By Ron Bashian, MD, ACO Research Committee.

Everyone knows that motivation is key to any action or change. Motivation is, quite literally, the condition of moving. In its most basic sense motive power is what gets machinery or engines into motion. And we coaches know that movement is essential to a client’s success, through action plans.

Numerous factors underlie human motivation, and they are generally divided into environmental and genetic components (nature/nurture). We readily study, and even intuit, environmental factors which influence motivation. However, the study of genetic factors is exceedingly complex.

To evaluate specific genes or DNA sequences would require herculean efforts and expense to reach a statistically significant conclusion. Moreover, our knowledge of particular genes which influence behavior or intelligence is still rudimentary.

For this reason, twin studies are commonly used – as in this study. These authors compared identical (monozygotic, with almost identical DNA) to non-identical (dizygotic or fraternal) twins whose DNA profiles are entirely different.

The Study

This dense article, rife with references, required masterful coordination. It collated self-reported information from over 13,000 children, ages 9 to 16, from 6 countries (Unite States, Canada, U.K., Japan, Germany, and Russia). It focused on two motivational constructs, as reported by these children: the enjoyment of learning, and these children’s self-perceived ability. They designate these terms as intrinsic motivation and academic self-concept.

The unique feature of this article is its demonstrating, within a huge collection of data points from different countries, a consistent trend and convergence to similar conclusions.


ONE: The hereditary (genetic) component of the motivational constructs studied – namely the degree of students’ enjoyment of learning and perception of competence – was substantial. It explained a full 40% of the variation between identical to fraternal twins, and is thus similar to the significant genetic component of cognitive ability.

TWO: Variation in those motivational constructs was more influenced by individual non-shared environmental factors than by home or classroom factors.

THREE: The genetic influence on motivation was greater than the effect of a first good (or bad) teacher.

How are we to interpret this?

There will always be a tension between the limiting effect of genetics on personal development and the effects of nurture and environment. Human life is too complex to genetically compartmentalize or to bind us to rigid determinism.

Yet, such studies suggest caution in considering large-scale interventions to raise academic motivation. These authors maintain that schools must move more from the designations of “good” or “bad” homes, teachers, and schools. Many true effects can be masked, even in optimal classrooms, by individual perceptions that affect motivation, and which have some genetic determinants.

And how does this all relate to coaching?

Students with specific motivational states grow up into adults who likely carry over much of this predisposition.

I would say that we need to dig deeper into motivation. To consider not just its obvious factors, but also its general tone and the degree of motivational self-awareness in each client. To look at motivation as a motive power, with its own limitations. When even novelty and excitement are not enough to propel a client forward, we need to consider the palette from which each client is striving to create their unique life picture.

As was told to me by Sue Sussman, one of my teachers, “It is very difficult to change yourself. It is almost impossible to change (the essence of ) someone else.”


Kovas Y et al, (July, 2015). Why children differ in motivation to learn: insights from over 13,000 twins from 6 countries. Personality and Individual Differences 80: 51-63

(Personality and Individual Differences, an Elsevier Publication, is the Official Journal of the International Society for the Study of Individual Differences (ISSID). Ref:

Article link and download at

Ron Bashian, MD, is both a pediatrician, who has worked for years with young people with ADHD, and an active ADHD coach going through the certification process. You can contact him at or through his website at