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The culturally adaptive functionality of self-regulation: Explorations of children's behavioural strategies and motivational attitudes



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Torres, Pablo Enrique  ORCID logo


The present study aimed to explore the culture specificity of student self-regulation and its supporting motivational attitudes. Specifically, it enquired about similarities and differences between Chilean and English 8 to 9 year-old students in terms of their expression of self-regulatory behaviours, the psychological factors underlying these behaviours, and the functionality of these behaviours for task performance. It also compared student adoption of achievement motivational attitudes as well as the functionality of these attitudes for investment of effort and self-regulatory activity between cultures. Finally, the role of classroom cultures for self-regulation was studied. In particular, it examined the effects of classrooms and the quality of teacher talk (teacher-to-student communicative interactions/demands), such as teacher ‘regulatory talk’ and ‘socio-motivational talk’, on student self-regulation.

A quantitative approach to the analysis of qualitative data (i.e. videos of student behaviour engaged in 11 to 13 experimental tasks, semi-structured interviews, videoed literacy lessons) was adopted. Eight classrooms situated in different schools from Chile and England were part of the study. In total, 8 teachers and 49 students – one teacher and six to seven students per classroom – took active part in the study. Qualitative data was primarily analysed using observational scales (for student behaviour), thematic analysis (for interview data), as well as socio-cultural discourse analysis (for videoed lessons). Statistical techniques, such as Mann Whitney U test, Factor Analysis, Multinomial logistic regressions, and Multilevel regressions were then applied on numerical transformations of the data.

Overall, results suggest that self-regulation and achievement motivational attitudes vary to important extents according to culture. Most interestingly, these varied between cultures not so much in terms of the degree to which children used or adopted them, but rather in terms of their functionality. Some key findings supporting this conclusion were: i) Strong similarities between English and Chilean children’s levels of self-regulatory behaviours; ii) substantial differences across country samples in relation to the psychological factors underlying the expression of specific self-regulatory behaviours; iii) the finding of evaluative actions being self-regulatory in England but not in Chile; iv) a higher variety of self-regulatory behaviours being predictive of task performance in England than in Chile; v) the fact that learned self-regulatory behaviours accounted for effects of effective metacognitive control on task performance in England but not Chile; vi) some important differences in the achievement motivational attitudes expressed by Chilean and English students; and vii) culture-specific functionalities of various achievement motivational attitudes with respect to student effort and self-regulatory behaviours.

Moreover, results suggest that some aspects of children’s self-regulation and motivational attitudes develop as tools to adapt to classroom cultures, specifically to the learning interactions/demands socially afforded by teacher talk. Among key findings supporting this conclusion were: i) effects of classrooms on children’s cognitive, social, and motivational self-regulation behavioural strategies, and ii) clear effects of teacher ‘regulatory talk’ (e.g., teacher ‘self-regulatory talk’ predicting more planning and asking for clarifications in students) and ‘socio-motivational talk’ (e.g., teacher ‘talk against self-efficacy’ predicting higher dependency-oriented help-seeking in students) on those behaviours with respect to which classrooms were found to matter. Thus a theory about the culturally adaptive functionality (CAF) of self-regulation and motivational attitudes supporting self-regulation is developed throughout the thesis.





Whitebread, David
McLellan, Ros


Culture, Self-regulation, Motivational attitudes, Achievement goal orientations, Children, Teacher discourse, Teacher talk, Teaching, Chile, England, UK, Culture of education, Scaffolding, Directiveness, Internalization, Cultural affordances, Culturally adaptive functionality, Regulatory talk, Socio-motivational talk, Metacognition, Help-seeking, Collaboration, Teacher-to-student communication, Classroom observation, Experimental tasks, Children's interviews, Mixed methods, Planning, Monitoring, Control, Evaluation, Strategic behaviour


Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)

Awarding Institution

University of Cambridge
My sincere thanks to CONICYT Chile (scholarship folio# 72130166), The University of Cambridge, The Centre of Latin American Studies and Queens’ College for their financial support