1998), suggesting that all individuals can be expected to have and to be able to develop interest.4 In addition, interest is an important filter for selecting and focusing on relevant information in a complex environment (Falk and Dierking, 2000). In this sense, the psychological state of mind referred to as interest can be viewed as an evolutionary adaptation to select what is perceived as important or relevant from the environment. People pay attention to the things that interest them, and hence interest becomes a strong filter for what is learned.
When people have a more developed interest for science—sometimes described in terms of hobbies or personal excursions (Azevedo, 2006), islands of expertise (Crowley and Jacobs, 2002), passions (Neumann, 2006), or identity-related motivations (Ellenbogen, Luke, and Dierking, 2004; Falk and Storksdieck, 2005; Falk, 2006)—they are inclined to draw more heavily on available resources for learning and use systematic approaches to seek answers (Engle and Conant, 2002; Renninger, 2000). This line of research suggests that the availability or existence of stimulating, attractive learning environments can generate the interest that leads to participation (Falk et al., 2007). People with an interest in science are also likely to be motivated learners in science; they are more likely to seek out challenge and difficulty, use effective learning strategies, and make use of feedback (Csikszentmihalyi, Rathunde, and Whalen, 1993; Lipstein and Renninger, 2006; Renninger and Hidi, 2002). These outcomes help learners continue to develop interest, further engaging in activity that promotes enjoyment and learning. People who come to informal environments with developed interests are likely to set goals, self-regulate, and exert effort easily in the domains of their interests, and these behaviors often come to be habits, supporting their ongoing engagement (Lipstein and Renninger, 2006; Renninger and Hidi, 2002; Renninger, Sansone, and Smith, 2004).
Although self-report data are susceptible to various forms of bias on the part of the research participant, they are nonetheless frequently used in studying outcomes with affective and attitudinal components because of the subjective nature of these outcomes. Self-report studies are typically based on questionnaires or structured interviews developed to target attitudes, beliefs, and interests regarding science among respondents in particular age groups, with an emphasis on how these factors relate to school processes and outcomes (e.g., Renninger, 2003; Moore and Hill Foy, 1997; Weinburgh and Steele, 2000). Methods linking prior levels of interest and motivation to outcomes have been used in research as well.