[Paleopsych] Jeremy P. Hunter and Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi: The positive psychology of interested adolescents.

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Jeremy P. Hunter and Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi: The positive psychology of 
interested adolescents.
Journal of Youth and Adolescence, Feb 2003 v32 i1 p27(9)

Author's Abstract:

Using the experience sampling method (ESM) and a diverse national sample of 
young people, this study identifies two groups of adolescents: those who 
experience chronic interest in everyday life experiences and another who 
experience widespread boredom. These groups are compared against several 
measures of psychological well-being: global self-esteem, locus of control, and 
emotions regarding one's future prospects. It is hypothesized that a 
generalized chronic experience of interest, an innate physiological function, 
can be used as a signal for a larger measure of psychological health, while 
chronic boredom is a sign of psychic dysfunction. A strong association between 
the experience of interest and well-being was found.


Recently, increased attention has been devoted to positive psychological 
phenomena. While the West has a long tradition of inquiry about what makes life 
worthwhile, including in the past century William James, John Dewey, Carl 
Rogers, and Abraham Maslow, concern with psychic well-being has seldom been 
systematically investigated. However, as Maslow might have predicted, now that 
many in the postindustrialized world have temporarily solved the problems of 
physical sustenance, attention is free to turn towards psychic development and 
fulfillment. Inglehart's exploration of world values supports a similar 
conclusion, showing that the "returns to happiness" attributable to economic 
gain substantially decrease once a nation's GDP moves beyond basic needs 
(Inglehart, 1997). In the course of human history, perhaps more people than 
ever before have reached this rarefied level of material well-being and are now 
ready to explore the psychic frontiers of the good life. One area of special 
promise is the experience of in terest and the relevance it has for developing 

While the process of modernization has wrought incredible changes on the human 
condition in the past 300 years, the everyday lives of contemporary children 
bear perhaps the least resemblance to their peers of the past. To be a young 
person in preindustrial Europe meant that everyday life was an insecure and 
backbreaking affair where about half the population people reached adulthood. 
Even then, most died by 30. By the age of 7, most young boys started work, 
often as servants in the homes of others, gradually taking up apprenticeship in 
yet another household (Gillis, 1974). The nasty and brutish existence of most 
youth left little thought to notions of "optimal development" or even 
"development" for that matter. For these people, survival was the watchword.

Not until the 1880s, when a growing middle class could afford to systematically 
educate their children, did youth issues come into awareness as something 
deserving of attention. Instead of being sent out to learn a trade, middle 
class children were sent to school. This new circumstance of elongated 
dependence and removal from the cycles of production led to the "discovery of 
adolescence" and established, more or less, the pattern that most youth in the 
industrial and postindustrial world follow today (Aries, 1965; Gillis, 1974). 
The rise of youth movements like scouting, the YMCA and YWCA, the enactment of 
child labor laws, the development of the kindergarten movement, and universal 
education have made the lives of children safer, culturally richer, and more 
secure than ever before in history.

Yet, these relatively recent developments in the human condition do not seem to 
be perfect. Despite these hard-won advances, it is not atypical to imagine a 
middle class teenager bored and despondent, alone, angry, and alienated. While 
universal education is certainly preferable to children toiling in mines, the 
system that consumes the lives of most youth does not seem to be optimally 
calibrated for their developing selves. Csikszentmihalyi et al. (1993) have 
shown that school for most young people is a dull and uninspiring place to be 
in. Far from nurturing youngsters into expressive, intellectually alive and 
curious, confident, and able beings, school for many American youth is a trial 
to be endured. Boredom is so common that many consider it a normal phase of 
growing up.

However, most children do not start out bored and detached. Interest and 
curiosity about the world is a hallmark of childhood experience. Maria 
Montessori, the Italian pediatrician-turned-educator, believed that the 
expression of high intrinsic interest characterized a "normalized" (e.g. 
healthy) child (Montessori, 1949[1967]). Interest is present from birth and 
fosters human development by mobilizing resources for worldly engagement. It 
does this by engendering "the feeling of being engaged, caught up, fascinated, 
or curious. There is a feeling of wanting to investigate, become involved, or 
expand the self by incorporating new information and having new experiences..." 
(Izard, 1991, p. 100). Interest impels growth-oriented behaviors--exploration, 
learning and creativity--increasing the likelihood for successful adaptation 
and survival (Izard, 1991; Izard and Ackerman, 2000; Piaget, 1981).

