Kou Murayama

University of Tübingen

Research Focus

Kou Murayama is a psychologist who focuses on a number of overlapping questions about how motivation works in human functioning. With his broad and interdisciplinary background both in basic and applied (especially educational) sciences, his research program features a “multimethod approach”, combining a number of different perspectives, and methodologies (e.g., longitudinal modeling, behavioral experiments, neuroimaging, educational intervention) to gain a comprehensive understanding of motivation. One of the central themes of his recent work is to understand how humans are autonomously motivated to seek and gain knowledge (motivational state often called “interest” or “intrinsic motivation”) and how we can apply this idea to educational settings.

My plans for the fellowship period

Interest plays a fundamental role in learning in education. Studies have shown that interest promotes learning and have identified behavioral and neural mechanisms underlying its beneficial effects. Despite the prosperity of research, many teachers still struggle to improve students’ interest. Research has also shown large country-level differences in interest. Scientific work is quickly advancing, so why is the change in education markedly slower? My goal during the fellowship period is to tackle this fundamental issue, trying to narrow the science-reality gap using comprehensive, micro-, social-, and macro-level analyses on interest. Specifically, I will work on how individual (e.g., naïve beliefs or metamotivation), social (e.g., students’ social network), and societal (e.g., school, cultural) factors influence students’ interest-based knowledge acquisition processes using a variety of new techniques (e.g., network analysis, machine learning). My primary idea is that, although interest is governed by common neural and learning mechanisms, its manifestation is constrained by different levels of factors in the context of education. While past work has revealed the foundational mechanisms underlying interest, I will connect this principal knowledge with a more contextualized perspective that addresses the dynamics and diversity of how interest is promoted in education.

How will my work change children’s and youth’s lives?

No single child is embedded in the same learning environment. In order to truly understand individual differences in children’s learning, we should not only focus on the biological and psychological factors, but also take into account social, school, and cultural environments in which children are situated. While researchers tend to focus only on either micro-level (neural and psychological) or macro-level (social and cultural) factors, the proposed projects incorporate all of the factors, aiming to provide a full picture on how “individual children” learn at school. In an ideal world, basic science and applied research should go hand-in-hand but in reality this is challenging, given the different ways they conceptualize research questions, analyze data, and interpret findings. In my future work, I aim to tackle the challenging yet fundamental issue of filling the existent large gap between basic science and education by taking advantage of my broad interdisciplinary background.