• psychomotor skills;
  • innate ability;
  • motivation;
  • skill acquisition;
  • skill learning


Objective:  The acquisition of psychomotor skills is a key competence in the practice of dentistry, and innate abilities and motivation have been shown to influence motor performance. However, the explicit integration of these factors into the design of research projects about skill acquisition in dentistry has been limited. Therefore, the purpose of this study was to provide a comprehensive analysis of how dental students’ abilities and motivation affected their performance in an operative task.

Methods:  A longitudinal study with two cohorts of dental students was conducted in laboratory classes forming part of an operative technique course. A range of standardised psychometric tests was used to assess different abilities before completing a cavity preparation on Frasaco teeth. This was followed immediately by completion of an Intrinsic Motivation Inventory.

Results:  Low but statistically significant correlations (P < 0.05) were found between dental performance and psychomotor ability (r = 0.22), and also dental performance and motivation (r = 0.19). A significant difference (P < 0.05) was found in the grades obtained for the cavity preparation exercise in one cohort between students with higher levels of psychomotor ability compared with those with lower levels (Tracing scores) (P < 0.05). No significant differences in grades obtained for the cavity preparation exercise were found between students with higher and lower levels of motivation.

Conclusion:  Both innate psychomotor ability and motivation showed only weak positive associations with dental performance on cavity preparation exercises. Our study suggests that student-related factors only provide limited information to explain differences in performance or to be useful as specific predictors of future performance by individuals.