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Journal article review: Motivational Reserve

Dr Alison Laver-Fawcett

Motivational reserve: Lifetime motivational abilities contribute to cognitive and emotional health in old age. Psychology and Aging -reviewed by Dr Alison Laver-Fawcett, Deputy Director of RCOMH and Senior Lecturer at York St John University

Simon Forstmeir and Andreas Maercker from the Department of Psychology at the University of Zurich have investigated the effects of lifetime motivational abilities on cognitive and emotional health in old age. The authors developed a Motivational Reserve model, incorporating motivational and cognitive abilities, which they have studied as a predictor of cognitive impairment and Alzheimer’s disease. Their model hypothesises the relationships between motivational reserve, cognitive reserve, stress levels, age and cognitive status. In the paper they provide an interesting review of the research literature related to both motivational abilities and cognitive abilities as predictors of later cognitive functioning and explore the evidence related to the exercising of cognitive abilities as a buffer against cognitive decline in old age. They also review evidence related to how motivational abilities reduce the risk of depression and anxiety, which are in turn reported as being associated with an increased risk of subsequent dementia.

Two key Motivational Reserve variables are identified as ‘goal orientation’ and ‘action planning’ and the four sub-processes of MR are described as: decision regulation; activation regulation, motivation regulation; and self-efficacy. Forstmeir and Maercker explored MR in an occupational context. They used the term ‘occupational’ in a narrow sense related to people’s work occupations and asserted that an occupational context is the area of a person’s life where motivational abilities ‘play a crucial role in reaching one’s goals, to a greater extent than in other areas’ (p888).

Their study involved a sample of 147 community-dwelling people (without dementia) recruited from the greater Zurich area. Subjects were aged between 60 – 94 years and the sample was stratified for age group, sex and education. Subjects were given a range of standardised measures to examine motivation (volition, self-efficacy, activation regulation), well-being (satisfaction with life), mental health (positive and negative affect, self-esteem and depression) and cognition. The researchers also cross- referenced subjects’ main occupation to the Occupational Information Network (O*Net) to estimate each person’s midlife motivational and cognitive abilities. [N.B., O*Net is the official occupational classification system used by the United States Department of Labor].

In this study, Forstmeir and Maercker report that O*Net-estimated motivational abilities predicted cognitive status, psychological well-being and odds of mild-cognitive impairment when age, sex, education and cognitive ability were controlled. However, O*Net cognitive abilities were not found to be significant predictors.  A major limitation of this study is the cross-sectional design and the authors identify the need for longitudinal studies to fully test their model and examine the hypotheses that motivational and cognitive abilities can be identified through a person’s main occupation, are associated with motivational reserve and cognitive reserve, and may predict cognitive and emotional health in later life.

If you would like to read this article the full reference is:

Forstmeier S, Maercker (2008) Motivational reserve: Lifetime motivational abilities contribute to cognitive and emotional health in old age. Psychology and Aging, 23, 4, 886-899