Self-Determination Theory and the
Facilitation of Intrinsic Motivation,
Social Development, and Well-Being
Richard M. Ryan and Edward L. Deci
University of Rochester
Human beings can be proactive and engaged or, alterna-
tively, passive and alienated, largely as a function of the
social conditions in which they develop and function. Ac-
cordingly, research guided by self-determination theo~
has focused on the social-contextual conditions that facil-
itate versus forestall the natural processes of self-motiva-
tion and healthy psychological development. Specifically,
factors have been examined that enhance versus undermine
intrinsic motivation, self-regulation, and well-being. The
findings have led to the postulate of three innate psycho-
logical needs--competence, autonomy, and relatedness--
which when satisfied yield enhanced self-motivation and
mental health and when thwarted lead to diminished mo-
tivation and well-being. Also considered is the significance
of these psychological needs and processes within domains
such as health care, education, work, sport, religion, and
tend themselves; master new skills; and apply their talents
responsibly. That most people show considerable effort,
agency, and commitment in their lives appears, in fact, to
be more normative than exceptional, suggesting some very
positive and persistent features of human nature.
Yet, it is also clear that the human spirit can be
diminished or crushed and that individuals sometimes re-
ject growth and responsibility. Regardless of social strata
or cultural origin, examples of both children and adults
who are apathetic, alienated, and irresponsible are abun-
dant. Such non-optimal human functioning can be observed
not only in our psychological clinics but also among the
millions who, for hours a day, sit passively before their
televisions, stare blankly from the back of their classrooms,
or wait listlessly for the weekend as they go about their
jobs. The persistent, proactive, and positive tendencies of
human nature are clearly not invariantly apparent.
The fact that human nature, phenotypically expressed,
can be either active or passive, constructive or indolent,
suggests more than mere dispositional differences and is a
function of more than just biological endowments. It also
bespeaks a wide range of reactions to social environments
he fullest representations of humanity show people
to be curious, vital, and self-motivated. At their best,
they are agentic and inspired, striving to learn; ex-
that is worthy of our most intense scientific investigation.
Specifically, social contexts catalyze both within- and be-
tween-person differences in motivation and personal
growth, resulting in people being more self-motivated,
energized, and integrated in some situations, domains, and
cultures than in others. Research on the conditions that
foster versus undermine positive human potentials has both
theoretical import and practical significance because it can
contribute not only to formal knowledge of the causes of
human behavior but also to the design of social environ-
ments that optimize people's development, performance,
and well-being. Research guided by self-determination the-
ory (SDT) has had an ongoing concern with precisely these
issues (Deci & Ryan, 1985, 1991; Ryan, 1995).
SDT is an approach to human motivation and personality
that uses traditional empirical methods while employing an
organismic metatheory that highlights the importance of
humans' evolved inner resources for personality develop-
ment and behavioral self-regulation (Ryan, Kuhl, & Deci,
1997). Thus, its arena is the investigation of people's
inherent growth tendencies and innate psychological needs
that are the basis for their self-motivation and personality
integration, as well as for the conditions that foster those
positive processes. Inductively, using the empirical pro-
cess, we have identified three such needs--the needs for
competence (Harter, 1978; White, 1963), relatedness
(Baumeister & Leary, 1995; Reis, 1994), and autonomy
(deCharms, 1968; Deci, 1975)--that appear to be essential
for facilitating optimal functioning of the natural propen-
sities for growth and integration, as well as for constructive
social development and personal well-being.
This work was supported in part by research Grant MH-53385 from the
National Institute of Mental Health. We thank all of the members of the
Human Motivation Research Group at the University of Rochester who
have contributed to these ideas and research, and to Jennifer LaGuardia,
Charles Couchman, and Phyllis Joe for their specific help with this article.
Correspondence concerning this article should be addressed to either
Richard M. Ryan or Edward L. Deci, Department of Clinical and Social
Sciences in Psychology, University of Rochester, Rochester, NY 14627.
Electronic mail may be sent to either email@example.com or
January 2000 • American Psychologist
Copyright 2000 by the American Psychological Association, Inc. 0003-066X/00/$5.00
Vol. 55, No. 1, 68-78 DOI: 10.1037110003-066X.55.1.68
Photo by Joe Gawlowicz,
University of Rochester
Much of the research guided by SDT has also exam-
ined environmental factors that hinder or undermine self-
motivation, social functioning, and personal well-being.
Although many specific deleterious effects have been ex-
plored, the research suggests that these detriments can be
most parsimoniously described in terms of thwarting the
three basic psychological needs. Thus, SDT is concerned
not only with the specific nature of positive developmental
tendencies, but it also examines social environments that
are antagonistic toward these tendencies.
The empirical methods used in much of the SDT
research have been in the Baconian tradition, in that social
contextual variables have been directly manipulated to
examine their effects on both internal processes and behav-
ioral manifestations. The use of experimental paradigms
has allowed us to specify the conditions under which peo-
ple's natural activity and constructiveness will flourish, as
well as those that promote a lack of self-motivation and
social integration. In this way, we have used experimental
methods without accepting the mechanistic or efficient
causal meta-theories that have typically been associated
with those methods.
