Self-Determination Theories Literature Reviews Examples

Type of paper: Literature Review

Topic: Theory, Motivation, Psychology, People, Behavior, Goals, Wellness, Self-Determination

Pages: 8

Words: 2200

Published: 2023/04/10


It is challenging to fathom exactly what drives people towards accomplishment in life, but there are some reasons to believe that both external and internal forces play significance roles in motivation. “Motivation is the particular word commonly used to describe the situation of self-determination” (Deci & Ryan, 2014). The theory of motivation developed by Deci and Ryan (2014), suggest that individuals are necessarily driven by the need to grow to gain personal fulfillment. However, where does that motivation stems from? Deci and Ryan (2014) explain that “self-determination influences people towards accomplishing such tasks." First, people's activities and efforts are usually directed towards growth and fulfillment. Gaining mileages over challenges and getting new experience are necessities for developing a cohesive sense of oneself. Essentially, for individuals to realize growth “they must be competent to beat challenges, have connections (feel a sense of belonging) and feel autonomous (feel in control of themselves)” (Robbins & Judge, 2009).
Self-determination aspect or theory is an investigation that “describes individual's inherent growth tendencies about innate psychological aspects” (Robbins & Judge, 2009). Indeed, it helps to separate elements that surround intrinsic and extrinsic drivers of people. This is through highlighting on social development, personal growth, and enhancement of individual well-being. “Self-determination theory comprises of mini-theories that have been used to discuss facets of motivation and personality functioning” (Robbins & Judge, 2009). These theories include; cognitive evaluation theory, organism integration theory, casualty orientation theory, psychological needs theory, and goal contents theory.
This investigative paper discusses these theories and completely reveals how they are interconnected to self-determination. It will help unravel the facts surrounding driving forces that determine how people are directed towards accomplishing tasks and fulfilling life goals.

Cognitive Evaluation Theory (CET)

Cognitive evaluation theory is amongst the most interesting sub-theories of self-determination that “distinctively describes the relationship that exist between intrinsic and extrinsic motivation” (Urdan, 2010). People always have the strong desire to determine their actions, making personal decisions and taking control. The motivation for all these aspects comes from internal and some from external drives. Concerning this theory, McKenna (2000) explains that intrinsic motivations are those motivational drivers that are based on satisfaction of taking action for its shake. This can be associated with behavior that just rises for its shake. For instance, “children are intrinsically motivated to play and exploration of new things” (Robbins & Judge, 2009).
The intrinsic motivation is the long living driving force within individual that determines how they take action. Even though the topic of intrinsic motivation is much broader and is inclusive of the interrelatedness of driving aspects, cognitive evaluation theory specifically “explains the effects and aspects in a social context” (Shaw, 2005). A clear description of the motivational factors involving rewards, ego-involvement, interpersonal interest, and impacts of intrinsic motivation among other effects are discussed. The theory discusses the critical roles played by autonomy support and competency in enhancing intrinsic motivation.
The implication of CET is that “consequences of certain factors may decrease the level of satisfaction and intrinsic motivation” (Shaw, Gorely, & Corban, 2005). For instance, the use of rewards is perceived to negatively influence autonomy and competence of people. Csikszentmihalyi (2014) explains that tangible rewards instead of inducing motivation, negatively influence motivation and interest of individuals including employees and students. “The rewards are unexpected and as such do not motivate individuals to engage in the activity” (McInerney & Van, 2001).
However, CET tries to justify the belief that positive feedback greatly influences intrinsic motivation. “Positive expectations lead to higher satisfaction and motivation” as long as the feedback is not fixed or relayed in a controlling manner (Emmer et al., 2013). The choice of words used greatly influence autonomy and as such, use of motivating words like “you have done a good job” can motivate an individual to continue with the work (Reeve, 2012). The use of negative words would reveal control, which does not intrinsically motivate people.

