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The theory is based on organismic paradigms, which assume humans are active organisms, motivated to assimilate and integrate knowledge and capacities in both their physical and social environments. SDT incorporates the fundamental concepts of motivation and basic psychological needs into six mini-theories, each addressing different problems of motivation theory.

Together, these mini-theories explain the operations of SDT in a complex social world. These mini-theories each explain a set of observed motivation phenomena in various domains of functioning.


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SDT, as an organismic meta-theory, views humans as proactive beings with the propensity to assimilate and integrate both their internal states and their mastery and understanding of the social and environmental circumstances they encounter. SDT frames optimal human development as the interaction between growth-striving humans and their social environment in which basic psychological needs are either supported or thwarted. According to SDT, the critical social environment supports are described in terms of three specific basic psychological needs: the needs for competence, autonomy, and relatedness.

In social environments that support the satisfaction of these needs, optimal growth and positive development are expected. Satisfaction of the three basic psychological needs is a foundational concept to SDT and considered essential for maintaining intrinsic motivation and the self-regulation of extrinsic motivations. SDT has been applied to study a diverse array of issues such as health behavior initiation and maintenance, academics and school adjustment, psychological well-being, and sport and physical activity.

Together with theories pertaining to human agency, SDT has been used to conceptualize the development of self-determination and causal action. Deci and Ryan articulates how self-determination theory SDT is a motivational meta-theory that emerged from research on the effects of external rewards on intrinsic motivation. SDT is based on foundational work by Angyal , and early work in personality psychology, which framed an organismic approach to understanding human behavior and on de Charms theory of personal causation as a primary motivational influence.

Deci and Ryan and Ryan and Deci the latter cited under Relationships Motivation Theory , describe that this original research was ultimately conceptualized as one of six mini-theories that comprise SDT, cognitive evaluation theory CET.

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Introduced in the mids by Deci and Ryan , CET posits that autonomy-supportive social contexts enhance intrinsic motivation, while controlling social environments, often characterized by external rewards, thwart or reduce intrinsic motivation and action compelled by such motivation. This hypothesis was tested in Deci, et al.

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SDT incorporates an organismic dialectical approach, and assumes that people are active organisms who interact with their environment to master challenges and opportunities and to form an integrated sense of self. SDT posits that such interactions require ongoing social nutriments and supports, and that the social context can either support or serve as a barrier to engagement and, thus, psychological growth, well-being, and the fulfillment of basic psychological needs. Deci and Ryan notes that the fulfillment of the basic psychological needs for autonomy, competence, and relatedness support people to develop and function effectively.

The need for relatedness is associated with social belonging: it is a satisfaction derived from a sense of connectedness with others; to care and be cared for by others. The need for autonomy is satisfied when an individual experiences choice and volition in their action, and perceives themselves to be the origin of their actions. As per Deci and Ryan , SDT posits that different regulatory processes underlying goal pursuits are differentially associated with needs satisfaction and well-being and that different goal contents are, similarly, associated with differential outcomes pertaining to needs satisfaction Goal Content Theory.

As detailed throughout this bibliography, and as Deci and Ryan canvasses, SDT has been shown to have applicability across multiple life domains and, as Wehmeyer, et al.

Development of Self-Determination Through the Life-Course | Michael L. Wehmeyer | Springer

Angyal, A. Foundations for a science of personality. New York: Viking. Originally published in and updated in , Angyal proposed that an essential feature of a living organism was its autonomy, where autonomous meant self-governing or governed from inside. Angyal argued that the science of personality is, in essence, the study of two essential determinants to human behavior, autonomous-determinism or self-determination and heteronomous-determinism.

Personal causation: The internal affective determinants of behavior. New York: Academic Press.


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    A meta-analytic review of experiments examining the effects of extrinsic rewards on intrinsic motivation. Psychological Bulletin — DOI: This article reports a meta-analysis of studies examining the effects of extrinsic rewards on intrinsic motivation. The analysis concluded that all forms of contingent rewards reduced or undermined intrinsic motivation as evidenced by free choice situations.

    Several forms of extrinsic rewards also reduced self-reported interest in tasks. The article is an important summary of the research that resulted in CET. Intrinsic motivation and self-determination in human behavior. New York: Plenum. This text provides a synthesis of the initial work that, eventually, became SDT, introducing what became the first of the mini-theories, CET, and discussing the research on factors that promote and inhibit intrinsic motivation.

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    Psychological Inquiry — This article discusses the SDT conceptualization of needs, compared to the use of the needs construct in other theories, and discusses the self-regulatory function of goal-oriented behavior in need satisfaction. Handbook of self-determination research. Rochester, NY: Univ. To obtain a positivity ratio score, the mean score for positive emotions items was divided by the mean score for negative emotions items Orkibi et al. A larger ratio higher score thus represented a greater number of positive over negative emotions.

    First, bivariate correlations for all the variables were explored. We ran the analyses while controlling for student age and school-level variance in SES as indicated by values provided by the Israeli Ministry of Education. School satisfaction and positivity ratio were allowed to co-vary. The bootstrap method for testing indirect effects i. Post hoc multiple group comparison analysis was conducted to test whether the model differed by gender in structural weights i. Table 1 presents the means and standard deviations for SCS, perceived needs satisfaction at school, school satisfaction, and the positivity ratio.

    For each variable, higher scores indicate higher levels of that psychological construct. As can be seen, of the three psychological needs satisfaction at school, relatedness had the highest score.

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    TABLE 1. Table 1 presents inter-correlations between the observed values of all the variables, confirming Hypothesis 1 and Hypothesis 2. Although all the correlations were significant, the strongest positive correlations were between psychological needs satisfaction at school and school satisfaction. Of the three psychological needs, competence had the strongest correlation with school satisfaction. Given these correlations, age, gender, and SES were included in the analyses described below.

    Given the significant correlations between age and the other variables, age was included in the model to control for its potential effect on the model variables. Student-reported SES was first included in the model but then omitted because there was no effect on the variables in the model. We thus added paths from the school-level SES variable to the model variables. The path analysis indicated that the theorized model depicted in Figure 1 provided a good fit to the data as shown in Table 2. Because the CI did not include zero, the null hypothesis of no mediation was rejected in both paths.

    Thus, the findings confirmed the model suggested in Hypothesis 3. Standardized regression weights are presented. Covariates and controlled variables age and school-level SES are omitted for clarity. TABLE 2. Goodness-of-fit indices for the theorized, alternative, and gender models. As advocated in the methodological literature James et al. The models were compared in terms of model fit indices.

    Based on studies showing bidirectional links between SWB and needs satisfaction Tian et al. Accordingly, school related positivity ratio and satisfaction preceded SCS the mediator , which in turn was linked with perceived needs satisfaction as an outcome. As shown in Table 2 , the analysis of the two alternative models yielded fit indices that were inferior to those of the hypothesized model. Two alternative models with reverse ordering of the variables. The first alternative model is A and the second alternative model is B.

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    As shown in Table 2 , we constructed two models for comparison: an unconstrained model that posited a distinctive model for each gender group, and a fully constrained model that posited equality i. A value of CFI less or equal to 0. The Akaike information criterion AIC which is used for model comparison, with lower values reflecting better fit Schreiber et al.

    These findings indicate that, overall, the model was not significantly different for girls and boys.