SELF Study

Theoretical Background

Both educational-psychological and cultural-anthropological findings indicate that social relationships and the emotions one experiences within social relationships are important predictors of academic achievement. In contrast, findings from motivation research reveal the “phenomenon” that some students’ school achievement is constant (good or bad) and independent of teachers or classmates. The distinction between intrinsic and extrinsic motivation could be a possible starting point to explain this “phenomenon“. A highly intrinsically motivated student might work hard at school because he or she enjoys learning, whereas an extrinsically motivated student might learn at school because he or she wants to be liked by their classmates or teachers. Thus, students’ extrinsic motivation might be determined by their socio-emotional relationships within the school environment. Based on the extant research, this study is built upon two main research questions: (1) How are socio-emotional factors related to scholastic motivation? (2) Why are these factors only relevant for some students and not for others and what role does the type of motivation play? Due to the complexity of the relationship between socio-emotional factors and learning processes in school contexts a (1) quantitative data collection using questionnaires, (2) a neurobiological experimental design and (3) qualitative interviews are combined in a methodtriangulative procedure.


The first project periode run over a period of 5 years including two measurepoints. The first survey took place from August to December 2011, the second 2 years later.

In a first step we designed a questionnaire to measure the impact of social, emotional and motivational aspects of learning into account in order to investigate the interplay between cognitive and emotional learning processes. Random samples of 8th grade students (N=1088) from two different school types (Gymnasium, Gemeinschaftsschule) in Brandenburg were analyzed. By using latent class analysis, students’ typology was elicited with regards to social emotional factors within the school learning process. Based on the theoretical framework and preliminary studies it was assumed that four different motivation types (MT) can be distinguished: (1) teacher dependent MT, (2) peer dependent MT, (3) peer and teacher dependent MT, (4) peer and teacher independent MT. With confirmatory latent classes (CLCA) we could identify these for types (see results). In a second step, functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) are used to analyze neurobiological factors that affect emotional learning processes in 88 students. The examination was planned and carried out in cooperation with the Charité Berlin Mitte. In a third step, the 88 students from the fMRI study are interviewed to gain a more detailed description of the four different motivation types and the empirical reality of the teacher-student relationship, student-student relationship and the daily learning processes in school from a cultural-anthropological point of view.

The interdisciplinary contribution of the three different empirical methods allows for the enhancement of educational, psychological, cultural-anthropological and neuroscientific research. In cooperation with the neuroscientific research group from the Charité, headed by Prof. Dr. Andreas Heinz (Director and Chair), basic principles of learning processes of adolescent students will be determined. Results from the study can help to foster and support each student individually within the school setting. Findings may also contribute to the enrichment of teacher education and training. The knowledge of specific socio-emotional factors relevant to learning processes could help to improve both the school and classroom climate.

The second project period takes until 2018.