Organismic Integration Theory (OIT)

Even though people normally feel intrinsically motivated, “sometimes they extrinsically become motivated” (Christenson, 2013). Organismic integration theory addresses this extrinsic motivation of people. The theory views the extrinsic motivational factors from organismic dialectical approach (Besser-Jones, 2014). It investigates and proves the fact that “people are active organism influenced with tendencies and the need to integrate new experiences in a coherent sense of self-worth” (Anderson, 2014). OIT can be distinguished from other theories, because “it addresses extrinsic motivation with its various properties, consequences, forms, and determinants” (Blumberg, 2014). According to this theory, extrinsic motivation is an instrumental behavior that is “intended towards achieving outcomes that are intrinsic to the expected behavior” (Gunnell, et al., 2014). This may include forms that are “influenced by introjections, external regulation, integration, and identification” (Gunnell, et al., 2014).
OIT tends to look extrinsic motivation from the continuum of internalization. Hagger and Chatzisarantis (2005) explain that the more internalized the extrinsic motivation to the people, the more autonomous they are towards enacting the behavior. Organismic integration theory concerns address the social context of ensuring internalization to achieve higher extrinsic motivation. In the opinion of Hagger et al. 2014, forestall integration is what influence people towards either to some degree embracing, or completely fathoming values, aims, or rejecting the belief systems.
Particularly, at initial stages, individuals may learn to introject a behavior that they had earlier intrinsically motivated to pursue. Leventhal (2014) explains that over time they start to internalize a behavior that results in feeling either sense of prestige in the act or guilt revealing the reflection of introjection. At some stage, “the individual does not possess or experiences a sense of ownership of the behavior but feel otherwise just to engage in the act” (McInerney & Van, 2004). With time, they learn to identify the behavior rather than mere introjection and consequently feel motivated in engaging the activity. Finally, the individuals integrate the inclination with other facets into their self-concept. It implies “they become assimilated to the behavior” (Roeckelein, 2006). As time continues to elapse, the behavior increasingly becomes more autonomous since “extrinsic motivation shifts from introjections via identification to integration” (Ryan, 2012).

Causality Orientations Theory (COT)

This is the third sub self-determination theory trying to explain about motivation and driving forces that influence people towards action. The causality orientations theory focuses on individual differences in trying to explain how they become motivated. Dweck (2002) explains that different individuals show a difference in tendency to orient to the environment and the manner in which they regulate behaviors. The theory discusses and assesses three forms of causality orientations. In the opinion of Deci and Ryan (2011), this includes autonomy orientation, the control orientation, and the impersonal or motivated orientation.
According to Cerasoli et al. (2014), some individuals demonstrate autonomy orientation in their behavior. Such people act out of interest and value of the occurring event. They specifically strive to engage in actions or activities that they find inherently enjoyable, significant, challenging, and tasks that possess core values. However, others demonstrate control orientation in which their “focus remain on gains, approval, and rewards” (Hagger & Chatzisarantis, 2011). They are primarily motivated to accomplish tasks in search of recognition, money, and approval. On the other hand, some show impersonal orientation. According to Horn (2008), impersonal orientation illustrates the behavior of people who are just anxious concerning competence.
According to the theory “an individual needs are innate and manifest distinctively to individuals in the social context” (Soenens & Vansteenkiste, 2011). This explains reason some people may develop stronger needs or orientations than others, thereby creating individual differences. The theory tries to focus on the degree to which the individuals feel motivated when they are or not satisfied (Horn & Human Kinetics, 2008). However, the degree depends on goals and some issues the individuals are attracted towards achieving in life. People have amounts or levels of each of the “orientations that determine their behavioral outcomes as well as their psychological health” (John, Robins, & Pervin, 2008). This is shaped by the life or set goals that the different individuals anticipate achieving. According to Teixeira et al. (2012), there are both long-term or short-term goals that people utilize to guide their activities. These include the intrinsic aspirations and extrinsic aspirations. Intrinsic aspiration involves life set goals such as personal development, affiliation, and generatively while extrinsic aspirations contain goals like being wealthy, famous, and attractive to others (Verstuyf et al., 2012).

Basic Psychological Needs Theory (BPNT)

