People are centrally concerned with motivation — how to move themselves or others to act. Everywhere, parents, teachers, coaches, and managers struggle with how to motivate those that they mentor, and individuals struggle to find energy, mobilize effort and persist at the tasks of life and work. People are often moved by external factors such as reward systems, grades, evaluations, or the opinions they fear others might have of them. Yet, just as frequently, people are motivated from within, by interests, curiosity, care or abiding values. These intrinsic motivations are not necessarily externally rewarded or supported, but nonetheless they can sustain passions, creativity, and sustained efforts. The interplay between the extrinsic forces acting on persons and the intrinsic motives and needs inherent in human nature is the territory of Self-Determination Theory.
Self-Determination Theory (SDT) represents a broad framework for the study of human motivation and personality. SDT articulates a meta-theory for framing motivational studies, a formal theory that defines intrinsic and varied extrinsic sources of motivation, and a description of the respective roles of intrinsic and types of extrinsic motivation in cognitive and social development and in individual differences. Perhaps more importantly, SDT propositions also focus on how social and cultural factors facilitate or undermine people’s sense of volition and initiative, in addition to their well-being and the quality of their performance. Conditions supporting the individual’s experience of autonomy, competence, and relatedness are argued to foster the most volitional and high quality forms of motivation and engagement for activities, including enhanced performance, persistence, and creativity. In addition, SDT proposes that the degree to which any of these three psychological needs is unsupported or thwarted within a social context will have a robust detrimental impact on wellness in that setting.
The dynamics of psychological need support and need thwarting have been studied within families, classrooms, teams, organizations, clinics, and cultures using specific propositions detailed within SDT. The SDT framework thus has both broad and behavior-specific implications for understanding practices and structures that enhance versus diminish need satisfaction and the full functioning that follows from it. These many implications are best revealed by the varied papers listed on this website, which range from basic research on motivational micro-processes to applied clinical trials aiming at population outcomes.
Meta-Theory: The Organismic Viewpoint
SDT is an organismic dialectical approach. It begins with the assumption that people are active organisms, with evolved tendencies toward growing, mastering ambient challenges, and integrating new experiences into a coherent sense of self. These natural developmental tendencies do not, however, operate automatically, but instead require ongoing social nutriments and supports. That is, the social context can either support or thwart the natural tendencies toward active engagement and psychological growth, or it can catalyze lack of integration, defense, and fulfillment of need-substitutes. 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.
Within SDT, the nutriments for healthy development and functioning are specified using the concept of basic psychological needs for autonomy, competence, and relatedness. To the extent that the needs are ongoingly satisfied, people will develop and function effectively and experience wellness, but to the extent that they are thwarted, people will more likely evidence ill-being and non-optimal functioning. The darker sides of human behavior and experience, such as certain types of psychopathology, prejudice, and aggression are understood in terms of reactions to basic needs having been thwarted, either developmentally or proximally.
Formal Theory: SDT’s Six Mini-Theories
Formally, SDT comprises six mini-theories, each of which was developed to explain a set of motivationally based phenomena that emerged from laboratory and field research. Each, therefore, addresses one facet of motivation or personality functioning.
1. Cognitive Evaluation Theory (CET) concerns intrinsic motivation, motivation that is based on the satisfactions of behaving “for its own sake.” Prototypes of intrinsic motivation are children’s exploration and play, but intrinsic motivation is a lifelong creative wellspring. CET specifically addresses the effects of social contexts on intrinsic motivation, or how factors such as rewards, interpersonal controls, and ego-involvements impact intrinsic motivation and interest. CET highlights the critical roles played by competence and autonomy supports in fostering intrinsic motivation, which is critical in education, arts, sport, and many other domains.