In this article we review work guided by SDT, ad-
dressing its implications for three important outcomes. We
begin with an examination of intrinsic motivation, the
prototypic manifestation of the human tendency toward
learning and creativity, and we consider research specify-
ing conditions that facilitate versus forestall this special
type of motivation. Second, we present an analysis of
self-regulation, which concerns how people take in social
values and extrinsic contingencies and progressively trans-
form them into personal values and self-motivations. In
that discussion, we outline different forms of internalized
motivation, addressing their behavioral and experiential
correlates and the conditions that ale likely to promote
these different motivations. Third, we focus on studies that
have directly examined the impact of psychological need
fulfillment on health and well-being.
The Nature of Motivation
Motivation concerns energy, direction, persistence and
equifinality--all aspects of activation and intention. Moti-
vation has been a central and perennial issue in the field of
psychology, for it is at the core of biological, cognitive, and
social regulation. Perhaps more important, in the real
world, motivation is highly valued because of its conse-
quences: Motivation produces. It is therefore of preeminent
concern to those in roles such as manager, teacher, reli-
gious leader, coach, health care provider, and parent that
involve mobilizing others to act.
Although motivation is often treated as a singular
construct, even superficial reflection suggests that people
are moved to act by very different types of factors, with
highly varied experiences and consequences. People can be
motivated because they value an activity or because there is
strong external coercion. They can be urged into action by
an abiding interest or by a bribe. They can behave from a
sense of personal commitment to excel or from fear of
being surveilled. These contrasts between cases of having
internal motivation versus being externally pressured are
surely familiar to everyone. The issue of whether people
stand behind a behavior out of their interests and values, or
do it for reasons external to the self, is a matter of signif-
icance in every culture (e.g., Johnson, 1993) and represents
a basic dimension by which people make sense of their own
and others' behavior (deCharms, 1968; Heider, 1958; Ryan
& Connell, 1989).
Comparisons between people whose motivation is au-
thentic (literally, self-authored or endorsed) and those who
are merely externally controlled for an action typically
reveal that the former, relative to the latter, have more
interest, excitement, and confidence, which in turn is man-
ifest both as enhanced performance, persistence, and cre-
ativity (Deci & Ryan, 1991; Sheldon, Ryan, Rawsthorne, &
Ilardi, 1997) and as heightened vitality (Nix, Ryan, Manly,
& Deci, 1999), self-esteem (Deci & Ryan, 1995), and
general well-being (Ryan, Deci, & Grolnick, 1995). This is
so even when the people have the same level of perceived
competence or self-efficacy for the activity.
Because of the functional and experiential differences
between self-motivation and external regulation, a major
focus of SDT has been to supply a more differentiated
approach to motivation, by asking what kind of motivation
is being exhibited at any given time. By considering the
perceived forces that move a person to act, SDT has been
able to identify several distinct types of motivation, each of
which has specifiable consequences for learning, perfor-
mance, personal experience, and well-being. Also, by ar-
ticulating a set of principles concerning how each type of
motivation is developed and sustained, or forestalled and
undermined, SDT at once recognizes a positive thrust to
human nature and provides an account of passivity, alien-
ation, and psychopathology.
January 2000 • American Psychologist 69
Photo by Joe Gawlowicz,
University of Rochester
Perhaps no single phenomenon reflects the positive poten-
tial of human nature as much as intrinsic motivation, the
inherent tendency to seek out novelty and challenges, to
extend and exercise one's capacities, to explore, and to
learn. Developmentalists acknowledge that from the time
of birth, children, in their healthiest states, are active,
inquisitive, curious, and playful, even in the absence of
specific rewards (e.g., Harter, 1978). The construct of in-
trinsic motivation describes this natural inclination toward
assimilation, mastery, spontaneous interest, and explora-
tion that is so essential to cognitive and social development
and that represents a principal source of enjoyment and
vitality throughout life (Csikszentmihalyi & Rathunde,
1993; Ryan, 1995).
Yet, despite the fact that humans are liberally en-
dowed with intrinsic motivational tendencies, the evidence
is now clear that the maintenance and enhancement of this
inherent propensity requires supportive conditions, as it can
be fairly readily disrupted by various nonsupportive con-
ditions. Thus, our theory of intrinsic motivation does not
concern what causes intrinsic motivation (which we view
as an evolved propensity; Ryan et al., 1997); rather, it
examines the conditions that elicit and sustain, versus sub-
due and diminish, this innate propensity.
Cognitive evaluation theory (CET) was presented by
Deci and Ryan (1985) as a subtheory within SDT that had
the aim of specifying factors that explain variability in
intrinsic motivation. CET is framed in terms of social and
environmental factors that facilitate versus undermine in-
trinsic motivation, using language that reflects the assump-
tion that intrinsic motivation, being inherent, will be cata-
lyzed when individuals are in conditions that conduce
toward its expression. In other words, it will flourish if
circumstances permit. Put in this way, the study of condi-
tions that facilitate versus undermine intrinsic motivation is
an important first step in understanding sources of both
alienation and liberation of the positive aspects of human
CET, which focuses on the fundamental needs for
competence and autonomy, was formulated to integrate
results from initial laboratory experiments on the effects of
rewards, feedback, and other external events on intrinsic
motivation, and was subsequently tested and extended by
field studies in various settings. The theory argues, first,
that social-contextual events (e.g., feedback, communica-
tions, rewards) that conduce toward feelings of competence
during action can enhance intrinsic motivation for that
action. Accordingly, optimal challenges, effectance-pro-
rooting feedback, and freedom from demeaning evaluations
were all found to facilitate intrinsic motivation. For exam-
ple, early studies showed that positive performance feed-
back enhanced intrinsic motivation, whereas negative per-
formance feedback diminished it (Deci, 1975), and re-
search by Vallerand and Reid (1984) showed that these
effects were mediated by perceived competence.
