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Journal of Applied Social Psychology, 2006, 36, 9, pp. 2240–2265.
r2006 Copyright the Authors
Journal compilation r2006 Blackwell Publishing, Inc.
A Test of Self-Determination Theory in the Exercise Domain
NIKOS NTOUMANIS AND
JOAN L. DUDA
University of Birmingham
In accordance with self-determination theory (SDT; Deci & Ryan, 1985), this study
examined the relationship between autonomy support, psychological need satis-
faction, motivational regulations, and exercise behavior. Participants (N5369)
were recruited from fitness, community, and retail settings. Fulfillment of the 3
basic psychological needs (i.e., competence, autonomy, and relatedness) related to
more self-determined motivational regulations. Identified and introjected regula-
tions emerged as positive predictors of strenuous and total exercise behaviors.
Competence need satisfaction also predicted directlyFand indirectly via identified
regulationFstrenuous exercise. For participants engaged in organized fitness
classes, perceptions of autonomy support provided by exercise class leaders pre-
dicted psychological need satisfaction. Furthermore, competence need satisfaction
partially mediated the relationship between autonomy support and intrinsic mo-
tivation. These findings support SDT in the exercise domain.
There is now worldwide acceptance among medical authorities that
physical activity constitutes a fundamental element of healthy living (World
Health Organization, 1995). Yet, despite well documented evidence advo-
cating the benefits of exercise for physical and mental health, and numerous
public health campaigns promoting its importance, data from developed
countries show that the majority of the adult population is not sufficiently
active to derive these benefits. Indeed, evidence suggests that more than 70%
of adults fail to meet current physical activity recommendations (Depart-
ment of Health, 2004; U.S. Department of Health and Human Services
[USDHHS], 2000). Furthermore, physical inactivity now constitutes one of
the major behavioral risk factors to health in modern society (United States
Department of Health and Human Services, 1996). In view of this evidence,
promoting physical activity is clearly an increasing public health priority
(Pate et al., 1995).
Correspondence concerning this article should be addressed to Jemma Edmunds, Health
Services Research Centre, Room CWG04, Coventry University, Priory Street, Coventry, Unit-
ed Kingdom CV1 5FB. E-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org
Physical activity engagement involves a complex interaction between
biological, environmental, social, and psychological influences (Biddle &
Mutrie, 2001). Examining the motivational determinants of exercise behav-
ior has become a prominent topic in exercise psychology (Biddle & Mutrie,
2001). One theoretical approach to human motivation that is receiving in-
creasing attention in the exercise domain is self-determination theory (SDT;
Deci & Ryan, 1985).
Essentially, SDT proposes that human motivation varies in the extent to
which it is autonomous (self-determined) or controlling. Behaviors and
actions that are autonomous are initiated freely and emanate from within
oneself (Reeve, 2002). In contrast, when behavior is controlled, it is reg-
ulated by an external force. The individual in this instance feels pressured to
engage in the behavior. Based on these distinctions, SDT proposes that three
forms of motivation exist; namely, intrinsic motivation, extrinsic motiva-
tion, and amotivation,
which, based on the level of autonomy associated
with them, lie on a continuum ranging from high to low self-determination,
Intrinsic motivation constitutes the most autonomous form of motiva-
tion, and refers to an inherent tendency possessed by all humans to seek out
novelty and challenges, to extend and exercise their capabilities, to explore,
and to learn (Ryan & Deci, 2000). An individual who pursues a goal or
activity because it is enjoyable or intrinsically captivating would display
intrinsic motivation (Koestner & Losier, 2002).
Not all human behaviors can be considered enjoyable, however. To
understand how such behaviors are regulated, SDT proposes extrinsic
motivation as an additional motivational force, and a process called inter-
nalization. Extrinsic motivation refers to behaviors that are carried out to
attain outcomes unrelated to the activity itself (e.g., social comparisons;
Deci, 1971). Internalization refers to an inherent tendency possessed by all
humans to integrate the regulation of extrinsically motivated activities that
are useful for effective functioning in the social world, but that are not
inherently interesting (Deci, Eghrari, Patrick, & Leone, 1994).
SDT further proposes that the extent to which extrinsic motives are
internalized can vary. A multidimensional conceptualization of extrinsic
motivation is hypothesized to exist, consisting of external, introjected, iden-
tified, and integrated regulations.
These regulations lie on a continuum
Amotivation has been defined by Markland and Tobin (2004, p. 191) as representing
‘‘a state lacking of any intention to engage in behavior’’ and constitutes a completely non-
self-determined form of motivation. Given that all participants in the current study engaged in
at least some form of exercise, amotivation is not discussed in this study.
Integrated regulation constitutes the most autonomous form of extrinsic motivation,
occurring ‘‘when identified regulations have been fully assimilated to the self’’ (Ryan & Deci,
SELF-DETERMINATION THEORY AND EXERCISE 2241
from lower to higher self-determination and reflect the extent of the inter-
nalization process (Deci & Ryan, 1985).
External regulation can be defined as exercising to either appease an
external demand or to attain a reward (Ryan & Deci, 2000). An example of
an external regulation in the exercise domain is ‘‘I exercise because my
friends and family say I should.’’ Introjection, which is a slightly more self-
determined form of extrinsic motivation, involves internalizing the behav-
ior’s regulation, but not fully accepting it as one’s own (Ryan & Deci, 2000).
It is a relatively controlling form of regulation in which behaviors (e.g.,
exercise engagement) are performed to avoid negative emotions (e.g., anx-
iety, guilt), to support conditional self-worth, or to attain ego enhancement
(Ryan & Deci, 2000). Identified regulation reflects a more autonomous form
of extrinsic motivation and reflects participation in an activity because one
holds outcomes of the behavior to be personally significant, although one
may not enjoy the activity itself. For example, an individual who exercises
because he or she values the benefits of exercise would display identified
regulation in this domain.
