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Regular version of the site

The Role of Motivation in Personal Development

On Wednesday, May 13, the International Laboratory of Positive Psychology of Personality and Motivation at HSE will host a lecture by Martin Lynch called ‘Motivation and Education: A Brief Introduction’. Lynch, who serves as Associate Professor of Counseling & Human Development at the Warner School of Education (University of Rochester) pursues research on the effects of social context on human motivation and personality development. Ahead of his upcoming lecture, he agreed to speak with the HSE news service about his current research interests and his significant experience working in Russia.

— What sparked your interest in studying motivation?

—  Many years ago, as an undergraduate student at the University of Rochester, I took a course on the psychology of personality that was taught by Richard Ryan. (Richard Ryan, along with Edward Deci, is one of the founders of Self-determination theory, or SDT as it’s known.) The course was one of the most interesting courses in psychology that I took. The memory of it stayed with me until I returned to Rochester, many years later, as a graduate student, and had the chance to study under Ryan and Deci.

— Another theme you study is emigration. What interests you in that?

— My colleague, Valery Chirkov, and I have looked a little at the question of emigration. Actually, the focus of our work has been on the experience of students who study abroad, not really ‘emigration’ as such. In particular, we looked at how students’ goals for studying abroad were related to their cultural adjustment, and found that students who decided to study abroad for reasons of self-development were better off than students whose reasons for studying abroad had to do with wanting to avoid difficulties in their home country. In other words, being motivated toward something ‘positive’ was better for these students’ adjustment and well-being than was being motivated away from something they perceived to be ‘negative.’

— Could you tell us about some of your other current research interests?

— Currently, I am very interested in the study of self-concept – how people think about themselves in different social contexts – and in the cross-cultural application of SDT. Another broad interest of mine is in the application of SDT in psychotherapy, in terms of understanding client motivation for change as well as the problems that bring clients to the therapist.

being motivated toward something ‘positive’ was better for these students’ adjustment and well-being than was being motivated away from something they perceived to be ‘negative.’

— You have long been interested in Russia. How did that come about?

— As an undergraduate student at the University of Rochester, I happened to be reading the school newspaper one day and noticed a story about a new programme the university was offering in Russian studies. I thought it looked really interesting – something drew my interest in Russia at the time in a way I can’t fully explain; I think I had a sense that our countries shared a lot in common. The first class I attended, called ‘Russian Civilization,’ was co-taught by two professors from different departments – one from the History Department, and one from the Literature Department. I loved it. After that, I took every course about Russia that I could, including literature, history, and language, and earned a Certificate in Russian Studies along with my bachelor’s degree in psychology. I even wrote my senior thesis in psychology on the topic of ‘Soviet psychology,’ looking at the work of people like Vygotsky, Davydov, El’konin, and Leontiev. Some years later, I was invited to join a project that was being developed at the Faculty of Journalism of Moscow State University, and I ended up living and working in Moscow for two years. Since then, I’ve been back to Russia quite a few times, often with projects (for example, I served as resident director for the Critical Languages Scholarship programme for two years, first in Nizhny Novgorod, and then in Kazan, and I assisted in setting up a collaboration between colleagues in Veliky Novgorod and Rochester under the Sister Cities International programme with the aim of assisting our colleagues in setting up a foster care programme for local orphans).

— What brings you to Russia this time?

— I was very fortunate to receive a Fulbright teaching and research grant, which has allowed me to spend the past year – since September – in Kazan. In connection with this grant, I’ve been working at Kazan Federal University, at the Institute of Psychology and Education. During the Fall and Spring semesters, I taught a course on the psychology of motivation, and am currently conducting a research project in collaboration with a colleague of mine from KFU, Nailya Salikhova. The research project, funded by the grant from Fulbright, looks at the question of what it is that children need in order to grow up psychologically healthy and happy.

— How did you begin cooperating with HSE? What’s next?

— Really, it was through the generous initiative of Dmitry Alekseevich Leontiev. We had met many years ago when I was participating in a psychological conference in Moscow in honour of L. S. Vygotsky, and then re-connected during the Congress on Positive Psychology that took place in Moscow in 2012 and again during the conference on Self-determination Theory that was held in Rochester in 2013. During this time, discussions began about establishing an international, collaborative research group on positive psychology. The project is headed up by Dmitry Alekseevich and a scholar from the United States, Kennon Sheldon. I am hoping to become a full-fledged member of the team during the upcoming months. I’ll be returning to my home in the United States in June, and will resume my duties as an Associate Professor at the University of Rochester’s Warner School of Education and Human Development in the Fall – full of many wonderful impressions from this past year in Russia, together with hopes for future collaboration with colleagues both here in Moscow and in Kazan.

Anna Chernyakhovskaya, specially for HSE News service

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