CET further specifies, and studies have shown (Fisher,
1978; Ryan, 1982), that feelings of competence will not
enhance intrinsic motivation unless accompanied by a
sense of autonomy or, in attributional terms, by an internal
perceived locus of causality (deCharms, 1968). Thus, ac-
cording to CET, people must not only experience compe-
tence or efficacy, they must also experience their behavior
as self-determined for intrinsic motivation to be in evi-
dence. This requires either immediate contextual sup-
ports for autonomy and competence or abiding inner re-
sources (Reeve, 1996) that are typically the result of prior
developmental supports for perceived autonomy and
In fact, most of the research on the effects of environ-
mental events in intrinsic motivation has focused on the
issue of autonomy versus control rather than that of com-
petence. Research on this issue has been considerably more
controversial. It began with the repeated demonstration that
extrinsic rewards can undermine intrinsic motivation. Deci
(1975) interpreted these results in terms of rewards facili-
tating a more external perceived locus of causality (i.e.,
diminished autonomy). Although the issue of reward ef-
fects has been hotly debated, a recent, comprehensive
meta-analysis (Deci, Koestner, & Ryan, 1999) confirmed,
in spite of claims to the contrary by Eisenberger and
Cameron (1996), that all expected tangible rewards made
contingent on task performance do reliably undermine in-
Also, research revealed that not only tangible rewards
but also threats, deadlines, directives, pressured evalua-
tions, and imposed goals diminish intrinsic motivation be-
cause, like tangible rewards, they conduce toward an ex-
ternal perceived locus of causality. In contrast, choice,
acknowledgment of feelings, and opportunities for self-
direction were found to enhance intrinsic motivation be-
cause they allow people a greater feeling of autonomy
(Deci & Ryan, 1985). Field studies have further shown that
70 January 2000 • American Psychologist
teachers who are autonomy supportive (in contrast to con-
trolling) catalyze in their students greater intrinsic motiva-
tion, curiosity, and desire for challenge (e.g., Deci, Nezlek,
& Sheinman, 1981; Flink, Boggiano, & Barrett, 1990;
Ryan & Grolnick, 1986). Students taught with a more
controlling approach not only lose initiative but learn less
effectively, especially when learning requires conceptual,
creative processing (Amabile, 1996; Grolnick & Ryan,
1987; Utman, 1997). Similarly, studies showed that auton-
omy-supportive parents, relative to controlling parents,
have children who are more intrinsically motivated
(Grolnick, Deci, & Ryan, 1997). Such findings generalized
to other domains such as sport and music in which supports
for autonomy and competence by parents and mentors
incite more intrinsic motivation (e.g., Frederick & Ryan,
Although autonomy and competence supports are
highly salient for producing variability in intrinsic motiva-
tion, a third factor, relatedness, also bears on its expression.
In infancy, intrinsic motivation is readily observable as
exploratory behavior and, as suggested by attachment the-
orists (e.g., Bowlby, 1979), it is more evident when the
infant is securely attached to a parent. Studies of mothers
and infants have, indeed, shown that both security and
maternal autonomy support predict more exploratory be-
havior in the infants (e.g., Frodi, Bridges, & Grolnick,
1985). SDT hypothesizes that a similar dynamic occurs in
interpersonal settings over the life span, with intrinsic
motivation more likely to flourish in contexts characterized
by a sense of security and relatedness. For example, Ander-
son, Manoogian, and Reznick (1976) found that when
children worked on an interesting task in the presence of an
adult stranger who ignored them and failed to respond to
their initiations, a very low level of intrinsic motivation
resulted, and Ryan and Grolnick (1986) observed lower
intrinsic motivation in students who experienced their
teachers as cold and uncaring. Of course, many intrinsically
motivated behaviors are happily performed in isolation,
suggesting that proximal relational supports may not be
necessary for intrinsic motivation, but a secure relational
base does seem to be important for the expression of
intrinsic motivation to be in evidence.
To summarize, the CET framework suggests that so-
cial environments can facilitate or forestall intrinsic moti-
vation by supporting versus thwarting people's innate psy-
chological needs. Strong links between intrinsic motivation
and satisfaction of the needs for autonomy and competence
have been clearly demonstrated, and some work suggests
that satisfaction of the need for relatedness, at least in a
distal sense, may also be important for intrinsic motivation.
It is critical to remember, however, that people will be
intrinsically motivated only for activities that hold intrinsic
interest for them, activities that have the appeal of novelty,
challenge, or aesthetic value. For activities that do not hold
such appeal, the principles of CET do not apply, because
the activities will not be experienced as intrinsically moti-
vated to begin with. To understand the motivation for those
activities, we need to look more deeply into the nature and
dynamics of extrinsic motivation.