To effectively live in a demanding and changing environment, one must 
necessarily actively relate to it. Interest functions as the tool 
self-organizing creatures (Brandtstadter, 1998) use to direct attention to 
select information from the environment. William James' pithy description 
captures this aspect of interest:

Millions of items of the outward order are present to my senses which never 
properly enter into my experience. Why? Because they have no interest for me. 
My experience is what I agree to attend to. Only those items which I notice 
shape my mind--without selective interest, experience is an utter chaos. 
Interest alone gives accent and emphasis, light and shade, background and 
foreground--intelligible perspective, in a word. (James 1890, p. 402)

By focusing on certain things and not others, the world is reduced to a 
manageable place. Akin to parts of a camera, interest alters the size of the 
aperture of attention by widening or constricting the amount of information 
that enters awareness. By influencing the contents of consciousness, interest 
mediates the relationship between person and world.

Selection, however, is only one facet of interest, another is to provide 
motivation for developing skills and abilities. According to Sylvan Tomkins, 
interest is so essential for cognitive growth that the "absence of the 
affective support of interest would jeopardize intellectual development no less 
than destruction of brain tissue ... There is no human competence which can be 
achieved in the absence of a sustaining interest" (Tomkins, 1962, p. 343). 
Because of this basic role in learning John Dewey felt that individual interest 
should be the center of educational endeavor (McDermott, 1981). Learning 
complex tasks requires persistence and focus, interest provides concentrative 
"staying power" in the face of difficulty. When things are interesting, 
concentration comes easy and persisting at them is less laborious and 
burdensome. Interest is also associated with a drop in heart rate, a quieting 
response, which prepares the senses to receive and respond to information, 
(Izard, 1991). Interest cultivates an inter nal milieu that optimizes the 
acquisition of information. Research shows that when students are interested in 
what they are reading, they

are likely to recall more points, recall more information from more paragraphs, 
recall more topic sentences, write more sentences, provide more detailed 
information about topics read, make fewer errors in written recall, and provide 
additional topic relevant information. (Renninger, 2000, p. 374)

The benefits of interest extend beyond comprehension too. When interested in a 
topic, students are likely to earn higher grades and test more successfully 
(Csikszentmihalyi et al., 1993; Schiefele and Csikszentmihalyi, 1995). 
Interest's role in cognitive development cannot be underestimated.

The cognitive boons of interest and its motivational power are also 
complemented by the fact that interest feels good. Izard (1991, p. 108) reports

the phenomenology of interest is also characterized by a relatively high degree 
of pleasantness, self-assurance and a moderate degree of impulsiveness and 
tension. Joy is often part of the pattern of emotion in an interest-eliciting 

The experience of this positive state is characterized by 3 qualities: (1) 
being caught up and fascinated, (2) enjoying what one is doing while (3) in a 
state of arousal or excitement. Deci (1992) holds that the convergence of 
interest, enjoyment, and excitement signals the presence of intrinsic 
motivation. Others also report the experience of interest is enjoyable, 
rewarding, and associated with good feelings (Fazio, 1981; Renninger, 1989, 
1990, 2000). Examples of intense interest, like optimal experience or flow 
(Csikszentmihalyi, 1975, 1990, 1997; Csikszentmihalyi and Csikszentmihalyi, 
1988), are among the most enjoyable moments of being alive. Abiding interests, 
sources of interest engaged in over time, can even provide intellectual and 
behavioral structures around which the life course forms (Csikszentmihalyi et 
al., 1993; Csikszentmihalyi and Beattie, 1979; Rathunde, 1993). The complexity 
of the experience of interest with its overlap into emotional, volitional, and 
cognitive areas, provide an optimal s tate for interfacing the psyche to the 
environment. Through the experience of interest, nature wires us for worldly 

Consider what happens when the experience of interest is absent. The loss of 
interest is one of the key features of depression (Klinger, 1993). Instead of 
bringing James' "intelligible perspective" (James, 1890, p. 402) characteristic 
of normal functioning, depression makes the world dull, gray, and lifeless. The 
things that usually make us sit up and take notice seem strangely unpromising 
and empty. Even the fundamentals associated with being alive: the company of 
others, food, and sex are not compelling enough to devote energy to. 
Wakefulness becomes dreadful and oppressive. When depressed, the disappearance 
of psychic handles to hold on to severely impacts a person's ability to 
function normally. From this extreme case, we can see that even in the most 
mundane of waking states interest binds us to the surrounding world.

