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The Need for Autonomy
Lisa Legault
Clarkson University, Potsdam, NY, USA
Agency;Freedom;Perceived choice;Personal
Autonomy is a critical psychological need. It
denotes the experience of volition and self-
direction in thought, feeling, and action. It refers
to the perception of being self-governed rather
than controlled by external forces.
Human beings want to make their own decisions,
pursue their own goals, and come up with their
own ideas. In other words, they want to feel
autonomous. According to self-determination the-
ory (SDT; Ryan and Deci 2000), which is a broad
theory of human motivation and personality,
autonomy is one of the three basic psychological
needs (along with competence and relatedness)
which are necessary for optimal growth and
well-being. When people feel autonomous, they
perceive their needs, motivations, preferences,
and behaviors to be aligned and congruent with
one another. In other words, they feel like the
directors of their own lives and live according to
their own interests and values. When autonomous,
people endorse their own feelings and actions at
the highest order of reection (Ryan and Deci
2004). This desire to feel self-directed and self-
endorsed is innate. All individuals will naturally
strive to have this need fullled, as long as their
environment facilitates and supports this striving.
This implies that the individual is continually
involved in an interaction with his or her environ-
ment, and while the need for autonomy is present
in all individuals regardless of background or
culture (Chen et al. 2015; Chirkov et al. 2010), it
requires nutrients from the environment in order
to ourish.
Autonomy Is Both a Personal Trait
and a Motivational State
People may strive toward feeling self-directed and
self-determined in their lives, that is, they may
embody an overall disposition toward feeling
autonomous that is relatively enduring such
that they generally experience a sense of personal
endorsement of their goals and actions. This
reects autonomy as a personal trait or disposi-
tion. However, autonomy is also motivational in
nature; it pertains to the specic domain or task at
hand. Thus, while an individual may feel an
#Springer International Publishing AG 2016
V. Zeigler-Hill, T.K. Shackelford (eds.), Encyclopedia of Personality and Individual Differences,
DOI 10.1007/978-3-319-28099-8_1120-1
overall sense of volition and self-concordance in
his or her life (trait), feelings of autonomy in
specic domains (e.g., work, school, sports, rela-
tionships) or in the context of specic activities
(cooking dinner, drawing a picture) might vary
from high to low. So, the same person might feel
highly autonomous with family when, say, mak-
ing decisions and plans regarding what to eat for
dinner or where to go on vacation, but feel low in
autonomy at work when being required to com-
plete unenjoyable or menial tasks that are man-
dated by ones employer. This means that,
although autonomy can be somewhat stable at
the personality level, it can also vary from situa-
tion to situation and moment to moment. In other
words, the extent to which an individual feels
autonomous on any given day, or at any given
moment, depends largely on the characteristics
of the situation, the features of the task at hand,
and the quality of the interpersonal interaction.
The experience of autonomy is subjective. It
depends upon the moment-to-moment perception
of three interrelated components an internal
perceived locus of causality, a sense of volition,
and perceived choice (Reeve 2014). When an
individualsperceived locus of causality (PLOC)
is internal, she feels like the primary cause or
source of her motivated action. That is, her behav-
ior stems from her own personal beliefs or desires.
For instance, she might choose to go to see a
movie with her friend because she very much
wants to see that particular movie and looks for-
ward to spending quality time with that particular
friend. Thus, the source of the motivation is inter-
nal and personal. In contrast, when the perceived
locus of causality is external, the individual is
likely to perceive his behavior as governed by
environmental sources that are outside himself
(e.g., another person or a controlling situation).
For instance, he might join a friend for a movie
because his friend pressured him into it, or
because he feels obligated due to the commitment
he originally made.
Volition refers to feelings of freedom and will-
ingness to engage in activity or experience. The
idea of volition is concerned with wanting todo
something, as opposed to having todo
it. Volition is marked by an absence of coercion.
Finally, perceived choice reects the experi-
ence of exibility and opportunity in making deci-
sions. True choice occurs when the individual is
able to reectively decide to pursue one task or
path over other courses of action, as opposed to
feeling pressured into a certain way of thinking or
acting, or having to choosebetween undesired
Satisfying the Need for Autonomy
Evidence from research labs around the world
suggest that when the need for autonomy is satis-
ed, people feel more interested, engaged, and
happy (Niemiec and Ryan 2013). In contrast,
when the need for autonomy is neglected or
actively frustrated, people feel more alienated,
helpless, and sometimes even hostile or destruc-
tive (Moller and Deci 2010). Because people can-
not be separated from the environment in which
they inhabit, the well-being of any individual
depends largely on the extent to which the envi-
ronment can provide opportunities to satisfy the
need for autonomy. But how, exactly, is the basic
need for autonomy satised? Autonomy-support-
ive contexts facilitate the development and satia-
tion of the need for autonomy by offering choice
and opportunity for self-direction. They nurture
inner motivational resources, offer explanations
and rationales, and use informational language
rather than directives or commands. Autonomy-
supportive people work to align activities with the
other persons interests and preferences.