Self-Regulation of Extrinsic
Although intrinsic motivation is an important type of mo-
tivation, it is not the only type or even the only type of
self-determined motivation (Deci & Ryan, 1985). Indeed,
much of what people do is not, strictly speaking, intrinsi-
cally motivated, especially after early childhood when the
fi'eedom to be intrinsically motivated is increasingly cur-
tailed by social pressures to do activities that are not
interesting and to assume a variety of new responsibilities
(Ryan & La Guardia, in press).
The real question concerning nonintrinsically moti-
vated practices is how individuals acquire the motivation to
carry them out and how this motivation affects ongoing
persistence, behavioral quality, and well-being. Whenever
a person (be it a parent, teacher, boss, coach, or therapist)
attempts to foster certain behaviors in others, the others'
motivation for the behavior can range from amotivation or
unwillingness, to passive compliance, to active personal
commitment. According to SDT, these different motiva-
tions reflect differing degrees to which the value and reg-
ulation of the requested behavior have been internalized
and integrated. Internalization refers to people's "taking in"
a value or regulation, and integration refers to the further
transformation of that regulation into their own so that,
subsequently, it will emanate from their sense of self.
Internalization and integration are clearly central is-
sues in childhood socialization, but they are also continu-
ally re]evant for the regulation of behavior across the life
span. In nearly every setting people enter, certain behaviors
and va]ues are prescribed, behaviors that are not interesting
and values that are not spontaneously adopted. Accord-
ingly, SDT has addressed the issues of (a) the processes
through which such nonintrinsically motivated behaviors
can become truly self-determined, and (b) the ways in
which the social environment influences those processes.
The lerm extrinsic motivation refers to the perfor-
mance of an activity in order to attain some separable
outcome and, thus, contrasts with intrinsic motivation,
which refers to doing an activity for the inherent satisfac-
tion of the activity itself. Unlike some perspectives that
view extrinsically motivated behavior as invariantly non-
autonomous, SDT proposes that extrinsic motivation can
vary greatly in its relative autonomy (Ryan & Connell,
1989; Vallerand, 1997). For example, students who do their
homework because they personally grasp its value for their
chosen career are extrinsically motivated, as are those who
do the work only because they are adhering to their parents'
control. Both examples involve instrumentalities rather
than enjoyment of the work itself, yet the former case of
extrinsic motivation entails personal endorsement and a
feeling of choice, whereas the latter involves compliance
with an external regulation. Both represent intentional be-
havior (Heider, 1958), but they vary in their relative au-
tonomy. The former, of course, is the type of extrinsic
motivation that is sought by astute socializing agents re-
gardless o1: the applied domain.
January 2000 ° American Psychologist 71
The Self-Determination Continuum Showing Types of Motivation With Their Regulatory Styles, Loci of Causality,
and Corresponding Processes
Behavior Nonself-Determined Self-Determined
StylesRegulat°ry ~ R e g u l ~
E~ic M o t ~
Lack of Control
Within SDT, Deci and Ryan (1985) introduced a
second subtheory, called organismic integration theory
(OIT), to detail the different forms of extrinsic motivation
and the contextual factors that either promote or hinder
internalization and integration of the regulation for these
behaviors. Figure 1 illustrates the OIT taxonomy of moti-
vational types, arranged from left to fight in terms of the
degree to which the motivations emanate from the self (i.e.,
At the far left of the self-determination continuum is
amotivation, the state of lacking the intention to act. When
amotivated, people either do not act at all or act without
intent--they just go through the motions. Amotivation re-
sults from not valuing an activity (Ryan, 1995), not feeling
competent to do it (Bandura, 1986), or not expecting it to
yield a desired outcome (Seligman, 1975). To the right of
amotivation in Figure 1 are five classifications of motivated
behavior. Although many theorists have treated motivation
as a unitary concept, each of the categories identified
within OIT describes theoretically, experientially, and
functionally distinct types of motivation. At the far right of
the continuum is the classic state of intrinsic motivation,
the doing of an activity for its inherent satisfactions. It is
highly autonomous and represents the prototypic instance
of self-determination. Extrinsically motivated behaviors,
by contrast, cover the continuum between amotivation and
intrinsic motivation, varying in the extent to which their
regulation is autonomous.
The extrinsically motivated behaviors that are least
autonomous are referred to as externally regulated. Such
behaviors are performed to satisfy an external demand or
reward contingency. Individuals typically experience ex-
ternally regulated behavior as controlled or alienated, and
their actions have an external perceived locus of causality
(deCharms, 1968). External regulation is the type of moti-
vation focused on by operant theorists (e.g., Skinner,
1953), and it is external regulation that was typically con-
trasted with intrinsic motivation in early laboratory and
A second type of extrinsic motivation is labeled in-
trojected regulation. Introjection involves taking in a reg-
ulation but not fully accepting it as one's own. It is a
relatively controlled form of regulation in which behaviors
are performed to avoid guilt or anxiety or to attain ego
enhancements such as pride. Put differently, introjection
represents regulation by contingent self-esteem (Deci &
Ryan, 1995). A classic form of introjection is ego involve-
ment (deCharms, 1968; Nicholls, 1984; Ryan, 1982), in
which people are motivated to demonstrate ability (or avoid
failure) in order to maintain feelings of worth. Although
internally driven, introjected behaviors still have an exter-
nal perceived locus of causality and are not really experi-
enced as part of the self. Thus, in some studies, external
regulation (being interpersonally controlled) and in-
trojected regulation (being intrapersonally controlled) have
been combined to form a controlled motivation composite
(e.g., Williams, Grow, Freedman, Ryan, & Deci, 1996).
