ArticlePDF Available

Human autonomy: The basis for true self-esteem.

  • Australian Catholic University North Sydney


introduce and elaborate upon a critical distinction between what [the authors] call "contingent" and "true" self-esteem / contingent self-esteem involves feelings of self-worth that are dependent on matching standards of excellence or expectations (i.e., ego involvement) / it is thought to be associated with various narcissistic and defensive processes that reveal less than optimal psychological well-being / true self-esteem is more solidly based and stable, and it reflects positive mental health / discuss how this distinction fits into [the authors'] well-known theory of self-determination / describe in detail various self-regulatory processes that are thought to promote either contingent or true self-esteem / discuss how these various self-regulatory processes are related to mental health, and . . . describe the social conditions that are thought to promote self-determination and the development of true self-esteem (PsycINFO Database Record (c) 2012 APA, all rights reserved)
... Attachment working models may predict whether an individual is able to maintain positive feelings of self-worth internally, or whether they rely upon external sources to do so. These ideas relate to the distinction between contingent and true selfesteem (Deci & Ryan, 1995), or between fragile and stable self-esteem (Kernis & Goldman, 2003), which vary independently of self-esteem level. Deci and Ryan assert that true self-esteem is based on a solid sense of self developed in a context fulfilling the basic needs for autonomy, relatedness, and competence, whereas contingent self-esteem depends on meeting high standards or expectations and developed in a context where approval or love was conditional on others' standards (although, to my knowledge, this assertion has not been tested empirically). ...
... Deci and Ryan assert that true self-esteem is based on a solid sense of self developed in a context fulfilling the basic needs for autonomy, relatedness, and competence, whereas contingent self-esteem depends on meeting high standards or expectations and developed in a context where approval or love was conditional on others' standards (although, to my knowledge, this assertion has not been tested empirically). More contingent, versus true, self-esteem is related to self-esteem instability, extrinsic rather than intrinsic motivation, reactivity to self-relevant events, and higher aggression (Deci & Ryan, 1995;Kernis & Goldman, 2003). This view explains how two people who report high self-esteem can nonetheless differ in self-esteem regulation processes: someone with high but fragile self-esteem needs to maintain feelings of worth by constantly proving themselves and striving toward their standards (Kernis, Paradise, Whitaker, Wheatman, & Goldman, 2000). ...
... Dismissing individuals could instead possess Deci and Ryan's (1995) notion of high contingent self-esteem. An important line of enquiry is to tease apart dismissing individuals' self-reports from their underlying self-related processes. ...
p>This thesis examined the novel proposal that for insecure individuals, regulation of self-esteem is contingent on fulfilment of affect-regulation goals. Specifically, individuals with high attachment anxiety depend on interpersonal approval and affection, whereas those with high avoidance, although they defensively deny attachment needs, depend on validating their agency and self-reliance. Four studies examined the influence of attachment patterns on self-esteem regulation. Study 1 showed that for insecure compared to secure individuals, global self-esteem was more closely connected to specific interpersonal or agentic self-views. Study 2 and 3 examined feedback-seeking patterns. Secure individuals were more open to, and chose, positive over negative feedback. High-anxious individuals pursued interpersonal feedback but chose negative feedback when it was offered. Dismissing individuals (high avoidance, low anxiety) sought positive hypothetical feedback about self-reliance but negative feedback across all domains when it was offered. Study 4 examined day-to-day self-esteem regulation using daily diaries. High-anxious individuals exhibited the most fluctuation in self-esteem as a function of daily rejection and positive partner feedback, and reacted negatively to negative interpersonal feedback. High-avoidant individuals did not self-enhance by taking on board positive competence feedback. Instead, they exhibited the least boost to self-esteem after positive interpersonal feedback but lower self-esteem after daily rejection. Overall, findings supported high-anxious individuals’ reliance on interpersonal sources for self-esteem regulation. High-avoidant individuals’ reliance on agentic sources was inconsistently supported, but their vulnerability to acceptance and rejection implies incomplete defences. These findings have implications for relationship functioning, work performance, and vulnerability to depression. Attachment theory provides a valuable framework for understanding individual differences in self-esteem regulation.</p
... This description suggests that although students high in academically-contingent self-worth would be buoyed by their academic successes, they would struggle to protect against negative psychological effects that often result from academic adversity. Although several scholars adopt this vulnerability perspective (Burhans & Dweck, 1995;Crocker & Park, 2004;Deci & Ryan, 1995), this is not the consensus. Other scholars maintain an achievement perspective whereby these students excel academically because of their heightened motivation; consequently, they rarely experience academic setbacks or the consequent psychological costs (Osborne, 1995;Steele, 1997). ...
