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J Pers Soc Psychol. 1987 May;52(5):890-8.

Autonomy in children's learning: an experimental and individual difference investigation.


Ninety-one fifth-grade children participated in a study that assessed the effects of motivationally relevant conditions and individual differences on emotional experience and performance on a learning task. Two directed-learning conditions, one controlling and one noncontrolling, were contrasted with each other and with a third nondirected, spontaneous-learning context. Both directed sets resulted in greater rote learning compared with the nondirected-learning condition. However, both the nondirected and the noncontrolling directed-learning sets resulted in greater interest and conceptual learning compared with the controlling set, presumably because they were more conducive to autonomy or an internal perceived locus of causality. Furthermore, children in the controlling condition experienced more pressure and evidenced a greater deterioration in rote learning over an 8-(+/- 1) day follow-up. Individual differences in children's autonomy for school-related activities as measured by the Self-Regulation Questionnaire (Connell & Ryan, 1985) also related to outcomes, with more self-determined styles predicting greater conceptual learning. Results are discussed in terms of the role of autonomy in learning and development and the issue of directed versus nondirected learning.

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