In addition to specifying the different types of motivational regulations
that may guide behavior, SDT (Deci & Ryan, 1985) also details specific
conditions that are responsible for more or less self-determined motivation.
Specifically, SDT assumes that all humans possess three basic psychological
needs; that is, the need for competence, autonomy, and relatedness. The
need for competence implies that individuals have a desire to interact effec-
tively with the environment, to experience a sense of competence in pro-
ducing desired outcomes, and to prevent undesired events (Deci, 1975; Deci
& Ryan, 1985). The need for autonomy reflects a desire to engage in activities
of one’s choosing and to be the origin of one’s own behavior (deCharms,
1968; Deci, 1975; Deci & Ryan, 1985). Finally, the need for relatedness
involves feeling connected, or feeling that one belongs in a given social
milieu (Baumeister & Leary, 1995; Deci & Ryan, 1985). Essentially, SDT
suggests that the most self-determined forms of regulation will guide be-
havior when the needs are satisfied. In contrast, low self-determination is a
consequence of a thwarting of the three basic needs.
According to Deci and Ryan (1985), SDT also specifies that differential
levels of psychological need satisfaction in a given domain will result in
diverse cognitive, affective, and behavioral consequences (e.g., interest, per-
formance, creativity, general well-being; Ryan & Deci, 2000). Furthermore,
need satisfaction has been postulated to influence outcomes indirectly via
2000, p. 73). However, integrated regulation was not examined in the current investigation, as
the measurement instrument utilized in this study to tap the different forms of motivation
proposed by SDT does not include a scale assessing this regulation.
2242 EDMUNDS ET AL.
the promotion of different types of motivational regulation (Vallerand,
1997). It is assumed that intrinsic motivation will engender the most positive
consequences, followed by identification (Ryan & Deci, 2000; Vallerand,
However, some research findings in physical activity settings (e.g.,
Wilson, Rodgers, Blanchard, & Gessell, 2003)Fas well as in other domains,
such as politics and education (e.g., Koestner & Losier, 2002)Fhave been
less conclusive regarding the positive implications of intrinsic motivation
compared to other self-determined forms of regulation. Wilson et al. (2003)
provided evidence suggesting that among participants recruited to engage in
a 12-week structured exercise program, identified regulation was a stronger
predictor of self-reported exercise behavior than was intrinsic motivation,
although both regulations predicted exercise behaviors, exercise attitudes,
and physical fitness. In addition, introjected regulation has been shown to be
correlated positively with strenuous exercise behavior in some studies (e.g.,
Wilson, Rodgers, & Fraser, 2002), but not in others (e.g., Wilson et al.,
Ryan (1995) proposed that the characteristics of the situation in
question will determine the extent to which intrinsic and internalized
extrinsic regulations will produce positive behavioral outcomes. With
respect to the latter, in contexts in which the activities undertaken are
important, but may lack in intrinsic appeal, it is assumed that the innate
tendency to internalize the role of such activities will be witnessed (Ryan,
1995). In view of the considerable value that society bestows upon exercise
for health and aesthetic gains, research demonstrating that introjected
and identified regulations positively predict exercise behavior may indicate
that, for some individuals, exercise engagement is maintained via the
process described by Ryan. That is, exercise behavior constitutes an
externally motivated activity that requires internalization to initiate and
An additional tenet of SDT relevant to the current investigation concerns
the social context in which individuals operate. According to SDT, auton-
omy-supportive contexts are conducive to need satisfaction and ensuing self-
determined motivational regulations. Such contexts are characterized by the
minimization of controls by significant others, the understanding of other
people’s perspectives, and the provision of choices that guide and facilitate
the decision-making process (Deci & Ryan, 1985; Ryan & Deci, 2000).
Supporting these propositions, Wilson and Rodgers (2004) found that
among female students and staff enrolled in a team-based intramural phys-
ical activity event, perceived autonomy support from friends was associated
positively with intrinsic motivation and identified regulation. Furthermore,
Standage, Duda, and Ntoumanis (2003) recently demonstrated that, among
SELF-DETERMINATION THEORY AND EXERCISE 2243
secondary school physical education students, an autonomy-supportive
climate was related positively to satisfaction of the need for competence,
autonomy, and relatedness, which, in turn, predicted greater self-determined
motivation. However, as far as the present authors are aware, no study has
considered the implications of an autonomy-supportive environment
provided by an exercise class leader.
Study Aims and Hypotheses
The first aim of the current study is to explore how satisfaction of the
three psychological needs relates to the type of motivational regulations
guiding exercise behavior. Furthermore, we examine the extent to which
psychological need satisfaction and motivational regulations can predict
To date, published research in the exercise domain has determined only
the direct effects of psychological need satisfaction on motivational regu-
lations and motivational regulations on exercise behaviors (Wilson et al.,
2002, 2003). Thus, extending previous research, the current study also ex-
plores the indirect effects of need satisfaction on behavioral outcomes, with
motivational regulations being tested as potential mediators. The present
research also examines whether, as assumed in SDT (Deci & Ryan, 1985), an
autonomy-supportive context provided by an exercise class leader corre-
sponds to greater intrinsic motivation and identified regulation via the sup-
port provided for the three basic psychological needs.
Based on the propositions of SDT and previous research in the physical,
educational, and political domains (Koestner & Losier, 2002; Wilson &
Rodgers, 2004; Wilson et al., 2002, 2003), we hypothesize first that positive
relationships will be observed between psychological need satisfaction and
identified and intrinsic motives; and a negative link will emerge between
psychological need satisfaction and introjected and external regulations.
