Interests: Definition and Meaning

The cognitive and affective functioning of humans is significantly influenced by interest. Interest has been described as both an individual predisposition and a psychological state, in contrast to other motivational ideas like task value, self-efficacy, and performance goals that place more of an emphasis on people's beliefs and cognitive representations. Focused attention, improved cognitive and affective functioning, and continuous effort is the hallmarks of this psychological state

What is Interest?

In psychology, the term "interest" describes both the emotional state of being involved and a generally long-lasting propensity to continue being involved with a given topic (like mathematics) throughout time. For individuals of all ages, both in and outside the classroom, interest favors attention, goal setting, and learning techniques. The agreement among researchers is that interest is a product of social dynamics. However, few empirical studies look at social contexts, particularly social interactions in math classes, to determine factors that support student interest. This is mostly because it is challenging to relate an individual to a social perspective inside a single scientific investigation.

Interest as an Emotion

One could classify interest as a basic emotion. Interest is a fundamental emotion that develops in response to a significant life experience as a coordinated feeling-purposeful-expressive-bodily reaction. Every fundamental feeling exists as a planned response to a significant life experience. For instance, failure or loss is a significant life event in sadness. All students universally respond to failure or loss with an aversive feeling (distress), purposeful motivation (to make amends, such as by apologizing or working harder), a distinctive facial expression (inner corners of the eyebrows are raised and drawn together, corners of the lips are drawn down), and functional bodily changes (increased heart rate, lethargic muscle tone).

Interest-dense Situation

An interest-dense situation sparks interest-related actions or the emergence of situated group interest. For example, young people gather at a math camp because they share a common interest in mathematics. This is frequently not the case in classroom settings. However, sometimes a certain type of shared interest develops. This concept explains how the active students in the class relate to the mathematical material. This relationship can be seen in how students engage with one another, develop meanings for the future, and how the situation has a mathematical valence. This implies that the students participate in the activity sequentially, building on one another's ideas as they go along and maintaining the relationship between the situation's value status and mathematics. Interest-dense situations are those in which situated collective interest originates. Interest density is a synonym for situated collective interest. The active participants in an interest-dense environment can be something other than personally engaged in the subject matter, just conscious of their interest. They at least develop a situated interest in a balanced, epistemic, favorably valued relationship to the mathematical material since they appear to be interested. Therefore, the formation of an individual or situational interest as a component of mathematical identity is expected to be facilitated by active participation in interest-dense settings

Historical Development of Interests

According to Herbart, one of the early modern psychology pioneers, the idea of interest has a long history in psychology. He believed that one of education's main objectives should be to foster the development of broad, diverse interests. Herbart believed that learning and interest were strongly related. It permits accurate and thorough item recognition, results in meaningful learning, encourages long-term knowledge storage, and inspires additional study. Although research interest has grown in recent years, the topic has a long history in psychology and education. The German philosopher Herbart stated that a subject's curiosity could encourage motivation and learning in the 1800s.

Many early psychologists, including William James, highlighted that interest might revitalize (1890). By pointing out how the interaction between the individual and the environment can spur interest, John Dewey (1913) made his case persuasively. By arguing that learning is influenced by people's interests and the interest value of activities, Thorndike (1935) further emphasized the importance of the individual and the context. Bartlett (1932), known for his studies on human memory, thought that interest enhanced memory. When behaviorism dominated psychology, interest in the topic decreased. Early cognitive theories concentrated on information processing rather than motivational processes, so as cognitive psychology gained prominence, the situation took time to improve. Fortunately, things have improved due to educational, developmental, social, and cognitive psychology researchers integrating motivational and cognitive factors to understand student learning and accomplishment better.

Types of Interests

Nowadays, researchers frequently distinguish between situational interests and personal (or individual) interests.

  • Situational interest is a more transient, situation-specific attention to a topic, whereas personal interest is a steadier personal propensity toward a certain topic or domain. Because studies never attempt to assess both types, this distinction must be consistently acknowledged and occasionally needs to be clarified.

  • Individual interest has been defined as a rather persistent propensity to pay attention to particular things and events and to engage in particular activities. This action tends to improve learning and is linked to a psychological state of persistence and a positive mood. For instance, a reader who has a personal interest in ecology and conservation looks for opportunities to indulge in related activities and, while doing so, finds delight and learns new things.

Individual Interest Situational Interest
A stable and enduring inclination to engage with activities An emotional state aroused by features of environmental stimuli


Research has shown that situational and individual interest support focus, memory, perseverance, and effort. It indicates that interest is crucial to learning and academic success. However, interest is crucially significant in and of itself, regardless of how vital it is for performance and achievement. One of the main objectives of a college education is to assist students in discovering their interests and planning a life path based on those interests. Thus, interest is crucial regarding life adjustment and satisfaction.