While not as intense as a full-fledged depressive state, boredom is also 
characterized by an absence of experiencing interest (Farmer and Sundberg, 
1986; Klinger, 1993). Where interest is enjoyable, stimulating, and focused, 
boredom is an unpleasant state of low arousal and motivation (Mikulas and 
Vodanovich, 1993). If interest is viewed as the drive an individual uses to 
learn, discover, and grow, boredom marks an entropic state of disengagement 
impeding psychological growth over the long term. Zuckerman (1979) suggests 
that boredom -prone persons are likely to fall into alcoholism and other types 
of substance abuse like marijuana, psychedelics, and other stimulants. Later 
research reveals that in addition to drug use, boredom -prone youth are 
attracted to extreme forms of sensation-seeking and antisocial behavior (like 
burglery or vandalism) (Hamilton, 1983; Orcutt, 1984; Sommers and Vodanovich, 
2000; Wasson, 1981).

A bored kid's attraction to "cheap thrills" may originate from an inability to 
structure experience in pleasurable ways, what Scitovisky calls "skilled 
consumption" (Scitovsky, 1976). Delinquent adolescents have been shown to be 
poor at creating fantasies and elaborate ideas, "Their thought world appears to 
be a rather barren place." (Hamilton, 1983, p. 366, Cited in Spivack and 
Levine, 1964). Without the generative possibilities of the imagination and the 
skills to manifest them, the allure of destructive and thrilling behavior 
becomes an easy source of entertainment. Even many nondelinquent youth live for 
the weekend when they can party and get drunk with their friends, suggesting 
the skills for structuring enjoyment are not particularly widespread. If 
interest provides the foundation for building skills that can be converted into 
enjoyable activity, boredom may be the result of an inability to cultivate such 
talents. Without such skills, the possibilities inherent in the world become 
fewer and fewer. Vanda lism and getting high emerge as easy ways to find 
excitement. Considering this, the chronic experience of boredom could be 
thought of as the "evil twin" of interest.

To test this hypothesis, this study examines those youth who maintain a 
widespread experience of interest in daily life and compares them to those 
whose experience is much less optimal. By uncovering whether Interested youth 
compared to their Bored peers have higher, more stable global self-esteem, an 
internal locus of control, and view their futures with hopefulness adds 
credence to the notion that experiencing interest is associated with positive 
development. This research program is distinct from past efforts to either 
investigate situation-specific examples of interest (Hidi, 1990) or the 
development of individual interests centered on specific subject matter 
(Renninger, 2000). This approach examines persons in natural settings who 
encounter everyday life with a sense of inquiry and enjoyment. In other words, 
the focus here is less the "target" of interest, that is, particular 
interest-piquing moments or abiding material relevant to an individual, and 
more the person who chronically experiences interest. However, this approach 
does not forego the possibility of either type, situational or individual, but 
examines persons for whom experiences of interest are a salient feature of 
everyday life.



The data from this study comes from the 1st year of a 5-year (1992-1997), 
longitudinal project, where 1215 junior and senior high school students from 33 
public schools across the country, representing the 6th, 8th, 10th, and 12th 
grades, participated in a multimodal research effort geared toward 
understanding career development (Csikszentmihalyi and Schneider, 2000). The 
study was sponsored by the Alfred P. Sloan Foundation and conducted at the 
National Opinion Research Center's Ogburn-Stouffer Center (Bidwell et al., 
1992) at the University of Chicago. Twelve communities representing the full 
range of socioeconomic conditions, from poverty-level urban areas to affluent 
suburbs, participated in this study. Furthermore, students from these locales 
were randomly chosen to proportionally represent their school in terms of 
ethnicity, gender, race, and scholastic ability level. They were given a 
full-scale instrument battery that included the NELS questionnaire (modified 
from the National Educational Longitudinal Study of 1988, NELS:88), a Friend 
Sociometric Form (FRIENDS), and the Career Orientation Scale (COS), which 
measures the student's knowledge of working life and their career goals. They 
also participated in a week of Experience Sampling (ESM). This group of 
students is referred to as the "focal group." Seventy-four percent of the focal 
students completed the ESM over the5 year period, whereas 87% of the focal 
students completed the NELS, COS, and FRIENDS surveys.