Second, identified and introjected regulation and intrinsic motivation are
expected to predict exercise behaviors positively and to mediate the rela-
tionship between psychological need satisfaction and exercise behaviors. In
turn, external regulation is hypothesized to predict exercise behaviors neg-
atively and to mediate the relationship between inadequate psychological
need satisfaction and more negative behavioral outcomes. Third, it is pre-
dicted that perceived autonomy support (PAS) provided by the exercise class
leader will be related positively to satisfaction of the three basic needs and
self-determined motivation. Finally, PAS is also hypothesized to predict
intrinsic motivation and identified regulation via satisfaction of the basic
2244 EDMUNDS ET AL.
Participants (N5369; 173 male, 192 female, 4 unspecified) ranged in age
from 16 to 64 years (M531.86, SD 511.28). The majority (88.7%) of the
participants were White. One hundred six (37 male, 68 female, 1 unspecified)
of the participants reported taking part in regular exercise classes, and thus
constituted the subsample with which we examined relationships between
PAS, need satisfaction, and motivational regulations. The subsample ranged
in age from 16 to 62 years (M530.24, SD 510.32).
An a priori power analysis, conducted using GPower (Version 2; Faul &
Erdfelder, 1992), ensured that these sample sizes were sufficient to yield
adequate statistical power for all statistical procedures planned and sub-
sequently conducted in the current study. More specifically, to detect a
significant finding (at the .05 level) at a desired power level of .95, a min-
imum of 143 participants was required for analyses conducted on the total
sample, and 41 for the substudy analyses.
Psychological need satisfaction. Psychological need satisfaction was
measured via the 21-item Basic Need Satisfaction at Work Scale (Deci
et al., 2001), adapted by the authors to make it relevant to the exercise
domain. This 21-item scale is based on a 15-item measure developed by
Kasser, Davey, and Ryan (1992) to tap reported autonomy, relatedness, and
competence in the work domain. In the development of the original 15-item
measure, some items were taken from the Intrinsic Motivation Inventory
(IMI; Ryan, 1982), support for which has been garnered in the physical
domain (McAuley, Duncan, & Tammen, 1989). The 21-item Basic Need
Satisfaction at Work scale exhibited alphas of .73 for competence, .84 for
relatedness, and .79 for autonomy in a sample of U.S. workers (Deci et al.,
The 21-item scale utilized by Deci et al. (2001) includes six items that
measure competence (e.g., ‘‘Most days I feel a sense of accomplishment from
exercising’’), eight items that measure relatedness (e.g., ‘‘People I exercise
with take my feelings into consideration’’), and seven items that measure
autonomy (e.g., ‘‘I feel like I am free to decide for myself how to exercise’’)
need satisfaction. Following the stem ‘‘Please indicate how true each of the
following statements is for you, given your experiences of exercise,’’ par-
ticipants responded to each item on a 7-point scale ranging from 1 (not true
for me)to7(very true for me).
SELF-DETERMINATION THEORY AND EXERCISE 2245
Behavioral Regulation in Exercise Questionnaire (BREQ; Mullan, Mark-
land, & Ingledew, 1997).Participants completed the BREQ, which is a 15-
item self-report measure assessing the reasons why people exercise. The
BREQ includes scales assessing external, introjected, identified, and intrinsic
regulations. Following the stem ‘‘Why do you exercise?’’ participants re-
sponded to each item on a 5-point scale ranging from 1 (not true for me)to5
(very true for me). Previous research supports the BREQ’s multidimensional
four-factor structure, the invariance of this factor structure across gender,
and the internal consistency of each subscale (i.e., alphas ranged from .76 to
.90; Mullan & Markland, 1997; Mullan et al., 1997).
Godin Leisure Time Exercise Questionnaire (GLTEQ; Godin & Shepard,
1985).The GLTEQ was used to assess self-reported exercise behavior. The
GLTEQ contains three questions assessing the frequency of mild, moderate, and
strenuous exercise engaged in (for a minimum of 15 min) during a typical week.
Exercise behavior scores can be calculated by multiplying weekly fre-
quencies of strenuous (e.g., running, vigorous gym workout), moderate (e.g.,
easy cycling), and mild activities (e.g., easy walking) by 9, 5, and 3 METS
(units of metabolic equivalence), respectively. An overall exercise behavior
score is calculated by summing the weighted product of each question as
follows: (mild 3) 1(moderate 5) 1(strenuous 9). Based on its
correlations with objective indicators of exercise and physical fitness (e.g.,
exercise monitor and maximal aerobic capacity test scores), a previous study
has concluded that the GLTEQ is a reliable and valid measure of leisure-
time exercise behavior (Jacobs, Ainsworth, Hartman, & Leon, 1993).
Perceived autonomy support. PAS from the exercise class leader was mea-
sured using a short (6 items) version of the original 15-item Health Care Cli-
mate Questionnaire (HCCQ; Williams, Grow, Freedman, Ryan, & Deci, 1996).
The original scale assesses participants’ perceptions of the degree of autonomy
support provided by a relevant health care provider and includes items such as
‘‘I feel that my health care provider provides me with choices and options.’’ In
the current study, the term ‘‘my health care provider’’ was replaced with ‘‘my
exercise class leader,’’ and participants were asked to respond to items in ref-
erence to the exercise class in which they participated most commonly.
Participants responded to each item on a 7-point scale ranging from
1(strongly disagree)to7(strongly agree). Previous studies using the original
HCCQ (Williams et al., 1996) revealed a one-factor solution measuring PAS
and an alpha value of .95.
The current research was approved by the ethics subcommittee of a
university in the United Kingdom. Participants were recruited in a number
2246 EDMUNDS ET AL.
of different settings, including sports clubs, public leisure centers, private
fitness clubs, shops, and supermarkets in the West Midlands, UK.