A more autonomous, or self-determined, form of ex-
trinsic motivation is regulation through identification.
Identification reflects a conscious valuing of a behavioral
goal or regulation, such that the action is accepted or
owned as personally important. Finally, the most autono-
72 January 2000 • American Psychologist
mous form of extrinsic motivation is integrated regulation.
Integration occurs when identified regulations are fully
assimilated to the self, which means they have been eval-
uated and brought into congruence with one's other values
and needs. Actions characterized by integrated motivation
share many qualities with intrinsic motivation, although
they are still considered extrinsic because they are done to
attain separable outcomes rather than for their inherent
enjoyment. In some studies, identified, integrated, and in-
trinsic forms of regulation have been combined to form an
autonomous motivation composite.
As people internalize regulations and assimilate them
to the self, they experience greater autonomy in action.
This process may occur in stages, over time, but we are not
suggesting that it is a developmental continuum in the
sense that people must progress through each stage of
internalization with respect to a particular regulation.
Rather, they can relatively readily internalize a new behav-
ioral regulation at any point along this continuum depend-
ing on both prior experiences and current situational factors
(Ryan, 1995). Nonetheless, the range of behaviors that can
be assimilated to the self increases over time with increased
cognitive capacities and ego development (Loevinger &
Blasi, 1991), and there is evidence that children's general
regulatory style does tend to become more internalized or
self-regulated over time (e.g., Chandler & Connell, 1987).
Ryan and Connell (1989) tested the formulation that
these different types of motivation, with their distinct prop-
erties, lie along a continuum of relative autonomy. They
investigated achievement behaviors among school children
and found that external, introjected, identified, and intrinsic
regulatory styles were intercorrelated according to a quasi-
simplex pattern, thus providing evidence for an underlying
continuum. Furthermore, differences in the type of extrin-
sic motivation were associated with different experiences
and outcomes. For example, the more students were exter-
nally regulated the less they showed interest, value, and
effort toward achievement and the more they tended to
disown responsibility for negative outcomes, blaming oth-
ers such as the teacher. Introjected regulation was posi-
tively related to expending more effort, but it was also
related to feeling more anxiety and coping more poorly
with failures. In contrast, identified regulation was associ-
ated with more interest and enjoyment of school and with
more positive coping styles, as well as with expending
Other studies in education extended these findings,
showing that more autonomous extrinsic motivation was
associated with more engagement (Connell & Wellborn,
1991), better performance (Miserandino, 1996), lower
dropout (Vallerand & Bissonnette, 1992), higher quality
learning (Grolnick & Ryan, 1987), and better teacher rat-
ings (Hayamizu, 1997), among other outcomes.
In the realm of health care, greater internalization has
been associated with greater adherence to medications
among people with chronic illnesses (Williams, Rodin,
Ryan, Grolnick, & Deci, 1998), better long-term mainte-
nance of weight loss among morbidly obese patients (Wil-
liams et al., 1996), improved glucose control among dia-
betics (Williams, Freedman, & Deci, 1998), and greater
attendance and involvement in an addiction-treatment pro-
gram (Ryan, Plant, & O'Malley, 1995).
Demonstrations of positive outcomes being associated
with more internalized motivation have also emerged in
other diverse domains, including religion (Ryan, Rigby, &
King, 1993), physical exercise (Chatzisarantis, Biddle, &
Meek, 1997), political activity (Koestner, Losier, Valler-
and, & Carducci, 1996), environmental activism (Green-
Demers, Pelletier, & Menard, 1997), and intimate relation-
ships (Blais, Sabourin, Boucher, & Vallerand, 1990),
The advantages of greater internalization appear, then,
to be manifold (Ryan et al., 1997), including more behav-
ioral effectiveness, greater volitional persistence, enhanced
subjective well-being, and better assimilation of the indi-
vidual within his or her social group.
Facilitating Integration of Extrinsic
Given the significance of internalization for personal expe-
rience and behavioral outcomes, the critical issue becomes
how to promote autonomous regulation for extrinsically
motiwtted behaviors. That is, what are the social conditions
that nurture versus inhibit internalization and integration?
Because extrinsically motivated behaviors are not typ-
ically interesting, the primary reason people initially per-
form such actions is because the behaviors are prompted,
modeled, or valued by significant others to whom they feel
(or want to feel) attached or related. This suggests that
relatedness, the need to feel belongingess and connected-
ness with others, is centrally important for internalization.
Thus, OIT proposes that internalization is more likely to be
in evidence when there are ambient supports for feelings of
relatedness. For example, Ryan, Stiller, and Lynch (1994)
showed that the children who had more fully internalized
the regulation for positive school-related behaviors were
those who felt securely connected to, and cared for by, their
parents and teachers.