ESM Procedures

The ESM involves the participant wearing a wristwatch programmed to signal 8 
times a day for 1 week. The watch signaled randomly within every 2-h period 
between 7:30 A.M. and 10:30 P.M. and no signal was within 30 min of another. At 
each signal, the participant fills out an experience sampling form (ESF) that 
asks various questions about the participant's activities, location, 
companionship, and mood. To insure a level of quality control, only those 
participants who completed 15 or more ESF were included in the final database. 
This keeps with past practices by Csikszentmihalyi et al. (1993).

For the 1st year data (the data reported in this paper), 74% of the total ESM 
study returned the sufficient number of forms, which is similar to past ESM 
studies of adolescents (Csikszentmihalyi and Larson, 1987; Csikszentmihalyi and 
Schneider, 2000). The final sample consisting of 806 individuals represented by 
28,193 responses, were included. These responses captured nearly every aspect 
of daily life, from school, to work, to play, to home life.


The primary measure, the Interested-Bored construct, was created to capture the 
nuances of the experience of interest. It combines 3 questions from the ESM: a 
9-point Likert scale asking "Was this activity interesting?," a 10-point Likert 
scale asking "Did you enjoy what you were doing?" and a 7-point Likert scale 
defined by "Excited--Bored." This formulation follows theoretical treatments on 
the nature of interest offered by Dewey (McDermott, 1981) and others (Tomkins, 
1962; Izard, 1991). Because the 3 component questions are scaled differently, 
they were proportionally equalized by converting them to z-score variables 
keyed to the average of the whole sample, or grand mean, for each variable. 
After this they were summed to form the Interested--Bored construct. The 
measure describes a continuous state of varying levels of engagement with the 
world at the experiential level. We then calculated average Interest scores for 
each person and divided the distribution into quartiles. The extreme ends, 2 
equal-sized groups (n = 207), form the main analytical characters of this 
study. At one end are youth who experience stimulation, enthusiasm, and 
pleasure, and on the other, adolescents in a disconnected state of apathy.

Table I displays the demographic composition of the Bored and Interested 
groups. The groups differ significantly in several criteria, namely social 
class of community (SCC) ([chi square] = 23.0; p < 0.0001), ethnicity ([chi 
square] = 20.5; p < 0.001), and age (as measured by grade) ([chi square] = 
10.4; p < 0.015). The largest and most significant differences in SCC occur in 
poor and upper middle classes, where poor Interested students outnumber Bored 
ones and upper middle class Bored students outnumber Interested ones. 
Similarly, Interested African Americans outnumber Bored Blacks; while Whites 
represented in the Bored group outnumber those in the Interested. Gender 
distribution tilts toward girls and no difference between the groups was found. 
Finally, Interested students have greater representation in the 6th grade than 
do the Bored ones, while the 10th grade has a larger share of Bored students. 
Because of these differences, later analyses will control for the effects of 
SCC, race, and grade in analyses o f covariance (ANCOVA).

The remaining measures come from the NELS, namely scales of self-esteem, locus 
of control, optimism, and pessimism. Data for the entire group is not available 
because some students failed to complete the forms fully. The missing data come 
from throughout the sample, so no one group is systematically absent. The 
available N will be reported in the tables.

Global self-esteem (GSE) measures the positive and negative feelings one holds 
about the self. Based on the Rosenberg Self-Esteem Scale (1965), it consist of 
7 items, 4 positively and 3 negatively phrased, exemplified by statements like 
"In general, I feel good about myself," "I am a person of worth," "On the whole 
I am satisfied with myself' "At times, I think I am no good at al1' "I usually 
feel emotionally empty," "I don't have much to be proud of," and "I am able to 
do things as well as others" (Rosenberg, 1986). These are 4-point items ranging 
from 1 (strongly disagree) to 4 (strongly agree). Cronbach's alpha for these 7 
variables was 0.82 for the entire sample, 0.84 for the Bored group and 0.77 for 
the Interested. Factor analysis of these 7 items found that they form one 
factor with an eigenvalue of 3.4, accounting for 48.8% of the variance. To 
create a single construct the negative items were summed and subtracted from 
the sum of the positive ones.