Participants were approached by the first author, who explained the
purpose of the study, and were asked if they were willing to complete a
multisection questionnaire packet. Those who agreed to take part provided
their informed consent.
The first section of the questionnaire assessed psychological need sat-
isfaction via exercise, motivational regulations, and exercise behaviors.
Those participants who reported taking part in regular exercise classes
completed an additional section of the questionnaire tapping PAS provided
by the exercise class leader in the class in which they participated most
Preliminary Data Analysis
Data were screened according to the recommendations of Tabachnick
and Fidell (2001). Four multivariate outliers were removed from the sample
based on the Mahalonobis distance criterion (see Tabachnick & Fidell,
2001), leaving a final sample of 369 participants. Examination of the as-
sumptions associated with regression analyses (i.e., normality, linearity, and
homoscedasticity) suggests that there were no particular problems in the
data. More specifically, inspection of a scatterplot of the residuals indicates
that both linearity and homoscedasticity assumptions were tenable.
To explore whether the data were marked by multicollinearity, both
variance inflation (1.06–2.28) and tolerance (0.44–0.95) values were exam-
ined. No particular problems were found, since the obtained values are
within acceptable limits. In addition, based on Belsley (1991) and Belsley,
Kuh, and Welsch’s (1980) suggestions, the condition indexes (CI) and var-
iance proportions factors (VPF) for all multiple regression analyses were
explored. Using the criterion proposed in Pedhazur (1997), in no instances
when the CI was greater than 10 did the VPF values observed exceed 0.50
for two or more predictors, suggesting that there was no collinearity in the
Reliability Analysis and Descriptive Statistics
Internal consistency estimates (Cronbach’s coefficient alpha) and de-
scriptive statistics were computed for all variables (see Table 1). Reliability
analyses indicate that, in general, internal consistency coefficients were
greater than .70. However, the alpha values observed for two of the need
SELF-DETERMINATION THEORY AND EXERCISE 2247
Reliability Analyses, Descriptive Statistics, and Pearson Correlations for Age, Gender, Psychological Need Satisfaction
Via Exercise, Motivational Regulations for Exercise, and Exercise Behaviors
1. Age F31.86 11.28 F
2. Gender FF F .05 F
3. Autonomy via exercise .65 5.49 0.82 .09 - .10 F
4. Relatedness via exercise .85 5.10 1.15 - .15
- .08 .37
5. Competence via exercise .65 5.02 0.95 - .17
6. External regulation .70 1.30 0.48 - .08 -.05 - .33
7. Introjected regulation .74 1.96 0.89 - .18
.09 - .17
- .00 .01 .35
8. Identified regulation .78 3.47 0.90 - .15
- .02 .41
9. Intrinsic motivation .92 3.55 1.02 - .13
10. Mild exercise F7.59 9.31 .06 .11
.02 .05 - .09 .09 - .00 - .07 - .01 F
11. Moderate exercise F14.51 19.82 .01 .10 .11
- .01 - .02 - .06 - .05 .00 - .00 .20
12. Strenuous exercise F35.17 30.93 - .34
- .09 .28
- .10 - .08 F
13. Total exercise F57.28 36.83 - .27
- .04 .16
- .08 .20
Note.N5369. Reliability estimates are Cronbach’s alphas.
2248 EDMUNDS ET AL.
scales were marginal: autonomy, a5.65; and competence, a5.65. Thus,
results based on these variables should be interpreted with caution.
All participants engaged in at least some form of mild exercise (range
53–223 METS; M57.59, SD 59.31). The mean level of total self-reported
exercise (M557.28, SD 536.83) was higher than that reported in previous
studies examining the propositions of SDT in the exercise domain (e.g.,
Wilson et al., 2002, 2003). Autonomy was the most highly satisfied need,
followed by relatedness and competence. Intrinsic motivation was the most
strongly endorsed exercise regulation, closely followed by identified regu-
Relationships Between Psychological Need Satisfaction, Exercise Regulations,
and Exercise Behaviors
Pearson correlations were computed between age, gender, autonomy,
relatedness, and competence need satisfaction, each of the BREQ (Mullan
et al., 1997) subscales, and reported exercise behaviors (Table 1). Small to
moderate negative correlations were observed between all three psycholog-
ical needs and external regulation. Autonomy was correlated negatively with
introjected regulation. Small to moderate positive correlations were ob-
served between all three psychological needs and identified regulation and
intrinsic motivation. Small to moderate positive relationships also emerged
between the three needs and strenuous and total exercise behavior. Auto-
nomy correlated positively with moderate exercise. No significant cor-
relations emerged between the needs and mild exercise. Small to moderate
positive relationships were observed between introjected and identified reg-
ulation and intrinsic motivation and strenuous and total exercise behavior.
None of the motivational regulations were correlated with mild and mod-
Factors Predicting Total and Strenuous Exercise Behaviors
Separate regression analyses were carried out to predict total and stren-
uous self-reported exercise from psychological need satisfaction and moti-
vational regulations. Mild and moderate exercise were not examined because
they did not correlate with the needs or the regulations.
Preliminary MANOVA revealed significant age and gender differences in
exercise behaviors: age, F(6, 686) 58.51, p5.00, Pillai’s trace 5.14; and
gender, F(3, 361) 54.38, p5.01, Pillai’s trace 5.04. In view of these results,
as well as the fact that the existing literature has linked these characteristics
to exercise behavior (e.g., Department of Health, 2004; USDHHS, 1996), we
SELF-DETERMINATION THEORY AND EXERCISE 2249
controlled for their influence in the first step of the regression. By doing so,
we could determine whether the theoretical constructs embedded in SDT
accounted for additional variance in exercise behavior above and beyond
important demographic variables. Needs were entered in the second step of
the regression, as they are postulated to affect behavioral outcomes indi-
rectly via motivational regulations (Vallerand, 1997), which were entered in
the final step.
