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Self-determination theory (SDT) is a general theory of human motivation concerned with the development and functioning of personality within social contexts. The theory focuses on the degree to which human behaviors are volitional or self-determined - that is, the degree to which people endorse their actions at the highest level of reflection and engage in the actions with a full sense of choice. Over the past three decades SDT has evolved into a set of four mini-theories that share the organismic-dialectical meta-theory and the concept of basic needs. Self-determination theory has been brought to many applied settings such as education, health care, parenting, work organizations, sports, and mental health.
Self-Determination and Organismic-dialectical Meta-Theory
SDT is based on an organismic-dialectical meta-theory, which begins with the assumption that people are active organisms, with innate tendencies toward psychological growth and development, who strive to master ongoing challenges and to integrate their experiences into a coherent sense of self. This natural human tendency does not operate automatically, however, but instead requires ongoing nutriments and supports from the social environment in order to function effectively. That is, the social context can either support or thwart the natural tendencies toward active engagement and psychological growth. Thus, it is the dialectic between the active organism and the social context that is the basis for SDT's predictions about behavior, experience, and development.
Cognitive Evaluation Theory
Each mini-theory was developed to explain a set of motivationally based phenomena that emerged from laboratory and field research focused on different issues. Cognitive evaluation theory addresses the effects of social contexts on intrinsic motivation. This theory argues that intrinsic motivation is maintained only when actors feel competent and self-determined.
Organismic Intergation Theory
Organismic integration theory addresses the concept of internalization especially with respect to the development of extrinsic motivation. The extrinsic-intrinsic motivation dichotomy has been extended into a four-tier internalization process: external, introjected, identified, and integrated.
Causality Orientations Theory
Causality orientations theory describes individual differences in people's tendencies toward self-determined behavior and toward orienting to the environment in ways that support their self-determination.
Basic Needs Theory
Basic needs theory elaborates the concept of basic needs and its relation to psychological health and well-being. Within SDT, the nutriments for healthy development and functioning are specified using the concept of basic psychological needs, which are innate, universal, and essential for health and well-being. That is, basic psychological needs are a natural aspect of human beings that apply to all people, regardless of gender, group, or culture. To the extent that the needs are ongoingly satisfied people will function effectively and develop in a healthy way, but to the extent that they are thwarted, people will show evidence of ill-being and non-optimal functioning. The darker sides of human behavior and experience are understood in terms of basic needs having been thwarted.
Overviews of the theory can be found in following sources:
- Deci, E. L., & Ryan, R. M. (1985). Intrinsic motivation and self-determination in human behavior. New York: Plenum.
- Deci, E. L., & Ryan, R. M. (2000). "The 'what' and 'why' of goal pursuits: Human needs and the self-determination of behavior." Psychological Inquiry, 11, 227-268. PDF Download this article in .pdf format (for Personal Use Only)
- Ryan, R. M., & Deci, E. L. (2000). "Self-determination theory and the facilitation of intrinsic motivation, social development, and well-being." American Psychologist, 55, 68-78. PDF Download this article in .pdf format (for Personal Use Only)
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