2. The second mini-theory, Organismic Integration Theory (OIT), addresses the topic of extrinsic motivation in its various forms, with their properties, determinants, and consequences. Broadly speaking, extrinsic motivation is behavior that is instrumental—that aims toward outcomes extrinsic to the behavior itself. Yet, there are distinct forms of instrumentality, which include external regulation, introjection, identification, and integration. These subtypes of extrinsic motivation are seen as falling along a continuum of internalization. The more internalized the extrinsic motivation, the more autonomous the person will be when enacting the behaviors. OIT is further concerned with social contexts that enhance or forestall internalization—that is, with what conduces toward people either resisting, partially adopting, or deeply internalizing values, goals, or belief systems. OIT particularly highlights supports for autonomy and relatedness as critical to internalization.
3. Causality Orientations Theory (COT), the third mini-theory, describes individual differences in people’s tendencies to orient toward environments and regulate behavior in various ways. COT describes and assesses three types of causality orientations: the autonomy orientation in which persons act out of interest in and valuing of what is occurring; the control orientation in which the focus is on rewards, gains, and approval; and the impersonal or amotivated orientation characterized by anxiety concerning competence.
4. Fourth, Basic Psychological Needs Theory (BPNT) elaborates the concept of evolved psychological needs and their relations to psychological health and well-being. BPNT argues that psychological well-being and optimal functioning is predicated on autonomy, competence, and relatedness. Therefore, contexts that support versus thwart these needs should invariantly impact wellness. The theory argues that all three needs are essential and that if any is thwarted there will be distinct functional costs. Because basic needs are universal aspects of functioning, BPNT looks at cross-developmental and cross-cultural settings for validation and refinements.
5. The fifth mini-theory, Goal Contents Theory (GCT), grows out of the distinctions between intrinsic and extrinsic goals and their impact on motivation and wellness. Goals are seen as differentially affording basic need satisfactions and are thus differentially associated with well-being. Extrinsic goals such as financial success, appearance, and popularity/fame have been specifically contrasted with intrinsic goals such as community, close relationships, and personal growth, with the former more likely associated with lower wellness and greater ill-being.
6. Relatedness, which has to do with the development and maintenance of close personal relationships such as best friends and romantic partners as well as belonging to groups, is one of the three basic psychological needs. Relationships Motivation Theory (RMT), the sixth mini-theory, is concerned with these and other relationships, and posits that some amount of such interactions is not only desirable for most people but is in fact essential for their adjustment and well-being because the relationships provide satisfaction of the need for relatedness. However, research shows that not only is the relatedness need satisfied in high-quality relationships, but the autonomy need and to a lesser degree the competence need are also satisfied. Indeed, the highest quality personal relationships are ones in which each partner supports the autonomy, competence, and relatedness needs of the other.
Other Topics of Interest
As SDT has expanded, both theoretical developments and empirical findings have led SDT researchers to examine a plethora of processes and phenomena integral to personality growth, effective functioning, and wellness. For example, SDT research has focused on the role of mindfulness as a foundation for autonomous regulation of behavior, leading to both refined measurement and theorizing about awareness. The study of facilitating conditions for intrinsic motivation led to a theory and measurement strategy regarding vitality, an indicator of both mental and physical wellness. Work on vitality also uncovered the remarkable positive impact of the experience of nature on well-being. Some research within SDT has more closely examined the forms personal passions can take, with individuals being obsessive or harmonious as a function of internalization processes. Cross-cultural tests of SDT have led to an increased understanding of how economic and cultural forms impact the invariant aspects of human nature. Research on wellness has also led to new theory and research on the assessment of well-being itself, including the distinction between hedonic and eudaimonic forms of living. Specific topics such as autonomy versus controlled motivation has led to greater understanding of internalized control such as ego-involvement and contingent self-esteem and of the differences between them and autonomous self-regulation. Indeed these few examples supply just a taste of how the generative framework of SDT has enhanced research on a variety of processes of interest to the field.
In addition to formal theory development, research has applied SDT in many domains including education, organizations, sport and physical activity, religion, health and medicine, parenting, virtual environments and media, close relationships, and psychotherapy. Across these domains research has looked at how controlling versus autonomy-supportive environments impact functioning and wellness, as well as performance and persistence. In addition, supports for relatedness and competence are seen as interactive with volitional supports in fostering engagement and value within specific settings, and within domains of activity. This body of applied research has led to considerable specification of techniques, including goal structures and ways of communicating that have proven effective at promoting maintained, volitional motivation.