Locus of control measures beliefs about personal causation. People with an 
internal locus of control feel they are more masters of their own destiny, and 
are referred to as "Origins" while "Pawns" are those who locate control 
externally and believe they are victims of fate and circumstance (Rotter, 
1966). This measure, abridged from Rotter's Locus of Control scale (Rotter, 
1966), also consists of 7 items, with 1 positively phrased while the remaining 
were negative. They are "When getting ahead somebody/thing stops me," "My plans 
hardly ever work out," "I feel useless at times," "I do not have enough control 
over my life," "When I make plans, I am certain they work," "Good luck is more 
important that hard work," and "Luck is very important in life." Like 
self-esteem, these are also 4-point items ranging from 1 (strongly disagree) to 
4 (strongly agree). Cronbach's alpha for these 7 variables was 0.77 for the 
entire sample, 0.69 for the Bored group and 0.74 for the Interested. Factor 
analysis found that they for m a factor with an eigenvalue of 2.7 accounting 
for 38.5% of the variance. To create a single construct the single positive 
item was subtracted from the sum of the negative ones.

Optimism and pessimism are assessed through 8 items, 4 positive and 4 negative, 
that gauge the kinds of feeling one has towards the future. These scales, 
ranging from 1 (not at all) to 7 (very much), each ask about a different 
emotion. The positive ones include feeling confident, curious, enthusiastic and 
powerful, while the negative ones are doubtful, lonely, angry, and empty. We 
formed 2 variables, 1 negative (eigenvalue = 2.5, explaining 31.1% of the 
variance), and I positive (eigenvalue = 1.6, explaining 20.5% of the variance) 
by summing the corresponding items. The optimism variable had a Cronbach's 
alpha of 0.60 for the entire sample, 0.70 for the Bored group and 0.50 for the 
Interested. The pessimism variable had a Cronbach's alpha of 0.72 for the 
entire sample, 0.71 for the Bored group and 0.75 for the Interested.


For each of these constructs, an analysis of covariance (ANCOVA) controlling 
for grade, race and SCC was performed to see if the averages between Bored and 
Interested groups were notably different. To summarize, the measures of 
self-esteem, locus of control, optimism, and pessimism all showed highly 
significant differences between the 2 groups.

Global Self-Esteem

Table II shows that Interested students report significantly higher self-esteem 
(M = 8.38) than the Bored (M = 5.25), F(1, 293) = 50.00, p < 0.0001. The 
influence of grade, race, and social class does not yield significant results. 
Furthermore, the average self-esteem of the entire sample is between both 
groups at 7.04. Therefore, even compared the to entire focal group, Interested 
students report a higher level of esteem. A between-groups t test (t = -7.0, df 
= 309, p < 0.0001), reveals that the standard deviation of an Interested 
student's self-esteem is 3.37, while Bored students show greater variability at 

Locus of Control

Table III shows that Interested youth are more likely to believe they originate 
their actions (M = 8.16) while Bored students lean more toward the "Pawn" end 
of the scale (M = 10.56), F(1, 206) = 37.9, p < .00001. Again, the two groups 
fall between the sample mean, with the Bored group showing less signs of 
personal causation and the Interested showing more. As with self-esteem, the 
effects of the covariates showed no significant differences.


When envisioning their future, Table IV shows that Interested students feel 
more hopeful (M = 5.43) than do the Bored students (M = 4.73), F(1, 371) = 
33.31, p < 0.0001. The entire sample's daily experiences are between these two 
at M = 5.10. Unlike the case of the previous variables, the covariates Grade (F 
= 3.83, p < 0.051) and Race (F = 3.98, p < 0.047) had a significant impact on 
optimism. Whites and Blacks reported feeling greater amounts of optimism than 
Latinos or Asians, while 8th graders reported less optimism than the other 


[Click for Full Size] When it comes to projecting negative emotions toward the 
future, Table V shows that Bored students do so more strongly (M = 2.61) than 
Interested students (M = 2.10), F(1, 374) = 17.83, p < 0.0001. The sample 
average is again between these two at M = 2.34. In this case, the covariates 
exhibited little influence on the amount of pessimism.


