Purpose This paper aims to examine the relationships between undergraduate management students' emotional interest (EI) and cognitive interest (CI) in research methods (RMs), the perceived applicability of RMs to future careers and motivation to study RMs within the Asian higher education context. This draws implications for better pedagogical approaches to motivating them to study RMs. Design/methodology/approach A pre-post-semester cohort study design was conducted with 172 undergraduate management students enrolled on an RMs subject by means of a self-administrated online survey using Qualtrics. A total of 170 students responded to the pre-semester survey and 116 students to the post-semester one. The main instrument was adapted from Mazer's (2012) study interest scale. Regression analysis was applied to investigating the relationship between students' EI and CI in RMs with perceived applicability of RMs to future careers and their motivation to study RMs. Findings The findings have shown that there was a significant relationship between undergraduate management students' CI and EI and perceived applicability of RMs to future careers and their study motivation towards RMs. The regression model built on the two independent variables of students' EI in RMs and their perceived applicability of RMs to future careers served to have higher accuracy in predicting their study motivation. Originality/value This paper contributes to enriching the conceptual understanding of the conflating influences of undergraduate management students' intrinsic and extrinsic motivation levels on studying RMs within the Asian higher education context. Practically, this study explores different pedagogical approaches to better motivating students to study RMs. Copyright © 2022 Emerald Group Publishing.