Amotivation is a telling hallmark of negative symptomatology in schizophrenia, and it impacts nearly every facet of behavior, including inclination to attempt the difficult cognitive tasks involved in cognitive remediation therapy. Experiences of external reward, reinforcement, and hedonic anticipatory enjoyment are diminished in psychosis, so therapeutics which instead target intrinsic motivation for cognitive tasks may enhance task engagement, and subsequently, remediation outcome. We examined whether outpatients could attain benefits from an intrinsically motivating instructional approach which (a) presents learning materials in a meaningful game-like context, (b) personalizes elements of the learning materials into themes of high interest value, and (c) offers choices so patients can increase their control over the learning process. We directly compared one learning method that incorporated the motivational paradigm into an arithmetic learning program against another method that carefully manipulated out the motivational variables in the same learning program. Fifty-seven subjects with schizophrenia or schizoaffective disorder were randomly assigned to one of the two learning programs for 10 thirty-minute sessions while an intent-to-treat convenience subsample (n=15) was used to account for practice effect. Outcome measures were arithmetic learning, attention, motivation, self competency, and symptom severity. Results showed the motivational group (a) acquired more arithmetic skill, (b) possessed greater intrinsic motivation for the task, (c) reported greater feelings of self competency post-treatment, and (d) demonstrated better post-test attention. Interestingly, baseline perception of self competency was a significant predictor of post-test arithmetic scores. Results demonstrated that incorporating intrinsically motivating instructional techniques into a difficult cognitive task promoted greater learning of the material, higher levels of intrinsic motivation to attempt the demanding task, and greater feelings of self efficacy and achievement to learn.
Keywords: Schizophrenia, motivation, learning, cognitive remediation