This paper aims to establish evidence that the widespread experience of 
interest can be seen as a symptom of larger psychological well-being. After 
identifying 2 groups of students whose daily experiences falls at opposing ends 
of a continuum of interest, we compared them on a variety of measures of 
well-being. These results indicate a clear difference between young people who 
experience chronic interest in their everyday lives versus those who experience 
boredom. In general, the findings suggest that the Interested children are much 
more likely to view themselves as effective agents in their world.

Believing that the self is good and worthy provides a setting for effective 
personal functioning. The global self-esteem measures showed significant 
differences between Bored and Interested students. However, research has 
suggested that having high self-esteem alone is not enough, esteem must be both 
high and stable (Kernis et al., 1993; Waschull and Kernis, 1996). Though there 
are several varieties of esteem variability (Rosenberg, 1986; Savin-Williams 
and Demo, 1983), Kernis and colleagues suggest that "the essential nature of 
unstable self-esteem involves the propensity to exhibit variability in 
self-feelings across time" (Kernis, 1993, p. 1190). We can test this if we 
examine the repeated ESM measures of self-esteem, also based on the Rosenberg 
Scale. Here we find the standard deviations of the Bored (SD = 1.40) and 
Interested (SD = 0.99) students differ significantly (p < 0.000). As with the 
GSE scores, the mean value of Interested student's ESM esteem is significantly 
(p <0,000) higher (7.2) than Bored students' (5.4. This suggests that 
Interested students enjoy a more durable positive self-concept, while Bored 
students are less stable and negative in their self-assessment.

The literature on boredom proneness (BP) has found similar results regarding 
self-esteem. McCleod and Vodanovich (1991) reported a significant negative 
correlation between boredom-prone students and both self-esteem and autonomy. A 
line of research that has produced consistent results is the tendency of 
boredom prone individuals to dwell on themselves and their internal states. 
Research like that conducted by Wink and Donahue (1997) found boredom proneness 
to be significantly related to high narcissism. Seib and Vodanovich (1998) have 
shown that BP relates strongly to high negative self-awareness, while those 
high in positive self-awareness were much less likely to be Boredom Prone, a 
finding consistent with the Interested students. Some have suggested that those 
high in negative self-awareness may actually not be particularly aware of their 
internal states at all and also experience lower self-esteem (Conway and 
Giannopoulous, 1993).

It is also expected that Interested students are more likely to perceive 
themselves as having greater internal locus of control. If interest is the 
psychic "relational mechanism" between person and world, then those who honor 
interest would also be more likely to believe that the ability to influence 
one's fate is also high. The relationship between locus of control and global 
self-esteem also bears itself out. Statistically, global self-esteem correlates 
negatively with greater external locus of control (r = -0.62, p <0.0001). This 
is to say that if I do not believe myself to be a person of worth, then the 
likelihood of also believing that there is little I can do to influence my fate 
might also be high, and Bored students seem to sympathize with this 
circumstance. The lack of a sense of personal causality from one's efforts also 
undermines the effort to act with intrinsic involvement in the world, the body 
at rest stays at rest.

[Full Size Picture] Students who chronically experience interest, however, take 
a different tack. To experience interest, by definition, implies that one is 
interested in something. Interest does not occur without a referent, whether it 
might be the attractive person standing across the room from me, or the 
fascinating book on the bestseller list. This necessarily means that to 
facilitate experiencing interest I must grapple with my reality in a way that 
somehow affects it. This could be walking across the room to start up a 
conversation, or going to the library to borrow the desired book. Interest 
requires action. It follows then, that those who experience a great deal of 
interest in their lives would also likely believe they are the volitional force 
behind their actions.

[Full Size Picture] The strength of the positive findings regarding Interested 
students continues on towards their feelings regarding the future. They are 
much more likely to feel more positive (enthusiastic, powerful, and confident) 
and less negative (lonely, Doubtful, and Empty) about growing older than Bored 
students. These emotional projections take on an even more interesting cast 
when considered in the light of the prevalence of upper middle class Boredom . 
One would assume that access to resources increases the likelihood a person 
would feel optimistic and hopeful about the future. However, this does not seem 
to be the case. The prevalence of material resources does not seem to 
automatically result in the accumulation of psychic ones.