As seen in Table 2, 18% of the variance in total exercise behavior was
explained by this model. Two of the variables contributed independently to
the prediction of total exercise behavior; namely, age and introjected reg-
ulation. Six of the variables contributed independently to the prediction of
strenuous exercise behavior: gender, age, competence, external regulation,
introjected regulation, and identified regulation (Table 3). This set of pre-
dictors predicted 32% of the variability in strenuous exercise behavior.
Test of Mediation
The regression procedures of Baron and Kenny (1986) were employed to
examine potential mediation effects. Three basic steps are proposed in es-
tablishing mediation: (a) the predictor variable (i.e., psychological need)
must have an effect on the criterion variable (i.e., exercise behavior); (b) the
predictor variable (i.e., psychological need) must have an effect on the me-
diator variable (i.e., motivational regulation); and (c) the mediator (i.e.,
regulation) must affect the outcome (i.e., exercise behavior), after control-
ling for the predictor (i.e., psychological need). To establish complete me-
diation, the effect of the predictor on the outcome should be zero in the third
step of the analysis. Partial mediation occurs when this effect is reduced, but
remains statistically significant.
Given that SDT assumes that the three psychological needs coexist (Deci
& Ryan, 1985), it was decided that it made theoretical sense to include all
needs in the same step and not to examine them independently. We followed
It could be argued that participants in the current study were recruited from two distinct
settings: those that were associated with immediate/current physical activity engagement (e.g.,
fitness clubs), and those that were not (e.g., community and retail settings). Therefore, analyses
were conducted to determine whether individuals recruited from potentially ‘‘active’’ (n5126)
versus ‘‘non-active’’ (n5243) settings differed with regard to their motivational profiles (avail-
able from the first author upon request). Despite some subtle differences between groups in the
size of the predictions, no new predictor variables emerged (results can be obtained from the
first author upon request). Thus, the findings suggest that competence need satisfaction as well
as introjected and identified regulations are associated with increased exercise behavior and that
external regulation is linked negatively to physical activity. However, as we have no way of
determining whether those individuals comprising the non-active setting group actually
belonged to fitness clubs, this supplementary analysis must be interpreted with caution.
2250 EDMUNDS ET AL.
the same logic for the motivational regulations. Examining Step 2 of the
regression analyses results for total and strenuous exercise (see Tables 2 and
3), it is apparent that competence was the only need to predict behavioral
outcomes and thus meet Baron and Kenny’s (1986) first criterion for es-
Testing Baron and Kenny’s (1986) second criterion for establishing
mediation, competence was found to be a significant predictor of identified
regulation (b5.46, p5.00), but none of the other regulations (these results
are not included in Tables 2 and 3). Identified regulation was a positive
Summary of Hierarchical Regression Analysis Predicting Total Exercise Be-
havior From Gender, Age, Psychological Needs, and Motivational Regulations
Independent variable Adj. R
Step 1: F(2, 344) 513.10, po.00 .07
Gender - .03 - 0.56
Age - .26 - 5.06
Step 2: F(5, 241) 510.84, po.00 .13
Gender .01 0.13
Age - .24 - 4.60
Autonomy .09 1.59
Relatedness - .04 - 0.58
Competence .22 3.51
Step 3: F(9, 337) 59.22, po.00 .18
Gender - .03 - 0.68
Age - .21 - 4.02
Autonomy .09 1.55
Relatedness - .03 - 0.41
Competence .12 1.72
External regulation .09 - 1.58
Introjected regulation .15 2.46
Identified regulation .14 1.89
Intrinsic motivation .06 0.82
SELF-DETERMINATION THEORY AND EXERCISE 2251
predictor of strenuous, but not total exercise; thus, these findings rule out
the possibility of mediation effects with regard to total exercise.
With respect to Baron and Kenny’s (1986) third criterion for establishing
mediation, the standardized beta coefficient for competence dropped from
.36 to .23 (both ps5.00) when strenuous exercise was being predicted and
the motivational regulations were entered into the regression equation
(Table 3), suggesting partial mediation. Using the Goodman I version of the
Sobel test, as recommended by Baron and Kenny, partial mediation was
Summary of Hierarchical Regression Analysis Predicting Strenuous Exercise
Behavior From Gender, Age, Psychological Needs, and Motivational
Independent variable Adj. R
Step 1: F(2, 344) 526.36, po.00 .13
Gender - .13 - 2.59
Age - .34 - 6.66
Step 2: F(5, 341) 521.04, po.00 .23
Gender - .09 - 1.85
Age - .28 - 5.76
Autonomy - .01 - 0.22
Relatedness - .06 - 1.11
Competence .36 6.03
Step 3: F(9, 337) 519.06, po.00 .32
Gender - .14 - 3.14
Age - .24 - 5.15
Autonomy - .02 - 0.30
Relatedness - .05 - 0.87
Competence .23 3.72
External regulation - .14 - 2.68
Introjected regulation .21 3.84
Identified regulation .17 2.56
Intrinsic motivation .05 0.87
2252 EDMUNDS ET AL.
confirmed. The reduction in the effect of competence on strenuous exercise
behavior as a result of identified regulation was significant (z52.56,
Preliminary Substudy Data Analysis
One hundred six participants reported being members of an exercise
group. Relevant data were screened according to the recommendations of
Tabachnick and Fidell (2001). No problems were found.
The assumptions associated with multiple regression analysis (i.e., nor-
mality, linearity, and homoscedasticity) were examined, and again no prob-
lems were observed. Inspection of residual scatterplots indicates that both
the linearity and homoscedasticity assumptions were tenable for all regres-
sion analyses. Furthermore, an examination of the variance inflation (1.01–
1.65), tolerance (0.61–0.99), CI, and VPF values revealed that the data were
not marked by collinearity.
