Motivation: Self Determination Theory
Theories of motivation may be viewed as being on a continuum ranging from deterministic to mechanistic to organismic to cognitive. The deterministic to mechanistic theories view humans as being passively driven by psychological needs or drives. Organismic theories acknowledge innate needs but also take into account the dialectics that occurs between the organism and their environment.
Cognitive theories on the other hand view humans as highly active in initiating action, rather than being passively driven, through subjective interpretation of what is required to be achieved (Roberts, Treasure & Conroy, 2007). Some of the core theories along this continuum of motivation include self determination theory, cognitive evolution theory, achievement theory, self efficacy theory and flow theory.
In this article we explore the principles of Self Determination Theory (SDT), as well as Intrinsic and Extrinsic motivation.
Self Determination Theory (SDT)
As a micro theory of human motivation, self determination theory addresses such basic issues as personality development, self regulation, universal psychological needs, life goals, aspirations and a wide range of other life domains (Deci & Ryan, 2008; Ryan & Deci, 2008). The premise of this theory is in differentiating the types of motivation. The idea is that it is the type or quality of an individual’s motivation and not the amount of motivation that predicts important outcomes such as psychological health and wellbeing, effective performance in work or sport, creative problem solving and conceptual learning (Deci & Ryan, 2008).
According to this theory, reasons behind the individual’s motivation or why they choose to participate, exert effort and continue in an activity can be organized along a continuum of self determined behaviour (Kipp & Amarose, 2008). At one end of the continuum is intrinsic motivation which refers to participating in an activity for the personally inherit fulfilment and/or satisfaction derived from being involved in the activity and on the other end of the continuum is the least self determined form of motivation referred to as amotivation, which is lacking intention or reasons for participation. Amotivation includes a feeling of powerlessness to produce any desired result with their behaviour (Walker, Foster, Daubert & Nathan, 2005).
In the middle of the continuum, between intrinsic motivation and amotivation, is extrinsic motivation. In this theoretical model, extrinsic motivation defines a motivation to participate in an activity for instrumental reasons or as a means to achieve some other desired end (Kipp & Amarose, 2008; Wilson, Mack & Grattan, 2008; Reed & Cox, 2007). People participate in sports for various reasons, some intrinsic, some extrinsic. However, engaging in sports for more intrinsically self determined reasons is associated with a number of benefits including greater persistence and enjoyment in the activity.
According to self determination theory, individuals develop a self determined motivational orientation when participation in an activity leads to the fulfilment of three basic psychological needs. These needs are competence, autonomy and relatedness. Competence involves a feeling of being effective at a certain task; autonomy is perceived as having both a choice in and control over one’s own behaviour and relatedness is a sense of belonging toward others.
Determination theory suggests that Individuals will seek out activities that satisfy these three fundamental needs whereby anything that impacts on the person’s sense of competence, autonomy and relatedness will impact on the type of motivation developed.
Intrinsic and Extrinsic Motivation
Intrinsic motivation and extrinsic motivation are two categories of factors that regulate an individual’s level of motivation. Several theories have attempted to explain both intrinsic and extrinsic motivation in sports and exercise.
Intrinsic motivation is a self determined motivation propelled by the personal benefits and qualities perceived to be gained by the activity itself (Darner, 2009; Gagne & Deci, 2005). Such motivation is internally regulated whereby it is a consequence of the individual who facilitates the level of motivation being activated and expressed.
Extrinsic motivation is where an individual’s desire to pursue a certain activity is fuelled by external rewards such as recognition, monetary gains, prizes etc. making that individual’s motivation externally regulated (for example, I only exercise when the trainer is watching). The assumption is that when an individual’s motivation is externally regulated, then such people will work with the intention of obtaining the desired reward. As a consequence their level of motivation is regulated by the reward and how much they would like to have it (Gagne & Deci, 2005).