The relative internalization of extrinsically motivated
activities is also a function of perceived competence. Peo-
ple are more likely to adopt activities that relevant social
groups value when they feel efficacious with respect to
those activities. As is the case with all intentional action,
OIT suggests that supports for competence should facilitate
intermdization (Vallerand, 1997). Thus, for example, chil-
dren who are directed to perform behaviors before they are
developmentally ready to master them or understand their
rationale would be predicted, at best, only to partially
intern~tlize the regulations, remaining either externally reg-
ulated or introjected.
Finally, the experience of autonomy facilitates inter-
nalization and, in particular, is a critical element for a
regulation to be integrated. Contexts can yield external
regulation if there are salient rewards or threats and the
person feels competent enough to comply; contexts can
yield introjected regulation if a relevant reference group
endorses the activity and the person feels competent and
related; but contexts can yield autonomous regulation only
January 2000 • American Psychologist 73
if they are autonomy supportive, thus allowing the person
to feel competent, related, and autonomous. To integrate a
regulation, people must grasp its meaning and synthesize
that meaning with respect to their other goals and values.
Such deep, holistic processing (Kuhl & Fuhrmann, 1998) is
facilitated by a sense of choice, volition, and freedom from
excessive external pressure toward behaving or thinking a
certain way. In this sense, support lor autonomy allows
individuals to actively transform values into their own.
Again, research results have supported this reasoning.
For example, Deci, Eghrari, Patrick, and Leone (1994)
demonstrated in a laboratory experiment that providing a
meaningful rationale for an uninteresting behavior, along
with supports for autonomy and relatedness, promoted
its internalization and integration. Controlling contexts
yielded less overall internalization, and the internalization
that did occur in those contexts tended to be only in-
trojected. Using parent interviews, Grolnick and Ryan
(1989) found greater internalization of school-related val-
ues among children whose parents were more supportive of
autonomy and relatedness. Strahan (1995) found that
parents who were more autonomy-supportive promoted
greater religious identification, as opposed to introjection,
in their offspring. Williams and Deci (1996), using a lon-
gitudinal design, demonstrated greater internalization of
biopsychosocial values and practices among medical stu-
dents whose instructors were more autonomy-supportive.
These are but a few of the many findings suggesting that
supports for relatedness and competence facilitate internal-
ization and that supports for autonomy also facilitate inte-
gration of behavioral regulations. When that occurs, people
feel not only competent and related but also autonomous as
they carry out culturally valued activities.
One further point needs to be made regarding the
controversial issue of human autonomy. The concept of
autonomy has often been portrayed as being antagonistic to
relatedness or community, in fact, some theories equate
autonomy with concepts such as individualism and inde-
pendence (e.g., Steinberg & Silverberg, 1986), which do
indeed imply low relatedness. But, within SDT, autonomy
refers not to being independent, detached, or selfish but
rather to the feeling of volition that can accompany any act,
whether dependent or independent, collectivist or individ-
ualist, in fact, recent research in Korean and U.S. samples
has found a more positive relation between autonomy and
collectivistic attitudes than between autonomy and individ-
ualistic attitudes (Kim, Butzel, & Ryan, 1998). Further-
more, research has shown positive, rather than negative,
links between relatedness to parents and autonomy in teen-
agers (Ryan & Lynch, 1989; Ryan et al., 1994). Clearly,
then, we do not equate autonomy with independence or
Alienation and Its Prevention
SDT aims to specify factors that nurture the innate human
potentials entailed in growth, integration, and well-being,
and to explore the processes and conditions that foster the
healthy development and effective functioning of individ-
uals, groups, and communities. But a positive approach
cannot ignore patholog2( or close its eyes to the alienation
and inauthenticity that are prevalent in our society and in
others. Accordingly, we investigate nonoptimal (as well as
optimal) developmental trajectories, much as is done in the
field of developmental psychopathology (e.g., Cicchetti,
1991). We now turn to a brief consideration of that issue.
By definition, intrinsically motivated behaviors, the
prototype of self-determined actions, stem from the self.
They are unalienated and authentic in the fullest sense of
those terms. But, as already noted, SDT recognizes that
extrinsically motivated actions can also become self-deter-
mined as individuals identify with and fully assimilate their
regulation. Thus, it is through internalization and integra-
tion that individuals can be extrinsically motivated and still
be committed and authentic. Accumulated research now
suggests that the commitment and authenticity reflected in
intrinsic motivation and integrated extrinsic motivation are
most likely to be evident when individuals experience
supports for competence, autonomy, and relatedness.