... In the vulnerability perspective, ability-validation goals can be costly to student motivation, learning, performance, and well-being (Burhans & Dweck, 1995;Crocker & Park, 2004;Deci & Ryan, 1995;Kernis, 2003). These goals can be detrimental because they induce students to worry more about the meaning of their academic outcomes than about learning and improvement (Burhans & Dweck, 1995;Crocker & Park, 2004). ...
... Achievement perspective proponents hold that these students are autonomously motivated because this motivation derives from within the individual rather than from external sources (Osborne & Jones, 2011;Steele, 1997). Conversely, vulnerability perspective proponents posit that motivation that comes from within individuals is not necessarily autonomous if those individuals have introjected motives (i.e., when their actions are primarily induced by self-pressure to meet external performance standards) (Deci & Ryan, 1995). In this view, academically-contingent students are low in autonomous motivation and high in controlled motivation because they pressure themselves by doling out self-rewards and self-punishments (Deci & Ryan, 1995). ...
Full-text available
Some scholars posit that students who base self-worth on their academic outcomes are vulnerable to psychological costs such as heightened stress and anxiety, and impaired motivation and well-being. Other scholars, in contrast, assert that this individual difference primarily benefits student motivation and achievement. Recent evidence that academically-contingent self-worth is multidimensional suggests an integrated perspective that identifies those dimensions that are costly and those that are beneficial for student psychological experiences. Particularly relevant is evidence, from cross-sectional research, that this individual difference has a bifactor structure with a general-contingency dimension that links to psychological costs, and a positive-contingency dimension that is unrelated to psychological costs and links to psychological benefits. The present research tests the predictive validity of this bifactor model. In this longitudinal study, 466 undergraduate students, from a public university in the Northeastern U.S. region, completed measures of academically-contingent self-worth, self-esteem, stress, test anxiety, achievement goals, and motivation. Results provided evidence that the general-contingency dimension predicted future low self-esteem, test anxiety, stress, controlled motivation, autonomous motivation, and amotivation. The positive-contingency dimension predicted future high self-esteem and controlled motivation, but was unrelated to future stress, test anxiety, autonomous motivation, and amotivation. These results not only provide further support for the tenability of multidimensional models of academically-contingent self-worth, but also suggest that such models can help resolve conflicting perspectives. This research may also help educators both understand and facilitate students’ ability to stay motivated to learn and achieve, and yet not be overwhelmed by stress, anxiety, and threats to their self-worth.
... Although the BPN and the Big Two show conceptual proximity and both relate to well-being, studies investigating the interplay between them are scarce. In their theorizing, Deci and Ryan (1995) state the concept of self as the core of SDT, arguing that the intrapsychic and interpersonal material is integrated as part of the self-based on the needs' fulfillment through interactions with environmental challenges. Social contexts might foster or impede the fulfillment of some basic needs more than others, consequently shaping the self-concept and a feeling of true self-worth (Deci & Ryan, 1995). ...
... In their theorizing, Deci and Ryan (1995) state the concept of self as the core of SDT, arguing that the intrapsychic and interpersonal material is integrated as part of the self-based on the needs' fulfillment through interactions with environmental challenges. Social contexts might foster or impede the fulfillment of some basic needs more than others, consequently shaping the self-concept and a feeling of true self-worth (Deci & Ryan, 1995). Thus, the adoption of agency and communion to one's self-concept might be influenced by needs satisfaction during the socialization process. ...
Despite the conceptual proximity between the basic needs and agency and communion and their similar function for psychological functioning, studies investigating their interplay are scarce. This study aims to investigate their joint role in hedonic and eudaimonic well-being in light of the COVID-19 pandemic. Self-reports were collected from 13,313 adolescents (Sample 1) and 1,707 young adults (Sample 2) from Austria. The results show the importance of both agency and communion for the fulfillment of different basic needs and their role in well-being, with a universal interaction effect between communion and perceived competence on intrinsic motivation (eudaimonic aspect) in both gender groups in adolescence, as well as on positive emotions (hedonic aspect) among young women. Theoretical and practical implications are discussed.
... Higher self-esteem indicates well-being and a healthier mental state. It has been found to be associated with less loneliness, less anxiety about death, and a higher level of well-being in older adults (Deci & Ryan, 1995;Murphy et al., 2020;J. Zhang et al., 2019). ...
... In addition, strong associations have been found between less loneliness (or more social connectedness), higher selfesteem, and happiness (or less depression; Deci & Ryan, 1995;Murphy et al., 2020;Zhang et al., 2019). Therefore, in our model, we also propose the following hypotheses. ...