[Full Size Picture] The experiences of Interested youth indicate the calculus 
for well-being extends beyond familial finances to the economy of the psyche. 
Interest's association with other measures of well-being suggests this innate 
process is the foundation for building what might be thought of as 
psychological capital (Csikszentmihalyi, in press). If the experience of 
interest is an innate means of optimally relating to the environment, then 
those individuals who maintain a widespread sense of interest over time develop 
greater internal resources than those who are disengaged. The dividend that 
comes from acting with interest is the sense of personal effectiveness arising 
from being the causal agent of one's life. The fact that Interested youth look 
to their future with greater confidence, enthusiasm, and power reflects this 
"past performance." Because they trust their own experience and skills, the 
probability of their success is certainly higher than a person wracked with 
doubt and emptiness.

[Full Size Picture] Of course, as we mentioned, just as interest does not 
happen without a referent, people who maintain a widespread sense of interest 
do not grow in a vacuum. The Interested person requires the support of a social 
system and cultural resources to direct the raw impulse of interest towards 
complex, useful, and rewarding ends (Eccles et al., 1998; Rogoff, 1990; 
Valsiner, 1998). So in a sense, the development of psychological capital must 
be girded by social capital. Renninger (2000) details how nascent interests in 
children often require adult influence to modulate the level of challenge or to 
help develop goals before the child can do so autonomously. Therefore, support 
in enhancing and directing interest might provide an effective fulcrum to 
leverage personal development.

Material circumstances are certainly better for first world middle class youth 
than they were in the Middle Ages. Therefore, widespread malaise among 
adolescents is also not only an undesirable circumstance but a tremendous waste 
of opportunity and resources. Fortunately, a substantial number of young people 
do not succumb to this malaise. Interested youth present a picture of vitality 
and well-being that stands in sharp contrast to their Bored counterparts. 
Interested students believe in their basic worth, are confident and effective 
agents in the world, and are optimistic and hopeful about their future. Of 
course, we cannot make statements about causality, but it seems clear that 
interest is associated with a matrix of beliefs that govern active involvement.

The implications of this are vast. While these children do not have to face the 
hardships of their ancestors, the modern world of work still presents daunting 
challenges. According to management theorist Peter Drucker (1999, p. 163), 
workers in the emerging Knowledge Economy,

will have to MANAGE THEMSELVES. They will have to place themselves where they 
can make the greatest contribution; they will have to learn to develop 
themselves. They will have to learn to stay young and mentally alive during a 
fifty-year working life. They will have to learn how and when to change what 
they do, how they do it and when they do it.

If Drucker is right, the Interested youth reported about here will be ideally 
suited for life in the twenty first century. What remains to be answered is how 
young people acquire the predilection for the openness to experience that 
results in experiencing interest. Our studies suggest that the social 
environment plays a significant role in this development. In the coming years, 
we will further explore these relationships.

Table I

Demographic Representation of Interested (N = 205) and Bored (N = 204)
Groups by Percent

                                     Percentage breakdown

                                Interested group  Bored group  t Value

SCC ([chi square] = 23.0, p
  < 0.0001, df = 4)
  Poor                                19.0           10.3       -2.5
  Working                             19.0           14.2       -1.3
  Middle                              40.0           33.3       -1.4
  Upper middle                        17.6           36.2        4.6
  Upper                                5.3            5.9        0.2
Race ([chi square] = 20.5, p
  < 0.001, df = 5)
  Asian                                5.4            7.8        1.0
  Latino                              18.0           14.7       -0.9
  African American                    28.3           12.8       -4.0
  White                               47.3           64.2        3.5
Gender ([chi square] = 1.3,
  NS, df = 1)
  Male                                39.0           44.6        1.1
  Female                              61.0           55.4       -1.1
Grade ([chi square] = 10.4, p
  < 0.015, df = 3)
  6th                                 35.6           22.6       -2.9
  8th                                 26.4           29.4        0.7
  10th                                19.5           29.4        2.3
  12th                                18.5           18.6        0.0