Reliability Analysis and Descriptive Statistics
Reliability analyses indicate that internal consistency coefficients were
above .70 for all variables, except for autonomy (a5.64) and competence
(a5.65). Thus, the present results based on these variables should be
interpreted with caution. PAS scores ranged from 1 to 7 (M54.82,
Autonomy was the most highly satisfied need (M55.25, SD 50.82),
followed by relatedness (M55.16, SD 51.03), and then competence
(M55.07, SD 50.90). Intrinsic motivation was the most highly endorsed
form of motivation (M53.65, SD 51.00), followed by identified (M53.61,
SD 50.82), introjected (M52.20, SD 50.95), and external (M51.38,
SD 50.51) regulation.
Pearson correlations were calculated to examine relationships between
age, gender, PAS, psychological need satisfaction, and motivational regu-
lations. Low positive correlations were observed between PAS and auto-
nomy (r5.26), and between PAS and competence (r5.27). A moderate
positive association was observed between PAS and relatedness (r5.45). In
addition, low and moderate positive correlations were observed between
PAS and identified regulation (r5.22), and intrinsic motivation (r5.36).
SELF-DETERMINATION THEORY AND EXERCISE 2253
Hierarchical Regression Analyses
As positive correlations were observed between PAS and identified
regulation and intrinsic motivation, hierarchical multiple regression analyses
were conducted with each of these regulations as the criterion variables.
Age and gender were entered in the first step of the analysis. PAS was
entered in the second step, and each of the psychological needs in the
As seen in Table 4, PAS was found to be a significant predictor of
intrinsic motivation, after controlling for demographic and psychological
need satisfaction variables. Competence need satisfaction via exercise also
significantly predicted intrinsic motivation. PAS was not associated with
identified regulation after controlling for age, gender, and the three needs
(b5.17, p5.11). Competence need satisfaction significantly predicted iden-
tified regulation (b5.45, p5.00).
Summary of Hierarchical Regression Analysis for Variables Predicting
Independent variable Adj. R
Step 1: F(2, 97) 50.81, p5.45 .00
Gender .01 0.09
Age - .13 - 1.28
Step 2: F(3, 96) 55.18, po.01 .11
Gender - .03 - 0.31
Age - .11 - 1.13
PAS .35 3.70
Step 3: F(6, 93) 56.02, po.00 .23
Sex .04 0.41
Age - .05 - 0.57
PAS .23 2.30
Autonomy .02 0.23
Relatedness .02 0.16
Competence .38 3.43
Note.N5100. PAS 5perceived autonomy support.
2254 EDMUNDS ET AL.
Test of Mediation
Next, we examined the hypothesized mediating role played by psycho-
logical need satisfaction in the relationship between PAS and motivational
regulations. PAS predicted intrinsic motivation (see Step 2, Table 4), and
thus met Criterion 1 of Baron and Kenny’s (1986) procedures. PAS also
significantly predicted autonomy (b5.28, p501), relatedness (b5.46,
p5.00), and competence (b5.28, p5.01) need satisfaction via exercise, and
thus met Baron and Kenny’s second criterion for establishing mediation
(these findings are not reported in Table 4).
Competence was the only need (i.e., mediator) to predict intrinsic mo-
tivation (i.e., criterion variable) after controlling for the effect of PAS (i.e.,
predictor variable; see Step 3, Table 4). After controlling for the effect of
competence on the relationship between PAS and intrinsic motivation, the
beta coefficient for autonomy support dropped from .35 (p5.00) to .23
(p5.02), suggesting partial mediation. The Goodman I version of the Sobel
test revealed that this effect was significant (z52.59, p5.01).
The results of the current research demonstrate the importance of
motivation-related variables to understanding some of the variability in
self-reported exercise behaviors. Overall, the findings indicate that the key
constructs of SDT add to the prediction of exercise behaviors above what is
accounted for by demographic characteristics, such as age and gender. In
accordance with SDT, psychological need satisfaction derived from the
exercise setting was correlated positively with more self-determined moti-
vational regulations. Furthermore, satisfaction of the three psychological
needsFintrojected regulation, identified regulation, and intrinsic motiva-
tionFwere associated positively with strenuous and total exercise behav-
iors. Moreover, regression analysis shows that, as hypothesized, external
regulation was a negative predictor of strenuous exercise behavior, in-
trojected regulation positively predicted total exercise, and introjected and
identified regulation were positive predictors of strenuous exercise behavior.
Identified regulation also partially mediated the relationship between com-
petence need satisfaction and strenuous exercise. Contrary to expectations,
however, intrinsic motivation did not predict either dimension of exercise
A further examination of study participants engaged in regular organized
exercise classes revealed that perceived autonomy support (PAS) provided
by the exercise class leader was associated positively with psychological need
SELF-DETERMINATION THEORY AND EXERCISE 2255
satisfaction and self-determined motivation. Subsequent regression analyses
also support the role of PAS in predicting need satisfaction and intrinsic
motivation. Competence need satisfaction partially mediated the relation-
ship between PAS and intrinsic motivation. PAS did not predict identified
regulation after controlling for age, gender, and the three psychological
Despite being the most highly endorsed form of motivation, as well as
being positively correlated with self-reported exercise, intrinsic motivation
did not make an independent significant prediction to exercise engagement
when controlling for the other regulations in the regression analyses. In
interpreting this finding, it is important to consider similar findings that
have emerged in the political and educational domains. For example,
Koestner and colleagues (Koestner, Losier, Vallerand, & Carducci, 1996;
Losier & Koestner, 1999) presented evidence indicating that considering
politics as important (i.e., reflecting identified regulation) was a more sig-
nificant predictor of voting behavior than was perceiving politics to be in-
teresting (i.e., an indicator of intrinsic motivation). Generally speaking, such
results suggest that intrinsic motivation may not be the most important
predictor of engagement in the exercise domain, and support claims that
people are unlikely to maintain regular exercise behavior, with all the
organization and commitment that it entails, purely for the intrinsic reasons
of fun and enjoyment (Mullan et al., 1997).