The varied articles on this website demonstrate the many types of inquiry associated with the SDT framework, as well as its generative capacity with respect to practical issues in human organizations of all kinds. Relevant research reports and theoretical discussion are listed in the Publications section, organized by topic.
By focusing on the fundamental psychological tendencies toward intrinsic motivation and integration, SDT occupies a unique position in psychology, as it addresses not only the central questions of why people do what they do, but also the costs and benefits of various ways of socially regulating or promoting behavior. Overviews of the theory can be found in Ryan and Deci (2000) and in Deci and Ryan (1985, 2000), as well as numerous other articles and chapters identified here on our website.
Deci, E. L., & Ryan, R. M. (1985). Intrinsic motivation and self-determination in human behavior. New York, NY: 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.
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.
Social Cognitive Theory
Social cognitive theory was originally proposed by Neal Miller and John Dollard in 1941. This theory is also known as the social learning theory. This theory focuses on the cognitive, behavioral, individuals and environmental factors that affect how people behave and how people are motivated. There is no single reason that can determine our thoughts or behaviors. Social cognitive theory is also referred to as a theory of theories, or a meta theory. It is primarily divided into four processes of goal attainment: 1) self-observation, 2) self-evaluation, 3) self-reaction, and 4) self-efficacy. Our lesson focuses on the 4th idea, self-efficacy.
A person’s ability to succeed is based on the individuals own belief of their ability to achieve goals, these beliefs affect their motivation and performance. This is referred to as self-efficacy. Self-efficacy is measured in two scales magnitude and strength and there are four main factors that help us create our self-efficacy ideas of what we can succeed at, and they are: 1) performance outcomes, 2) vicarious experiences, 3) verbal persuasion and 4) physiological feedback.
In order to succeed, people need a sense of self-efficacy, to struggle together with resilience to meet the inevitable obstacles and inequities of life. (Albert Bandura)
In the case below we will evaluate how social cognitive theory and self-efficacy theory is applied:
A typical day at Metro One Telecommunications in Philadelphia was extremely fast paced but the atmosphere was laid back. Before everyone owned a smart phone and the information from Google was at their fingertips, customers dialed 411 for directory assistance using their cellular phones. The directory assistance operators where charged with providing cellular customers with directory information.
The company offered great pay, a generous vacation policy, excellent health benefits and all the overtime an employee could handle. The call center was open 24 hours a day/ 7 days a week. They didn’t close for holidays or inclement weather. At the time Metro-One held the contract to provide directory assistance for a majority of the cell phone carriers (Including Sprint, Verizon and Nextel). The Philadelphia office did not have a problem with the Operators meeting (quality, speed or call fulfillment) goals. Management did have a problem with the high turnover rates of new hires. At times the job could be very stressful and most new employees did not make it through their 90 day probationary period. The company was investing a lot of money training new employees to make them proficient in various operator tasks and systems. In order to get a return on that investment the administrators were charged with increasing the rate of new staff retention.
Directory assistance operators had three set goals:
- Speed- Average call completion time of 6 seconds per call. New staff was given the goal of having an average of 10-15 seconds per call.
- Inquiry Fulfillment - The center was given a goal of 90% call fulfillment. This was extremely important because the carriers offered refunds to customers who calls weren’t fulfilled.
- Operator Quality – How well did the operator handle problems? Was the operator professional? (operators were given a script to read from and weren’t allowed to diverge from the script)
- Increase new hire retention.
In order to choose candidates who could meet the rigorous goals every prospective employee was required to take a timed spelling and typing test at their interview. Of the initial thirteen applicants, only 8 of us left after the typing test. Next candidates had to correctly spell common business names that customer frequently requested. Applicants were required a score of at least 90% to successfully complete this level in the interview process and had to type a minimum of 40 WPM. Six of us successfully completed both test and were offered employment with the telecommunications company.
