Good characters make good motivated medical students?

med student

Intrinsic motivation occurs when people engage in an activity without obvious external incentives. Research has found that it is usually associated with high educational achievement and enjoyment by students. Intrinsic academic motivation has been shown to be related to better academic achievement in medical students. Extrinsic motivation refers to the desire to do something because it leads to a particular outcome.

Students are likely to be intrinsically motivated if they:

  • attribute their educational results to internal factors that they can control (e.g. the amount of effort they put in)
  • believe they can be effective agents in reaching desired goals (i.e. the results are not determined by luck)
  • are interested in mastering a topic, rather than just rote-learning to achieve good grades

What character traits can be associated with intrinsic academic motivation in medical students? This was studied with the The Temperament and Character Inventory (TCI):

The TCI was developed by Cloninger and his colleagues. They proposed a biosocial model of personality including four temperament dimensions, novelty seeking (NS), harm avoidance (HA), reward dependence (RD), and persistence (P) as well as three character dimensions, self-directedness (SD), cooperativeness (C), and self-transcendence (ST). Temperament and Character Inventory (TCI), a 240-item false-true questionnaire, was developed to measure the four temperament dimensions and the three character dimensions. Cloninger suggested that the three original temperaments, novel seeking, harm avoidance and reward dependance, was correlated with low basal dopaminergic activity, high serotonergic activity, and low basal noradrenergic activity, respectively.

The TCI dimensions of persistence, self-directedness and co-operativeness were positively associated with intrinsic academic motivation. To identify independent associations the analysis were adjusted for age and gender. The TCI dimensions of persistence, self-directedness and self transcendence were positively associated with intrinsic academic motivation.

Now what are these dimensions in normal speech. Persistence is continuing your study despite frustration and fatigue, indeed a valuable character asset when trying to become a physician. Self-directedness is being responsible and resourcefulness in initiating and organizing steps to achieve your personal goals. Self-transcendence involves the spontaneous feeling of participation in one’s surroundings as a unitive whole. It is associated with wise judgment, and selfless spirituality, as opposed to egocentric rational materialism. Cooperativeness is social tolerance, empathy, helpfulness, compassion and moral principles rather than hostile revengefulness and selfishness.

Indeed important character traits in order to become a empathetic and wise physician. The found characteristics all add up to a well balanced mature character. But shouldn’t any mature man or woman score the same character traits, how are med students different from e.g. pilots, judges, plumbers etc?

How was this study done?

The study group consisted of 119 Year 2 medical students at Osaka City University Graduate School of Medicine. They completed questionnaires dealing with intrinsic academic motivation (the Intrinsic Motivation Scale toward Learning) and personality (the Temperament and Character Inventory [TCI]).

What do you think, are med students different in character from other professionals? Let me know in the comments.

Why is this important?

Knowing more about this relationship might help the medical education community to develop screening procedures to identify those at high risk of low intrinsic academic motivation, and to conduct early interventions to achieve lower
incidences of and higher rates of recovery from low motivation.
Tanaka, M., Mizuno, K., Fukuda, S., Tajima, S., & Watanabe, Y. (2009). Personality traits associated with intrinsic academic motivation in medical students Medical Education, 43 (4), 384-387 DOI: 10.1111/j.1365-2923.2008.03279.x