Social media is convenient for older adults to obtain and share information (i.e., informational use). However, a major barrier to using social media for older adults is their relatively low social media self-efficacy. The effects of this on informational use and mental well-being have not been well studied. Therefore, this study surveyed 276 older Chinese adults aged 60–90 and constructed a structural equation model. We found that higher social media self-efficacy was strongly and directly associated with more informational use, less loneliness, and higher self-esteem. It also positively affected happiness, mediated by loneliness and self-esteem. Informational use decreased loneliness but did not significantly affect self-esteem. We explained these results by the moderation effects of age and social media self-efficacy. This study confirmed the urgency of increasing older adults’ social media self-efficacy for their mental well-being and successful aging. We also outlined design implications for increasing social media self-efficacy.
... Thus, we also examined autonomous functioning (self-governance) in students (Deci & Ryan, 1985;, and more specifically, authorship, which involves being primarily guided by one's own personal values (Weinstein et al., 2012). Authorship has been positively associated with persistence and confidence Nix et al., 1999); greater self-esteem (Deci & Ryan, 1995); and heightened vitality and academic performance (Ryan & Frederick, 1997;Vansteenkiste et al., 2008). We believe that authored students will be less vulnerable to the slings and arrows of academic challenge as well attachment distress, and thereby could translate a growth mindset into concrete, constructive action because they have more cognitive and emotional resources to invest in academic tasks and are less likely to engage in off-task cogitation related to attachment concerns (Bernier et al., 2004). ...
Full-text available
Greater attention to the intersection of cognitive, emotional, and motivational variables/dynamics may provide the most promising future directions for teaching and learning. Here we consider the intersection of growth mindset, attachment, and self-determination theory among first-year students. More specifically, we considered whether attachment theory (e.g., relationship functioning) and self-determination theory (e.g., autonomous functioning) might inform the trajectory of student success by influencing the extent to which students are able to mobilize a growth mindset when they encounter academic struggles.
This study investigated whether lower psychological flexibility (psychological inflexibility) mediates the relationship between contingent self-worth and depressive symptoms among Japanese adolescents. A total of 210 Japanese junior high school students aged 12 to 15 years (106 boys and 104 girls) were recruited for this study. Participants completed the Japanese adaptations of the Self-Worth Contingency Questionnaire, the Avoidance and Fusion Questionnaire for Youth, and the Depression Self-Rating Scale for Children. Results indicated that psychological inflexibility mediated the association between contingent self-worth and depressive symptoms. Specifically, contingent self-worth affected lower psychological flexibility, which influenced higher depressive symptoms. The results highlight the importance of fostering autonomy and promoting psychological flexibility to reduce the risk of depression among adolescents.
Full-text available
The Knowledge Society has highlighted the importance of creativity as a goal competence, which should be fostered in higher education institutions; therefore, it is necessary to integrate innovative educational experiences oriented to the development of creativity complementing the professional training of students. Recent research from psychology and pedagogy reports advances associated with the nature, evaluation, composition, and conditions for teaching creativity that have resulted in successful applications in only one facet of the creative process. In this research, we propose an integrated model for making educational interventions through online courses. This model combines contributions to the teaching of creativity from pedagogy in relation to the pedagogical model, instructional design, and conditions of the teaching-learning process required for the promotion of creativity. It also includes the contributions of psychology in relation to the cognitive processes and skills associated with creativity, the techniques and activities for the development of creative skills, as well as the principles associated with intrinsic motivation based on the theory of self-determination through its application in the learning technique called gamification. The advantage of this integrated model is that it incorporates and fosters multiple components of creativity simultaneously, with the objective of generating creative results of greater breadth and quality.
The Macro Theory of Positive Functioning integrates key aspects of the Self-Determination Theory and the Broaden and Build Theory. The theory posits a model that provides new perspectives on the development of positive characteristics. The Macro Theory proposes that higher levels of intrinsic motivation and basic needs satisfaction as described by the Self-Determination Theory result in high levels of positive affect (consisting of emotions such as joy). The Broaden and Build Theory proposes that high levels of positive affect result in a broadening of perspective resulting in more engagement with opportunities and relationships, which builds beneficial cognitive and behavioural resources and skills. Such resources and skills may manifest as positive characteristics described and studied in the positive psychology approach. These characteristics include self-compassion, self-efficacy, empathy, emotional intelligence, and character strengths. High levels of these characteristics may result in optimal functioning. Results from model testing with concurrent data designs as well as experimental designs provide initial support for the Macro Theory.
An increasing number of studies have been committed to the effectiveness of mobile learning applications. This study examined motivation, learning strategies, learning outcomes, and their mutual correlations in mobile English language learning via two experiments. Results suggested that in mobile English language learning, (a) motivation was significantly stronger than in traditional English language learning; (b) students adopted significantly more learning strategies than in traditional English language learning; (c) learning outcomes were significantly better than in traditional English language learning; and (d) motivation, learning strategies, and learning outcomes were positively correlated in both learning approaches at the significance level .025. Although it is necessary to further identify the underlying mechanisms, findings suggest interdisciplinary cooperation in future research.
ResearchGate has not been able to resolve any references for this publication.