                                       B/W group
                                difference significance

SCC ([chi square] = 23.0, p
  < 0.0001, df = 4)
  Working                                 NS
  Middle                                  NS
  Upper middle
  Upper                                   NS
Race ([chi square] = 20.5, p
  < 0.001, df = 5)
  Asian                                   NS
  Latino                                  NS
  African American
Gender ([chi square] = 1.3,
  NS, df = 1)
  Male                                    NS
  Female                                  NS
Grade ([chi square] = 10.4, p
  < 0.015, df = 3)
  8th                                     NS
  12th                                    NS

                                Percent representation
                                   in total sample

SCC ([chi square] = 23.0, p
  < 0.0001, df = 4)
  Poor                                   14.1
  Working                                16.3
  Middle                                 33.5
  Upper middle                           25.9
  Upper                                  10.2
Race ([chi square] = 20.5, p
  < 0.001, df = 5)
  Asian                                   6.6
  Latino                                 15.8
  African American                       17.4
  White                                  59.3
Gender ([chi square] = 1.3,
  NS, df = 1)
  Male                                   40.9
  Female                                 59.1
Grade ([chi square] = 10.4, p
  < 0.015, df = 3)
  6th                                    28.1
  8th                                    28.6
  10th                                   23.6
  12th                                   19.8

Table II

Analysis of Covariance of Global Self Esteem With Experience of
Interest, Controlling for Race and Social Class of Community

                       Adjusted mean  Unadjusted mean  Unadjusted SD

Bored (N = 153)           5.25            5.29            4.03
Interested (N = 145)      8.38            8.33            3.38

Total sample mean (N = 623) = 7.04 [+ or -] 3.7; F = 50.00, p < 0.000.
Main effect df = 1; residual df = 293.

Table III

Analysis of Covariance of Locus of Control With Experience of Interest,
Controlling for Race and Social Class of Community

                       Adjusted mean  Unadjusted mean  Unadjusted SD

Bored (N = 163)           10.56           10.47           3.07
Interested (N = 148)       8.16            8.26           3.64

Note. Larger means indicate greater external locus of control.

Total sample mean (N = 641) = 9.3 [+ or -] 3.34; F = 37.90, p < 0.000.
Main effect df = 1; residual df = 306.

Table IV

Analysis of Covariance of Optimistic Emotions With Experience of
Interest, Controlling for Race and Social Class of Community

                       Adjusted mean  Unadjusted mean  Unadjusted SD

Bored (N = 189)           4.73            4.75            1.26
Interested (N = 187)      5.43            5.41            1.07

Total sample mean (N = 744) = 5.1 [+ or -] 1.11; F = 33.31, p < 0.000.
Main effect df = 1; residual df = 371.

Table V

Analysis of Covariance of Pessimistic Emotions With Experience of
Interest, Controlling for Race and Social Class of Community

                       Adjusted mean  Unadjusted mean  Unadjusted SD

Bored (N = 189)           2.61            2.62            1.19
Interested (N = 186)      2.10            2.10            1.1

Total sample mean (N = 748) = 2.34 [+ or -] 1.11; F = 17.83, p < 0.000.
Main effect df = 1; residual df = 374.


This study is part of a longitudinal research program of youth and social 
development supported by a grant from the Alfred P. Sloan Foundation given to 
Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi, Charles Bidwell, Larry Hedges, and Barbara Schneider 
at The University of Chicago.

Accepted April 11, 2002


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Jeremy P. Hunter, (1) and Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi (2)

(1.) Research Director, The Quality of Life Research Center, Peter F. Drucker 
School of Management, Claremont Graduate University, Claremont, California. 
Received PhD in psychology (human development) from The University of Chicago 
in 2001. Major research interests include the experience of interest, intrinsic 
motivation, and meditative practice and the quality of life. To whom 
correspondence should be addressed at Quality of life Research Center, Peter F. 
Drucker School of Management, Claremont Graduate University, Claremont, 
California; e-mail: jeremy.hunter at cgu.edu.

(2.) C. S. and D. J. Davidson Professor of Psychology and Management and 
Director, Quality of Life Research Center, Peter F. Drucker School of 
Management, Claremont Graduate University, Claremont, California. Received PhD 
in psychology (human development) from The University of Chicago in 1965. Major 
research interests include the psychology of adolescence and the study of 
optimal experience, creativity, and intrinsic motivation.

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