During the initial training session (which was given on a computer) the trainers informed the new staff that the new job entailed exactly what everyone had successfully performed at the interview. In fact if you received over 85% on the test you would have any problem performing directory assistance duties because it is essential very similar in nature. Exit interviews revealed that most new staff felt they wouldn’t have any problems handling the job because they had aced the test. A trainees’ expectation of success may have led to better performance in the testing. Furthermore, passing the testing serves as a benchmark for the employees who can now look back on successfully passing the requirements that were directly related to the job.
After the first week training session new staff is assigned to a mentor that was to assist them in their 90 day probationary period. During the second week of training; mentees performed their duties with a mentor. They would sit at the same station and take turns answering calls. This was helpful because it offered real time experience and also gave new staff the ability to compare their performance with another coworker. Another example of vicarious experiences in regards to this case would be if the new hires knew others that already work for Metro One Communication. Additionally, if the people that they know were successful with the company, then those new hires could use their experiences to expect success.
Around week three new staff would begin to take calls on their own. However the mentor is not far away. Typically the mentor sat either directly behind or adjacent to the new staff and offered encouragement and help as needed. They would listen to the mentee perform duties and give immediate feedback. When giving a critique mentors were instructed to give two positive statements for every negative statement. For example: “I was listening to your last call and you handled the hostile customer very professionally. Just watch your speech and make sure your language matches that of the given script. I was looking over your numbers and your goals are on par with those of seasoned employees’ good job!!” Managers giving employees positive feedback in the form of a pep talk may also improve a new hire’s chances of success.
The demands of Metro One Telecommunications, and rigorous testing that it put its potential new hires through likely spawned physiological feedback in those that were tested. Physiological feedback such as anxiety or agitation may have had negative impacts on those being tested. In the tests for speed and accuracy, being nervous may have caused some potential employees to fail. Additionally, knowing that a failed test results in not being employed may have added to the stress.
While this system did not help management achieve their goal of a 95% retention rate for new hires, they were able to boost the retention rate by 25%. The new staff that remained employed with Metro beyond their 90 day probation period felt that the training and mentors helped them perform their jobs better.
Two Basic Measuring Scales for Self-Efficacy:
Self-Efficacy is an important part of who we are and how we believe we can achieve certain task. This belief is how we approach situations and handle challenges (goals) (Cherry, 2011). Self-Efficacy is the idea of whether or not a person is able to perform a specific task. According to Siegle (2000) self-efficacy, “…is a person's judgment about being able to perform a particular activity” additionally as Siegle (2000) continued, “… self-efficacy reflects how confident students are about performing specific tasks. For example, if a person has high self-efficacy in math they will typically succeed, however if a person has low self-efficacy in math they are more than likely not to do as well. We can measure self-efficacy judgments with two basic scales self-efficacy magnitude, and self-efficacy strength.
Self-Efficacy Magnitude according Appelbaum & Hare (1996), “… refers to the level of task difficulty a person believes he or she can attain” (p. 35). These levels can be categorized as simple, moderate, or difficult. For example, can you run a 5k race, a half marathon, or run a full marathon? We see different levels of self-efficacy with the following video:
Self-Efficacy Strength according to Appelbaum & Hare (1996), “…refers to the degree of conviction that a given level of task performance is attainable (p. 35). For example, is your confidence high or low that you can complete a 5k race, a half marathon, or a full marathon? We see high self-efficacy (strength) with the following video:
Metro One Telecommunication is a company that works fast and has high demands on its employees. The company is having issues with high turnover with new employees due to a very high stress environment. Metro One Telecommunication has developed an intensive training system to weed through the applicants and find the ones that keep up with the stress. We can apply the self-efficacy magnitude scale to determine what level of difficulty each applicant believes they can perform. We can do this by creating a survey that each applicant could take and have them describe what level they feel they can perform their upcoming task. We relay this level of belief to their mentor, so the mentor can help develop the areas where the applicant is the weakest. This additional mentoring will help the applicant through the program at a pace that coincides with the applicant’s survey. In addition, we can develop the self-efficacy strength through a similar survey, so that the company can understand the applicant’s individual confidence. Again, take the results of the survey to the applicant’s mentor, so that the mentor can monitor the applicant’s confidence and adjust accordingly. For example, if the new employee is struggling with verbal skills over the phone the mentor can make a note about the issue and discuss it through verbal persuasion. This discussion would address not only the weak area of the new employee, but also reinforce confidence. I believe with these two basic scales of self-efficacy Metro One Telecommunication will not only reduce their high turnover rate, but also begin a new way of training more effective employees.