This is the fourth mini-theory that tries to explain the aspect of self-determination. The theory tries to highlight the concept of evolved psychological wants or needs and their relationship to social wellbeing as well as psychological health (Bartholomew et al., 2012). According to this theory, three needs that people struggle to fulfill include “competence, autonomy, and relatedness” (Cornelius-White et al., 2013). Optimal functioning and psychological well-being are based on the three aspects. According to Karabenick and Urdan (2010), fulfillment of these needs promotes social well-being and motivates people. Tasks that allow people to satisfy the three needs can internally motivate. However, “tasks that thwart these needs invariantly influence wellness” (Kruglanski & Higgins, 2007). Whenever the needs are not satisfied or thwarted, they generate negative psychological consequences. This implies that to achieve optimal intrinsic motivation, competence, relatedness, and autonomy are essential. Levers (2012) explains that these needs are universal and basic aspects of functioning. They are related to higher levels of performance, fewer turnover intentions, and less perceived stress rates.
Autonomy, as explained by this theory, is the ability of a person to “behave with the sense of endorsement, volition, and willingness” (Li, Wang, & Kee, 2013). People are only willing or can act with volition if these needs are attained or fulfilled (Mruk, 2006). Competence on the other side is defined as the “ability of an individual to master his or her environment” (Prout & Brown, 2007). Competence achievement allows one to be confident in pursuit of behaviors or activities. Besides, “relatedness is the psychological sense of having a relationship with others in the environment” (Ng et al., 2012). For a greater level of motivation; therefore, one must be able to feel a sense of relatedness to others in the surroundings. This need should be met so that one experience high intrinsic motivation in engaging in activities or behavior (Russell, 1993).
This particular theory emphasizes on needs of satisfaction as the primary priority to ensure wellness to individuals. Ideally, “experiences that thwarts individual competence decrease their level of confidence and vice versa” (Ng et al., 2012). For higher intrinsic motivation levels, the individuals must engage in activities that increase their competence, autonomy, and relatedness. The theory focuses on the “importance of social environment concerning needs satisfaction, personal development, and well-being” (Ng et al., 2012).

Goal Content Theory (GCT)

This is a distinctive sub-theory amongst the six self-determination theories. The theory differentiates between the goals that “foster extrinsic motivation from those goals as well as values that promote or enhances intrinsic motivation and wellness” (Christenson, 2013). Ideally, goals are commonly different in affording basic satisfaction and differentially linked with wellbeing (Ives & Cox, 2012). Specifically, different goals have different consequences and thus “induce distinction in the enhancement of both intrinsic and extrinsic motivation” (Collis & Messick, 2012). Extrinsic goals such as fame, appearance, financial success, and popularity are explicitly contrasted to various intrinsic goals including close relationships, personal growth, as well as community (John & Robins, 2008). In the opinion of Wentzel and Brophy (2014) goals that have diminishing persistence may consequently have declining impacts on the well-being of individuals while those that satisfy the needs promote social and psychological wellness.
Application of this theory is vitally important in helping design motivating factors that are applicable in educational set-ups in the sense of community (Wosnitza, 2009). Elaborately, intrinsic motivation goals are important rather than the extrinsic goals. By expecting positive feedbacks, the individuals are motivated in engaging in positive actions and behaviors.
Baker et al. (2011) explain that even though the intrinsic goals may be related to the autonomous motivation, they are distinctively different. Sometimes an individual may act altruistically reflecting the intrinsic goal merely with the intention of impressing a colleague, which is an extrinsic motivational reason. As such, according to Chatzisarantis et al. 2012, motivation and goal are different. The intrinsic goals are related to the social wellbeing while the extrinsic motivations are controlled and may not fulfill all the psychological needs (Burns, 2013).
However, the theory investigates and reconciles the relationship between wellbeing as well as intrinsic goals (Duriez et al., 2012). The intrinsic goals facilitate achievement of all the basic psychological needs. Intrinsic motivation is inclined towards promoting and enhancing the well-being. On the contrary, the extrinsic goals do not consequently lead to the fulfillment of the psychological needs that are quite important to persons (Gunnell et al., 2014). This includes the needs of autonomy, competence, and relatedness.


In summary, according to Sheldon (2013), self-determination theory highlights the driving forces or essentially what motivates people to engage in activities or behavior. The theory explains the two forms of motivation, which can be either controlled or autonomous. When one experience autonomous motivation he or she feels the sense of choice while when one experiences controlled motivation, he or she feels driven by forces that conflict with self or feel obliged.
Self-determination theory consists of five sub-theories that try to explain how people are motivated to act or behave. First is the cognitive evaluation theory (CET) that assumes that people are just intrinsically motivated to complete tasks or engage in behavior. People commonly engage in activities or behaviors that they find inherently enjoyable, significant, and challenging. Second is the organismic integration theory that discusses extrinsic motivation. It argues that people are extrinsically motivated to achieve some tangible rewards, gains, and recognition in pursuit of activities. Third is the causality orientation theory that focuses on individual distinctions in motivations. This includes a demonstration of autonomy orientation, control orientation, and motivational orientation. Fourth mini-theory is the basic psychological needs theory. This theory delineates the three core and fundamental needs that people struggles to fulfill in their lives. This includes autonomy, relatedness, and competence. Fulfillment of such needs promotes not only psychological satisfaction but also the social wellness. The last theory is goal content theory, which tries to differentiate between the intrinsic goals and extrinsic motivational goals.


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