"The findings also suggest that educators, managers and parents, among others, should cultivate interest toward relevant activities in their students, employees and children to facilitate their success."
New York, April 18 - Maintaining an interest in the goals you pursue can improve your work and reduce burnout, research reveals.
Our research shows that interest is important in the process of pursuing goals. It allows us to perform at high levels without wearing out, said Paul O'Keefe, a former doctoral student at Duke University's department of psychology & neuroscience.
This suggests that interest matters more than we suspected.
The study examined the notion that your level of interest helps to simultaneously optimise your performance and the resources necessary to stay deeply engaged.
If people experience activities as both enjoyable and personally significant - two important components of interest - their chance of success increases.
Engaging in personally interesting activities not only improves performance, but also creates an energised experience that allows people to persist when persisting would otherwise cause them to burn out, said O'Keefe, now a postdoctoral fellow in the department of psychology at Stanford University.
In the first study, 153 Duke undergraduate students worked on a set of word puzzles.
They were asked to report how enjoyable they thought the task would be before they began working on it.
Then they worked on the puzzles, which were described as either being personally valuable - or of neutral value -.
Those who reported high anticipated enjoyment and who were in the condition framed as important performed the best.
But they did not perform better simply because their interest drove them to work longer.
Instead, their engagement was highly efficient.
In other words, they were 'in the zone', as athletes say, said study co-author Lisa Linnenbrink-Garcia, a faculty member at Michigan State University.
The researchers then assessed participants' anticipated enjoyment of the task as well as their value for it.
After working on the word puzzles, an experimenter timed how long they were able to keep a spring-loaded handgrip squeezed.
Much like the self-control needed to stay on task when we'd rather do something more fun, resisting the urge to release one's grip when it becomes uncomfortable also takes self-control, O'Keefe said.
Using this task allowed the researchers to measure how mentally exhausted participants were after working on the word puzzles.
So, the longer they were able to squeeze the grip, the less exhausted they were by the prior task.
The findings also suggest that educators, managers and parents, among others, should cultivate interest toward relevant activities in their students, employees and children to facilitate their success.
The study appeared in the Journal of Experimental Social Psychology.