Amotivational Syndrome: Definition & Explanation

Instructor: Jennifer Noel

Jennie teaches psychology and has a master's degree in social work.

Learn about amotivational syndrome, which is historically linked to heavy marijuana use, and explore whether this syndrome is actually caused by using marijuana.


Amotivational syndrome is a term that refers to a lack of desire to complete tasks, a sense of apathy about the future, poor concentration, and decreased interest in social and other activities.

Consider Mike, a 20-year-old biology major. Over the past year, he has become less focused on his school work, often preferring to stay in his room and sleep or play video games. When his friends invite him to go skiing, he declines. His room is a mess and he has even begun to neglect his hygiene. He has also begun smoking marijuana with his roommate much more often in the past few months. One of his professors told him that he might have amotivational syndrome.

The prefix 'a' means 'not' or 'without.' People who are identified as having amotivational syndrome are 'without motivation.' We all have times when we just can't face our work day or we lose momentum on a project. Perhaps there are certain areas in which you have great trouble maintaining focus, such as daily flossing or going to the gym. However, when an attitude or set of behaviors is called a syndrome, this refers to a larger problem. The person with amotivational syndrome lacks motivation in most areas of his or her life.

You might fall asleep studying once in a while, but if you have no motivation for studying and end up sleeping every time you try - - and you have no motivation for anything else, really - - you might have amotivational syndrome
Student sleeping

What Causes Amotivational Syndrome?

While a lack of motivation can be seen alongside problems such as depression, immaturity, or even learning disabilities, the most commonly cited cause of amotivational syndrome is marijuana use. About forty years ago, researchers began noticing a correlation between marijuana use and overall difficulties with drive, focus, and concentration. They conducted studies that seemed to show that subjects who engaged in prolonged, heavy use of marijuana were more likely to develop these difficulties, and the term amotivational syndrome was popularized. Over the last four decades or so, a lot of literature has warned of the consequences of using too much marijuana; chief among the dangers mentioned has been losing motivation for living life to the fullest.

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