Attempts to externally regulate or reward intrinsically motivated behaviours through extrinsically based motivational sources may have negative impact on the behaviour, whereby motivation that was once intrinsic has a tendency to shift to being extrinsic (Darner, 2009). For example, where an athlete may have once been motivated by the personal degree of satisfaction and sense of achievement through competing, if introducing other external rewards like prizes, they may start to rely on such things more so than the original intrinsic motivators. On the other hand, some activities that the individual might perceive as “not interesting” or is yet to understand the benefits of it, will often require extrinsic motivation to spark an interest at the beginning.
Interestingly, there are times when the externally regulated behaviour through rewards can become internalized. Internalization is when the individual takes on board (internalises) other values and attitudes towards the activity beyond the notion of just getting a reward, thus transforming the behaviour from external regulation to internal regulation (for example, someone may start to exercise even when the coach is not watching and encouraging because they begin to enjoy the feeling of being fit).
When internalization occurs, the individual will no longer require the presence of the external reinforcement (in this instance the coach watching and encouraging) because, through the changing attitudes and values now placed on the activity, they have increased ownership of the activity whereby they want to do it for their own reasons beyond just getting the reward, in this instance of being noticed and encouraged by the coach (Gagne & Deci, 2005).
The internalising of behaviour regulation occurs through the following three processes; Introjection, identification and integration.
Introjected regulation involves behaviour being executed by the individual but has not yet been accepted as their own because it is still regulated by external sources making it an internalised extrinsic motivation. For example, “I exercise because I am told it will improve my health”.
Identified regulation, is more congruent with personal goals and identities. In this case, people are more likely to identify with the behaviour seeing it as their own chosen goals. For example, “I exercise because I would like to feel healthy”
Integrated regulation, is when individuals consider the behaviour to be a fundamental part of who they are and the desire to execute that behaviour stems from their sense of self thus making it self determined. Therefore an integrated individual who exercises will not only identify with feeling healthy but would integrate the health benefits of regular exercise to the point where exercise becomes central to their identity and their lifestyle. Because the behaviour is integrated they now view the behaviour as being consistent with their identity or sense of self. For example, “I exercise because I am a healthy person”.
By integrating the concept of being a healthy person they have now integrated the health related behaviour thus being motivated to maintain such things as a healthy diet and regular exercise because it is who they are rather than because it is what they do or what they are told to do.
This type of regulation is considered to be the most advanced form of extrinsic motivation that shares qualities with intrinsic motivation. However, it is still considered extrinsic because the motivation remains characterised by external personal goals (e.g., being a healthy person) with little interest being seen or expressed in the activities themselves (Gagne & Deci, 2005).
The defining qualities of internal motivation will be reviewed in a future article.
- Darner, R. (2009). Self determination theory as a guide to fostering environmental motivation. The Journal of Environmental Education, 40, 39-49.
- Deci, E.L. & Ryan, R. (2008). Self determination: a macrotheory of human motivation, development and health. Canadian Psychology, 49, 182-185.
- Gagne, M. & Deci, E. (2005). Self determination theory and work motivation. Journal of Organisational behaviour, 26. 331-362. Journal of Sport Behaviour, 30, 307-329.
- Kipp, L. & Amarose, A. (2008). Perceived motivational climate and self determined motivation in female high school athletes. Journal of Sport Behaviour, 31, 108-129.
- Reed, C.E., & Cox, R. (2007). Motives and regulatory style underlying senior athletes participation in sport.
- Roberts, G.C., Treasure, D, C., & Conroy, D.E. (2007). Understanding the dynamics of motivation in sport and physical activity: An achievement gaol interpretation in Tenenbaum, G. & Eklund, R.C. (Eds.).
- Ryan, R.M. & Deci, E.L. (2008). A Self determination theory approach to psychotherapy. The motivational basis for effective change. Canadian Psychology, 49, 186-193.
- Walker, B., Foster, S., Daubert, S. & Nathan, D. (2005). Motivation. In Taylor, J. & Wilson, G. (2005) (Eds.). Applying Sport Psychology: Four Perspectives, Champaign: Human Kinetics.
- Wilson, P.M., Mack, D.E. & Grattan, K.P. (2008). Understanding motivation for exercise: A self determination theory perspective. Canadian Psychology, 49, 250-256.
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