Motivation and Cognitive Science

This post does relate to sewing, I promise. I am using my blog to post a homework assignment for an educational psychology class. For this assignment, I have to share some photos and explain how they relate to motivation. I chose to use photos of my sewing and other craft projects because of the relationship between something that I find enjoyable and how motivated I feel to pursue the activities.

Linen tape (ribbon) that I wove--I was very motivated to make this project because I was copying an 18th century tape that I saw in the textile museum at Colonial Williamsburg. I was really excited about seeing the original artifact and realizing that I could reproduce it.

This photo shows me (in the dark blue dress) at Colonial Williamsburg. I sewed my entire outfit by hand. I was motivated to make these items because I enjoyed researching and had plenty of help from experts, including the woman to the right holding the little girl. I felt that the project was at an appropriate level for my ability, but it was also challenging and within my Zone of Proximal Development (Lev Vygotsky). It also fit my instructional level in Swanson's model of three levels of instruction: the frustration level, the instructional level, and the independent level (Swanson, 1999).

In “Do Students Care About Learning?” by Marge Scherer, Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi discussed how enjoyment plays a large role in motivation. For me, I am usually very motivated to work on things that I enjoy. My primary hobby is sewing historical clothing for reenactors and history museums, which has become a small business for me on the side. I really love sewing and am usually quite motivated to work on my commissioned projects. However, I noticed that if I feel that I won’t do a good job, I dread working on the projects--the frustration level of learning (Swanson, 1999). It also strikes me that sometimes I am less motivated when I know I am getting paid to do the work because the primary reward is extrinsic rather than intrinsic. However, if I get engrossed in the project, I forget that it’s for money, and I enjoy it for the sheer pleasure of engaging in a creative activity. Dan Pink, in "The Puzzle of Motivation," discussed the influence of intrinsic and extrinsic rewards on motivation, which matches what I see in my own work.

This is a circa 1759 British Royal Highlander 42nd Regiment coat that I just finished last week. In the past, I would have been very intimidated about this project, but I have made several coats in collaboration with an expert and I felt that I knew how to do this project. I also consulted several people and instructional resources online so that I knew how to sew certain parts. I was motivated to finish it because I enjoyed the project (intrinsic reward) and had a high sense of self-efficacy, but also because I was getting ready to leave the country for the summer and I needed to finish this coat as soon as possible (extrinsic motivation).

Furthermore, in reference to the article “Self-Efficacy: A Key to Improving the Motivation of Struggling Learners” by Howard Margolis and Patrick P. McCabe, self-efficacy is a motivating factor. I know that I am skilled at sewing, and I can clearly see how much better I’ve gotten at the niche type of sewing that I do most of the time. I have moved past the amateur stage and have become very knowledgeable. I feel so confident that I know how to do the work, that I am not discouraged to start doing it. I also know many experts whom I can consult if I have problems, which helps me feel less anxious. The positive feedback loop of good performance creates a feeling of self-efficacy. I chose all of these photographs to represent my personal experience with motivation and analyzed how the cognitive perspectives manifest for me.

These are mittens that I made for my father for Christmas 2015. I was motivated to make these because it was fun and yet challenging. Plus, I had a deadline to finish making Christmas presents.


Margolis, H.; McCabe, P. 2004. Self-efficacy: A key to improving the motivation of struggling learners. The Clearing House July/August 2004, pp. 241-249.

Pink, D. (July 2009). The puzzle of motivation [Video file]. Retrieved from
Scherer, M. 2002. Do students care about learning? A conversation with Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi. Educational Leadership Sep 2002.
Swanson, H. L. 1999. Instructional components that predict treatment outcomes for students with learning disabilities: Support for a combined strategy and direct instruction model. Learning Disabilities Research and Practice 14 (3): 129-40.

This is not what motivation looks like.


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