In view of these arguments, the finding that identified regulation signif-
icantly predicted strenuous exercise behavior in the current study is not
surprising. This finding suggests that in order to partake in strenuous ex-
ercise behaviors, which necessitate considerable physical and mental exer-
tion and stamina, individuals must place some value on the exercise and
recognize its importance in terms of health and well-being. Thus, similar to
other activities that may lack in intrinsic appeal, recognizing the significance
of physical activity and valuing its benefits (e.g., improved fitness and phy-
sique) appear to be relevant to active engagement in the exercise setting.
Given that (unlike identified regulation) intrinsic motivation was not a
significant predictor of exercise behavior, one might wonder whether it is
worth trying to cultivate intrinsic motivation for exercise. Might interven-
tion efforts be more efficacious by focusing on the facilitation of identified
regulation? Previous research in the exercise and sports domains would
suggest that the former strategy is still a viable one, as intrinsic motivation
has been shown to be critical to behavioral persistence (Pelletier, Fortier,
Vallerand, & Briere, 2001; Perrin, 1979; Ryan, Frederick, Lepes, Rubio, &
Sheldon, 1997). Perrin, for example, found that whereas new participants in
physical activity programs reported health benefits as their reason for ex-
ercise adoption, long-term participants reported enjoyment as their principal
2256 EDMUNDS ET AL.
reason for continuing. Indeed, as evidenced and advocated by Koestner and
Losier (2002), with regard to educational and political behaviors, it is likely
that promoting high levels of both intrinsic motivation and identification
would be most beneficial to optimal and continued behavioral engagement
in exercise. Further longitudinal research is needed to examine this hypo-
In addition, it is important to consider other potential outcomes asso-
ciated with the different motivational regulations. Psychological need sat-
isfaction and self-determined motives (especially intrinsic motivation) have
been associated with indexes of positive well-being in numerous contexts
(Ryan, & Deci, 2000, 2001), including the physical domain (e.g., Gagne
Ryan, & Bargmann, 2003; Wilson & Rodgers, 2002). These findings suggest
that intrinsic motivation contributes significantly to the quality of the ex-
The finding that introjected regulation significantly predicted both stren-
uous and total exercise also warrants further discussion. Introjected regu-
lation is a controlling form of motivation that lies toward the lower end of
the self-determination continuum. Despite its positive role in predicting ex-
ercise behavior in the current cross-sectional study, there is evidence to
suggest that introjected regulation will not bode well for long-term physical
health (Frederick-Recascino, 2002) or sustained exercise involvement. Al-
though the longer term implications of being motivated by introjected reg-
ulation over time cannot be addressed in the current study, evidence from
the sports and exercise domain has shown this type of motivation to be
associated with poor adherence (Frederick & Ryan, 1993; Pelletier et al.,
2001). Research in other domains (e.g., education) also has shown in-
trojected regulation to be related to poor emotional functioning, such as
high levels of distress and low levels of adjustment (Koestner & Losier,
2002). Longitudinal research is warranted to examine whether self-deter-
mined motivation, as opposed to introjected regulation, is linked positively
to exercise adherence and indexes of psychological and emotional health.
Finally, as hypothesized, a negative relationship emerged between the
least self-determined motivational regulation (i.e., external regulation) and
strenuous exercise behaviors. This finding clearly supports the proposition
of SDT that performing an activity to satisfy external demands will not
result in behavioral investment.
No previous studies in the exercise domain have considered whether the
relationships between psychological need satisfaction and behavioral out-
comes are mediated by motivational regulations. Providing some support
for the propositions of Vallerand (1997), the relationship of competence
need satisfaction to strenuous exercise was mediated partially by identified
regulation in the current investigation. In addition to this mediating effect,
SELF-DETERMINATION THEORY AND EXERCISE 2257
however, competence need satisfaction was found to play a direct role in
predicting strenuous exercise behavior. Considering these direct and indirect
effects, it seems prudent for exercise interventions to focus on increasing
feelings of competence within participants so that there is an increased
probability that self-determined motivation and adaptive behavioral out-
comes will ensue.
According to Ryan and Deci (2000), understanding the conditions that
foster versus undermine psychological need satisfaction holds great practical
significance. Such awareness can contribute to the creation of social envi-
ronments that satisfy the three needs and promote self-determined motiva-
tional regulations, personal development, and well-being (Ryan & Deci,
2000). In a substudy of regular exercise class participants, PAS from the
exercise class leader was related positively to each of the three psychological
needs, as well as identified regulation and intrinsic motivation. In addition,
competence need satisfaction partially mediated the observed relationship
between PAS and intrinsic motivation.
It should be noted that PAS did not predict identified regulation when
we controlled for age, gender, and the three psychological needs. This find-
ing, which is in contrast to our hypotheses, may suggest that the provision of
an autonomy-supportive environment may not suffice to facilitate internal-
ization processes. The distinction between autonomy support and structure
features of environments (Deci & Ryan, 1985, 1990) may help to explicate
In autonomy-supporting contexts, choice is provided, pressure to engage
in the behavior is minimized, and individuals are encouraged to initiate
actions themselves. In contrast, structure concerns the degree to which the
link between the behavior and salient outcomes is apparent, expectations are
clear, and positive feedback is provided. Deci and Ryan (1985, 2000) and
Koestner and Losier (2002) hypothesized that high levels of autonomy sup-
port, even without the provision of structure, will result in high levels of
intrinsic motivation. However, autonomy support alone will not promote an
understanding of why it is personally important and meaningful to perform
certain activities, even the most uninteresting, which are nevertheless im-
portant to optimal functioning.
