Science of Youth, Self-Talk, and Extracurricular Motivation (SYSTEM)

system logo webpage

Welcome to the SYSTEM Lab page! My lab framework uses developmental and motivational science to address optimal development issues in childhood and adulthood. We address research questions from the following areas:

What are the basic processes in motivation oriented toward healthy and optimal performance?

There is a basic science to our work, through which we investigate the mechanisms of motivation and performance. Self-talk, talking aloud or silently to the self, is involved in basic processes of cognition (attention, executive function), visual/perceptual mechanisms (eye-tracking), and health behavior. Current projects are exploring the relation between self-talk and performance in experimental and naturalistic conditions. One study focuses on self-talk messages and attention to alcohol cues in college students (**, in prep), while another is examining the relation between self-talk and performance processes in young athletes (**, in prep).

What are the personal and social sources of motivation, and how do they relate, from childhood to adulthood?

Motivation is a central drive behind action and exploration, and is a process which we continually update and regulate with our performance. Yet, it is embedded in a social context with coaches, teachers, and peers. We study motivation in terms of goal orientation, self-efficacy, and behavioral persistence on tasks. Further, we are interested in relating motivational processes of the individual to social-cultural sources such as belongingness, social climate, and scaffolding. We have current projects exploring the relation between motivational climate and motivation in young to middle child athletes (**in prep), as well as belongingness and motivation in first-generation college students (**in prep).

How can non-academic contexts enhance motivation in academic contexts?

The eventual goal of the lab is link basic processes to larger questions of how global extracurricular contexts can strengthen motivation and behavior in academic contexts. When extracurricular activities are used with intention, the context can be a developmental asset to motivation. Theory and empirical evidence point to the need for standards which join these contexts together in cooperation, rather than continuing to treat them as separate contexts in conflict. Together, these contexts can empower youth, and work together as a system!

Theoretical Orientation

Systems theorists describe motivation as activity stemming from evaluating a goal (e.g., Is it worth pursuing?), exploration of paths toward a goal (e.g., What personal and social resources will it take?), and the assessment of ourselves in relation to a goal (e.g., motivational and evaluative self-statements) (Bandura, 1986; Ford, 1992). Researchers studying this problem typically refer to motivation being regulated by the self (e.g., self-regulated learning) (Pintrich, 2000). Self-regulation, and the motivation to self-regulate, likely have key developmental milestones in middle childhood, adolescence (Larson, 2000), and emerging adulthood (Arnett, 2000).

Ongoing Projects



Thibodeaux, J. & Winsler, A. (2018). What do youth tennis athletes say to themselves? Observed and self-reported self-talk on the court. Psychology of Sport and Exercise, 126-136.

Thibodeaux, J., Deutsch, A., Kitsantas, A., & Winsler, A. (2017). First-year college students’ time use: Relations with self-regulation and motivation. Journal of Advanced Academics, 28 (1), 5-27. DOI: 10.1177/1932202X16676860

Thibodeaux, J., & Winsler, A. (2018). Athletics. In M. Bornstein (Ed.), The SAGE Encyclopedia of Lifespan Human Development. New York, NY: Sage.


See a video of a talk given by Dr. Thibodeaux on his dissertation research, which led to much of the projects outlined on the lab page.

Thibodeaux, J., *Anderson, C. M., & Samson, J. (2018, April). Relations between motivation, self-Talk, and belongingness in first-generation college students. Poster presented at the 2018 Southwestern Psychological Association Conference, Dallas, TX.

*Anderson, C. M., *Gutierrez, A., Thibodeaux, J., & Samson, J. E. (2017, April). Self-talk in first generation college students. Paper presented at the 2017 Arkansas Symposium for Psychology Students, Conway, AR.

Thibodeaux, J., Bradner, P., Hines, C., Perla, V., Burke, J., & Winsler (2017, April). Young tennis athletes’ self-talk and sport motivation. Poster presented at the 2017 Biennial Meeting of the Society for Research in Child Development, Austin, TX.

* = Student co-author