It is the flip side of this coin, however, that speaks
directly to the issues of alienation and inauthenticity and is
relevant to such questions as why employees show no
initiative, why teenagers reject their schools' values, and
why patients adhere so poorly to treatment. SDT under-
stands such occurrences in terms of the undermining of
intrinsic motivation and, perhaps even more typically, the
failure of internalization. To explain the causes of such
diminished functioning, SDT suggests turning first to indi-
viduals' immediate social contexts and then to their devel-
opmental environments to examine the degree to which
their needs for competence, autonomy, and relatedness are
being or have been thwarted. We maintain that by failing to
provide supports for competence, autonomy, and related-
ness, not only of children but also of students, employees,
patients, and athletes, socializing agents and organizations
contribute to alienation and ill-being. The fact that psycho-
logical-need deprivation appears to be a principal source of
human distress suggests that assessments and interventions
would do well to target these primary foundations of men-
Psychologic.a! Needs and
As we have seen, both the cognitive evaluation and organ-
ismic integration components of SDT have led us to posit
a parsimonious list of three basic psychological needs as a
means of organizing and interpreting a wide array of em-
pirical results, results that seemed not to be readily and
satisfactorily interpretable without the concept of needs.
Much of our more recent work has used the concept of
three basic psychological needs to address new phenomena
and, more particularly, to evaluate the postulate that these
three needs are innate, essential, and universal.
By our definition, a basic need, whether it be a phys-
iological need (Hull, 1943) or a psychological need, is an
energizing state that, if satisfied, conduces toward health
and well-being but, if not satisfied, contributes to pathology
and ill-being. We have thus proposed that the basic needs
for competence, autonomy, and relatedness must be satis-
74 January 2000 • American Psychologist
fled across the life span for an individual to experience an
ongoing sense of integrity and well-being or "eudaimonia"
(Ryan & Frederick, 1997; Waterman, 1993). Accordingly,
much of our research now focuses on the link between
satisfaction of the basic psychological needs and the expe-
rience of well-being.
Specifying psychological needs as essential nutri-
ments implies that individuals cannot thrive without satis-
fying all of them, any more than people can thrive with
water but not food. Thus, for example, a social environ-
ment that affords competence but fails to nurture related-
ness is expected to result in some impoverishment of well-
being. Worse yet, social contexts that engender conflicts
between basic needs set up the conditions for alienation and
psychopathology (Ryan et al., 1995), as when a child is
required by parents to give up autonomy in order to feel
To suggest that the three needs are universal and
developmentally persistent does not imply that their rela-
tive salience and their avenues for satisfaction are unchang-
ing across the life span or that their modes of expression are
the same in all cultures. The very fact that need satisfaction
is facilitated by the internalization and integration of cul-
turally endorsed values and behaviors suggests that indi-
viduals are likely to express their competence, autonomy,
and relatedness differently within cultures that hold differ-
ent values. Indeed, the mode and degree of people's psy-
chological-need satisfaction is theorized to be influenced
not only by their own competencies but, even more impor-
tant, by the ambient demands, obstacles, and affordances in
their sociocultural contexts. Thus, to posit universal psy-
chological needs does not diminish the importance of vari-
ability in goals and orientations at different developmental
epochs or in different cultures, but it does suggest similar-
ities in underlying processes that lead to the development
and expression of those differences.
Our recent investigations of the importance of basic
psychological needs have addressed three questions: Are
the pursuit and attainment of all culturally congruent aspi-
rations and life values associated with well-being? Do
need-related processes operate similarly within different
cultural circumstances? Is within-person variability in basic
need satisfaction related to variability in well-being indi-
cators? We briefly consider some of this work.
First, we discuss the relation of personal goals to
well-being. We have hypothesized that the pursuit and
attainment of some life goals will provide relatively direct
satisfaction of the basic needs, thus enhancing well-being
(Ryan, Sheldon, Kasser, & Deci, 1996), whereas the pur-
suit and attainment of other goals does not contribute to and
may even detract from basic need satisfactions, leading to
ill-being. In accord with this reasoning, T. Kasser and Ryan
(1993, 1996) examined individual differences in the em-
phasis people place on intrinsic aspirations (goals such as
affiliation, personal growth, and community that directly
satisfy basic needs) compared with extrinsic aspirations
(goals such as wealth, fame, and image that at best indi-
rectly satisfy the needs). They found, first, that placing
strong relative importance on intrinsic aspirations was pos-
itively associated with well-being indicators such as self-
esteem, self-actualization, and the inverse of depression
and anxiety, whereas placing strong relative importance on
extrinsic aspirations was negatively related to these
well-being indicators. Ryan, Chirkov, Little, Sheldon,
Timoshina, and Deci (1999) replicated these findings in a
Russian sample, attesting to the potential generalizability
of the findings across cultures.
These findings go beyond goal importance per se.
Both Ryan, Chirkov, et al. and T. Kasser and Ryan (in
press) have found that whereas self-reported attainment of
intrinsic aspirations was positively associated with well-
being, attainment of extrinsic aspirations was not. Further,
Sheldon and Kasser (1998) found in a longitudinal study
that well-being was enhanced by attainment of intrinsic
goals, 'whereas success at extrinsic goals provided little
benefit. Together, these results suggest that even highly
efficacious people may experience less than optimal well-
being if they pursue and successfully attain goals that do
not fulfill basic psychological needs. We hasten to add,
however, that the meaning of specific goals is culturally
influenced, so that how specific goals relate to well-being
can vary across cultures, although the relation between
underlying need satisfaction and well-being is theorized to
Clearly, there are many factors that lead people to
emphasize certain life goals that may not be need fulfilling.
For example, exposure to the commercial media can
prompt a locus on materialism (Richins, 1987), which
provides only fleeting satisfactions and could actually de-
tract from basic need fulfillment and, thus, well-being.
