-four students were randomly assigned to either an active manipulation group (gratitude group) or a neutral control group. In the first 6 days of each week, participants in the gratitude group were asked to log in to the online system once a day and list up to five things they had felt grateful for. They were also requested to evaluate various aspects of their daily lives. Participants in the control group were only requested to perform the daily self-evaluations. Academic motivation was assessed using the Academic Motivation Scale (AMS), which conceptualizes motivation in academic settings as being composed by three different components, i.e., intrinsic motivation, extrinsic motivation and amotivation, the latter being associated with the perceived lack of contingency between actions and outcomes. Responses were collected 5 times: before group assignment (baseline), 1 week after the start of the intervention, immediately after the intervention, and at two follow-ups, 1 and 3 months after the intervention.

Results: Analysis using a self-determination index derived from the AMS components showed that participants who regularly engaged with the gratitude journal task displayed significant enhancements in academic motivation. Additional analysis revealed that the enhancements were driven by decreases in the levels of amotivation. Furthermore, follow-up data showed that there were no signs that such enhancements had receded 3 months after the end of the intervention. Improvements in academic motivation were not observed among participants in the control group.

Conclusions: The current results provide evidence that gratitude interventions can positively impact the academic motivation of university students. More broadly, they show that the effects extend well beyond the realm of typically assessed measures of individual well-being, and can effectively regulate a fundamental component of goal-directed behavior such as motivation.

Keywords: Academic motivation; Gratitude; Gratitude journal; Online intervention; Positive emotion.

MeSH terms

  • Emotions
  • Humans
  • Motivation*
  • Schools
  • Students
  • Universities*