It is worth noting that, contrary to previous research (e.g., Wilson et al.,
2002), the motivational regulations considered within SDT were not cor-
related significantly with moderate and mild forms of exercise behavior. One
explanation for this finding is that, in the current study, the majority of mild
and moderate exercise reported by the participants was in the form of easy
or fast walking, or easy cycling. We suggest that these activities are usually
habitual in nature, and thus may require less cognitive processing than more
structured and vigorous forms of exercise. Future research should examine
2258 EDMUNDS ET AL.
whether the motivational processes embedded in SDT are more important
for purposeful, rather than incidental forms of exercise (e.g., walking for
transportation, walking to shop). Indeed, other social cognitive models have
been found to predict habitual or low-intensity behaviors such as walking
poorly (Sallis & Hovell, 1990).
Future work on motivational predictors may benefit from being more
specific regarding the type of exercise behavior under examination. It re-
mains possible that different activities may be guided by different psycho-
logical needs, and thus different regulatory styles. For example, for some
individuals, playing squash, which is typically an interesting activity, may
satisfy different needs or be a far more intrinsically motivated activity than a
vigorous gym workout.
In addition, the current research, like previous studies in this area (e.g.,
Wilson et al., 2002, 2003; Wilson & Rodgers, 2004), incorporated only a
self-reported measure of physical activity. Although shown to be valid and
reliable (Jacobs et al., 1993), such an assessment may still be subject to
reporting bias. Future work should focus on establishing the interrelation-
ships between psychological needs, motivational regulations, and exercise
behaviors using more objective measurements of physical activity (e.g., via
use of triaxial accelerometers) to ascertain whether the present findings can
As the current study has provided preliminary evidence supporting the
major tenets of SDT in the exercise domain, future research may extend this
research to explore the propositions of Deci and Ryan (2000) and Koestner
and Losier (2002). These authors identified specific patterns of psychological
need satisfaction that will be most salient to the emergence and sustenance
of each of the different forms of motivation. For the least self-determined
forms of extrinsic motivation, relatedness and competence need satis-
faction are postulated to be most important. Autonomy is believed to be
central to intrinsic motivation and self-determined forms of extrinsic
motivation. With respect to self-determined forms of extrinsic motivation,
autonomy is assumed to combine with relatedness. For intrinsic motivation,
autonomy and competence are proffered. If these different predictions are
upheld, it would provide practitioners with valuable information regarding
which needs to focus on in attempting to facilitate a specific motivational
Inspection of the psychometric properties of the current assessments gave
some cause for concern regarding one of the measurement tools utilized;
that is, assessment of psychological need satisfaction. In the absence of a
more psychometrically sound instrument to measure the three specific psy-
chological needs proposed by SDT in the exercise domain, we chose a
questionnaire that provided a comprehensive assessment of these constructs.
SELF-DETERMINATION THEORY AND EXERCISE 2259
However, the alpha values obtained for autonomy and competence need
satisfaction in the present study were marginal. This latter finding highlights
a need for new and improved assessments of psychological needs in the
In terms of the three psychological needs, it was interesting to note that
PAS was most highly correlated with satisfaction of the need for relatedness.
This may lead to questioning the convergent validity of the PAS measure
utilized, as one may expect PAS to be most highly correlated with autonomy
need satisfaction. However, consistent with the current findings, previous
research in the sporting and healthcare domains suggests that autonomy
support is an important nutrient in the satisfaction of all three psychological
needs, not solely autonomy (e.g., Gagne
´et al., 2003; Sheldon, Williams, &
With regard to relatedness, specifically, autonomy support is believed to
boost the quality of interpersonal relatedness between the patient and prac-
titioner (Sheldon et al., 2003). Patients’ sense of competence is predicted also
by healthcare providers’ perceived autonomy supportiveness (Sheldon et al.,
2003). In addition, evidence from research conducted in sports settings
found autonomy support provided by the parents of young gymnasts to be
correlated significantly with relatedness need satisfaction, but not auto-
nomy. In contrast, autonomy support from the coach was correlated sig-
nificantly with both relatedness and autonomy (Gagne
´et al., 2003). Given
that other studies (e.g., Wilson & Rodgers, 2004) in the exercise domain
have failed to examine the mediating role of psychological need satisfaction
between PAS and each of the motivational regulations, we cannot discern
whether this finding is indeed pertinent to the exercise domain or is a con-
sequence of a poor measurement instrument that consequently requires
further psychometric validation. Even so, the finding that the auto-
nomy support provided by the exercise class leader predicted competence
need satisfaction should be considered a promising finding, given that com-
petence plays such a key and central role in predicting exercise behavior in
the current study. It is also important to reinforce the point that the current
study is cross-sectional in design. Thus, we cannot infer causality when
considering the findings of the current investigation. To rectify this short-
coming, future research would benefit from employing experimental designs.
In addition, subsequent studies might strive to recruit a sufficient number of
participants so that the use of structural equation modeling techniques is
appropriate. Unfortunately, given the small number of participants consti-
tuting the subsample in the current investigation, it was not possible to test a
model describing sequential links between autonomy support, psychological
needs, motivational regulations, and exercise behaviors. However, despite
the limitations presented, the results of the present investigation support the
2260 EDMUNDS ET AL.
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to the prediction of total and, in particular, vigorous exercise behavior. Such
work should help to provide a theoretical base on which behavioral inter-
ventions aimed at increasing and sustaining levels of physical activity can be
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