Prior deficits in need fulfillment (e.g., from poor caregiv-
ing) might also lead individuals to yearn for more extrinsic
goals as a substitute or compensatory mechanism. In fact,
T. Kasser, Ryan, Zax, and Sameroff (1995) found that teens
who had been exposed to cold, controlling maternal care
(as assessed with ratings by the teens, mothers, and observ-
ers) were more likely to develop materialistic orientations,
compared with better nurtured teens who more strongly
valued the intrinsic goals of personal growth, relationships,
and community. In short, cultural and developmental in-
fluences produce variations in the importance of goals, the
pursuit of which, in turn, yields different satisfaction of
basic needs and different levels of well-being.
In other research, we have examined the relations of
people's reports of need satisfaction to indicators of well-
being in various settings. For example, V. Kasser and Ryan
(in press) found that supports for autonomy and relatedness
predicted greater well-being among nursing home resi-
dents. Baard, Deci, and Ryan (1998) showed that employ-
ees' experiences of satisfaction of the needs for autonomy,
competence, and relatedness in the workplace predicted
their performance and well-being at work. Such research
shows that within specific domains, especially those central
to the lives of individuals, need satisfaction is correlated
with improved well-being.
A more compelling way of demonstrating the essential
relations between need fulfillments and mental health has
been the examination of role-to-role and day-to-day fluc-
January 2000 • American Psychologist 75
tuations in basic need satisfaction and their direct effects on
variability in well-being, while controlling for individual
differences and various confounding variables. For exam-
ple, Sheldon et al. (1997) demonstrated that satisfaction in
each of several life roles (e.g., student, employee, friend),
relative to the individual's own mean satisfaction, was
attributable to the degree to which that role supports au-
thenticity and autonomous functioning. Similarly, in a
study that examined daily variations in well-being, Shel-
don, Reis, and Ryan (1996) used hierarchical linear mod-
eling to show that within-person daily fluctuations in the
satisfaction of autonomy and competence needs predicted
within-person fluctuations in outcomes such as mood, vi-
tality, physical symptoms, and self-esteem. In a more re-
cent study, Reis, Sheldon, Gable, Roscoe, and Ryan (in
press) found that variations in the fulfillment of each of the
three needs (i.e., competence, autonomy, and relatedness)
independently predicted variability in daily well-being.
These studies support the view that basic psychological
needs are determinative with regard to optimal experience
and well-being in daily life.
Debates concerning the activity or passivity, responsibility
or indolence, of human beings have been perennial (Kohn,
1990). As psychology has become more advanced, both in
terms of our understanding of evolution and neurobiology
and of social behavior and its causation, ample support for
both perspectives could be garnered. SDT addresses this
issue by attempting to account for both the activity and the
passivity, the responsibility and the indolence. To do this,
we have assumed that humans have an inclination toward
activity and integration, but also have a vulnerability to
passivity. Our focus, accordingly, has been to specify the
conditions that tend to support people's natural activity
versus elicit or exploit their vulnerability.
Our early investigations focused on the social condi-
tions that enhance versus diminish a very positive feature
of human nature, namely, the natural activity and curiosity
referred to as intrinsic motivation. We found that condi-
tions supportive of autonomy and competence reliably fa-
cilitated this vital expression of the human growth ten-
dency, whereas conditions that controlled behavior and
hindered perceived effectance undermined its expression.
Subsequently, we investigated the acquisition and regula-
tion of nonintrinsically motivated behaviors and, here too,
we found evidence of the dramatic power of social contexts
to enhance or hinder the organismic tendency to integrate
ambient social values and responsibilities. Contexts sup-
portive of autonomy, competence, and relatedness were
found to foster greater internalization and integration than
contexts that thwart satisfaction of these needs. This latter
finding, we argue, is of great significance for individuals
who wish to motivate others in a way that engenders
commitment, effort, and high-quality performance.
Yet, our primary concern throughout this program of
research has been the well-being of individuals, whether
they are students in classrooms, patients in clinics, athletes
on the playing field, or employees in the workplace. As
formulated by SDT, if the social contexts in which such
individuals are embedded are responsive to basic psycho-
logical needs, they provide the appropriate developmental
lattice upon which an active, assimilative, and integrated
nature can ascend. Excessive control, nonoptimal chal-
lenges, and lack of connectedness, on the other hand,
disrupt the inherent actualizing and organizational tenden-
cies endowed by nature, and thus such factors result not
only in the lack of initiative and responsibility but also in
distress and psychopathology.
Knowledge concerning the nutriments essential for
positive motivation and experience and, in turn, for en-
hanced performance and well-being has broad significance.
It is relevant to parents and educators concerned with
cognitive and personality development because it speaks to
the conditions that promote the assimilation of both infor-
mation and behavioral regulations. It is also relevant to
managers who want to facilitate motivation and commit-
ment on the job, and it is relevant to psychotherapists and
health professionals because motivation is perhaps the crit-
ical variable in producing maintained change. Thus, by
attending to the relative presence or deprivation of supports
for basic psychological needs, practitioners are better able
to diagnose sources of alienation versus engagement,
and facilitate both enhanced human achievements and
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