High Self-efficacy, Over-confidence and Possible Negative Repercussions
Vancouver, Thompson, Tischner, and Putka did two studies to examine how high self-efficacy would relate to a person’s performance. The findings of these studies were reported in the Journal of Applied Psychology in 2002. What they found was that when a person had a high level of self-efficacy, this did not mean they had a high level of performance. In fact, it could lead to a low level of performance.
The studies were done on western college students using the Mastermind game which is a game that participants must put four colored squares in the correct order and they have ten attempts to do so. With each attempt, the participant would get feedback to use for their next attempt. 46 participants were in the experimental group and 41 in the control group. In the experimental group, during a few of the games, the participant would automatically get their third attempt correct in order to increase self-efficacy. The control group did not get any manipulations at all.
The way that they determined a person’s level of self-efficacy and self-confidence was through questionnaires given between each set attempts to arrange the blocks in the correct order. One question for self-efficacy involved having the participant state how many attempts it would take them to find a solution based on a scale of 1, extremely unlikely to 6, extremely likely. The question for self-confidence involved having the participant state how confident they were in the arrangement choice they were making based on the feedback that they had received based on a scale of 0, not confident, to 100, very confident.
What the experiment found was that in the experimental groups, the manipulated games did increase the self-efficacy of the person and on some levels it also decreased the performance of the person on the next game. Once the person did not have a couple of the games manipulated, the self-efficacy lowered and the person’s performance once again increased. Vancouver in 2001 found that by looking at the change with-in an individual, there was a negative affect between high self-efficacy and performance as a whole but he also felt that there needs to be more research on this for there could also be other reasons that the study did not show for these changes.
In the second study they did similar testing but this time they were looking at what the level of confidence had on the performance and the self-efficacy of the individuals. What they found surprised them. They found that there was a positive effect of self-efficacy and confidence, the higher the level of self-efficacy the higher the level of confidence and vice-versa. What they also found was that there was no effect on confidence and performance and this also did not explain the lower performance of participants with the higher levels of self-efficacy.
Powers in 1973 and 1991 also found a negative between self-efficacy and performance but these studies did not take a look at the confidence of the individuals. He feels that having high levels of self-efficacy may cause a person to set higher goals, but it can also reduce the motivation to reach the goals (Vancouver et el, 2002).
Stone in 1994 also found that a person that was over-confident in their abilities were high is self-efficacy and that these individuals also had less motivation and contributed less to reaching these goals. In 1991, Bandura and Jourdon found similar results in studies that they preformed and stated “complacent self-assurance creates little incentive to expend the increased efforts needed to attain high levels of performance” (Vancouver et el, 2002).
After looking at these studies, one may conclude that high levels of self-efficacy may not be as good as Bandura once thought. Before making this conclusion, one must realize that this is what seems to happen over time and not in a short length of time. It must also be considered that people in this group are also more likely to set higher goals and to push on when the going gets tough. These individuals are less likely to stop or quit a task where as a person with low self-efficacy is more likely to set lower goals and to quit or give up when things get tough. It must also be considered that there may be other factors that have not been researched that are leading to the lower performance levels with high levels of self-efficacy and high self- confidence. This is just a few of the points that need to be considered when trying to use high levels of self-efficacy to get more and better production out of workers.
Characteristics of Self-Esteem and Self-Efficacy
According to our lesson commentary “Although somewhat similar, self-efficacy is distinct from self-esteem in that self-esteem refers to a more general level of self-confidence and feelings of adequacy, whereas self-efficacy refers to a person’s belief that he or she can successfully perform a specific task (Gist, Schwoerer, & Rosen, 1989).” (L7, p.5) While these concepts can inter-relate, it is not necessarily true that a positive relationship will always exist between these two very similar constructs. See table below for separate characteristics that are true of self-efficacy and self-esteem.
CHARACTERISTICS OF SELF-ESTEEM /SELF-EFFICACY
Fear of Risks
Fear of Uncertainty
Willingness to take risks
Feelings of Failure
Inferiority or Superiority
Sense of accomplishment
Impatience or Irritability
Externally oriented goals
An individual may have a high opinion of themselves in general and be satisfied with the person that they are, but still know on a given task they may not be well equipped to handle it, just as easily as one can be confident on a given task but not be very satisfied with themselves in general. As we look at our case study, where the company in question was having trouble retaining new hires, in response to that potential employees were given a tests that very strongly mimicked what they would be doing on a daily basis. By informing the new hires who made it through that they have already proven that they can do the job because the test was essentially the same as the work, they started them out with a good dose of self-efficacy, by looking at the traits in the table above, the process also may have touched on increasing their self-esteem as well, knowing they were able to do the job already may contribute to goal commitment out of pride and maintaining the standard they set for themselves, as well as positivity; however the process was primarily a way to give the new hire a sense of high self-efficacy. Based on the definitions of self-esteem and self-efficacy, this employer improved self-efficacy for this particular job but it wouldn’t necessarily hit all of the points of self-esteem therefore showing that the two are not directly related.
Social Facilitation and Social Loafing Phenomena
Sanna (1992) investigates how self-efficacy theory provides an integrative framework for social facilitation and social loafing phenomena. The researcher conducted two experiments. In the first experiment, the researcher manipulated efficacy expectancies and outcome expectancies. Efficacy expectancies (high vs low) were manipulated by providing false performance feedback (successfully vs unsuccessfully) to the participants who worked on the preliminary task (the vigilance test). Outcome expectancies were manipulated by having participants work in one of three group conditions: alone, in coaching pairs (when performance was evaluated individually), and in collective pairs (performance was not evaluated individually). The results of the first experiment demonstrate that efficacy expectancy and outcome expectancy jointly affected performance on a vigilance task. Particularly, participants with high efficacy expectancy (positive feedback) and high outcome expectancy (when they were evaluated individually) performed better than participants with low efficacy expectancy (negative feedback) and low outcome expectancy (they were not evaluated individually). In the second experiment, the researcher manipulated the difficulty of the task. The hypothesis is that an easy task predicts high-efficacy expectancies, whereas a difficult task predicts developing low-efficacy expectancies. The results proved the hypothesis. The researcher argues that the participants may loaf because they believe that they are not evaluated individually by others. This research supports the idea that self- efficacy expectancy and valence of evaluation affect performance.
In conclusion, the candidates who made it through the interview process were reassured that they had the skills and qualifications to succeed at their new positions. This reassurance came in the form of a “pep talk” or “verbal persuasion” delivered by a company administrator. This “pep talk” helped the new employees develop a sense of high self-efficacy going into the beginning of their training. In the second week of training management continued to reinforce the new employees’ high sense of self-efficacy by assigning them to a mentor. The role of the mentors in helping their mentees maintain a high sense of self-efficacy was twofold. First, they would provide “vicarious experiences” where a mentee would observe their performance and then be able to compare it to their own. Second, mentors were asked to provide a constant level of feedback or “verbal persuasion” where they encouraged and discouraged specific behavior by identifying two positives to every one negative item they would point out. This constant level of “verbal persuasion” helped the new employees develop and maintain a high sense of self-efficacy by providing them examples of successful previous experiences in a short period of time. By providing new employees a mentor Metro One Telecommunication helped reduce negative “physiological feedback” throughout the 90 day probation period and beyond which also helped the company increase their new employee retention rate by 25%. (PSU WC, 2014, L.7)
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