Autonomy-supportive teachers, for instance,
may help boost a learners autonomy by offering
him or her academic choices and options, or by
conveying the personal relevance and utility of a
task or assignment so that the learner can internal-
ize the meaningfulness of the activity.
Autonomy is the basic need to be self-directed and
to feel self-determined. Similarly, autonomous
motivation refers to the perception of volition,
choice, and personal causation in an activity as
2 The Need for Autonomy
opposed to feeling pressured, constrained,
restrained, or coerced. People feel autonomous
when they do the things they enjoy or nd impor-
tant and valuable. For these reasons, motivational
autonomy is critically related to interest and
engagement with the task at hand. Similarly, dis-
positional autonomy is related to psychological
well-being presumably because those high in
dispositional autonomy tend to be self-congruent
in their feelings, thoughts, and actions; that is,
they select goals, activities, and courses of action
that are consistent with their fundamental needs
and preferences. This process facilitates growth
and self-integration (i.e., self-concordance or self-
coherence), and instead of perceiving their self-
worth as contingent upon social approval and
meeting expectations, autonomously functioning
individuals feel free to express who they
really are.
Intrinsic and Extrinsic Motivation
Self-Determination Theory
The Need for Competence
Chen, B., Vansteenkiste, M., Beyers, W., Boone, L., Deci,
E. L., Van der Kaap-Deeder, J., ... & Ryan, R. M.
(2015). Basic psychological need satisfaction, need
frustration, and need strength across four cultures.
Motivation and Emotion, 39(2), 216236.
Chirkov, V. I., Ryan, R. M., & Sheldon, K. M. (Eds.).
(2010). Human autonomy in cross-cultural context:
Perspectives on the psychology of agency, freedom,
and well-being (Vol. 1). New York: Springer.
Moller, A. C., & Deci, E. L. (2010). Interpersonal control,
dehumanization, and violence: A self-determination
theory perspective. Group Processes & Intergroup
Relations, 13,4153.
Niemiec, C. P., & Ryan, R. M. (2013). What makes for a
life well lived? Autonomy and its relation to full func-
tioning and organismic wellness. In The Oxford hand-
book of happiness (pp. 214226). Oxford: Oxford
University Press.
Reeve, J. (2014). Understanding motivation and emotion.
Hoboken: Wiley.
Ryan, R. M., & Deci, E. L. (2000). Self-determination
theory and the facilitation of intrinsic motivation, social
development, and well-being. American Psychologist,
Ryan, R. M., & Deci, E. (2004). Autonomy is no illusion:
Self-determination theory and the empirical study of
authenticity, awareness, and will. In J. Greenberg,
S. L. Koole, & T. Pyszczynski (Eds.), Handbook of
experimental existential psychology. New York: The
Guilford Press.
The Need for Autonomy 3
... Autonomously acting people "…are less defensive and ego-protective and tend to openly acknowledge negative effect or criticism and personal shortcomings" (Legault & Inzlicht, 2013, p. 125). According to Legault (2016), autonomy is a critical psychological need for will and selfdirection in one's feelings, thoughts, and actions, expressing the perception of self-direction rather than being controlled by external factors. Autonomous people are aware of their feelings and endorse their actions at the highest order of reflection (Deci & Ryan, 2002). ...
... In other words, autonomy can be defined as the "personal endorsement of one's own goals and actions." Legault (2016) considers autonomy as a personal trait, while Holman and Hughes (2021) interpret autonomy as a characteristic of personal traits of conscientiousness, extraversion, neuroticism, and openness. Fotiadou et al. (2017) underline that learner autonomy is tightly linked to the personal traits of learners, urging them to take responsibility for their learning. ...
... The related literature agrees that personality traits correlate with learning style, learning performance, and academic achievement (Jensen, 2015;Kohli & Bhatia, 2021). Also, the related literature accepts that autonomy is one of the core concepts in distance education and has a relationship with personality traits (Legault, 2016;Holman & Hughes, 2021;Fotiadou et al. 2017). But few studies have focused on the relationship between personality traits and learning autonomy in e-learning environments. ...
... Autonomy is the situation in which the employees are given the freedom and can set their schedules and allow them to decide on their work. It is considered an essential psychological need to be developed because the employees may experience volition and self-direction when they are given the freedom to control their work (Legault, 2016). Abun (2019), every human has three fundamental psychological needs: autonomy, relatedness, and competence. ...
This study aimed to assess the workplace well-being and how it affects the work engagement of employees in the Department of Public Works and Highways first and third engineering district offices during the calendar year 2022. The respondents were ninety-four (94) employees of the Department of Public Works and Highways first and third district engineering offices. The study used descriptive-correlational research design utilizing the quantitative approach with the aid of questionnaire checklist in gathering data employing frequency counting and percentage, weighted mean, standard deviation, Mann-Whitney U test, Kruskal-Wallis test and Spearman Rank-Order Correlation Coefficient. The study revealed that DPWH was manned by majority of the females, employees’ belonged to the adult age 31-51, the majority of employees' length of service was six years and above, educational attainment was dominated by college level, and likewise there were also non-regular employees working in the DPWH. The study found out that the respondents’ perceived level of workplace well-being is high. In addition, the study also found out that the respondents’ perceived level of work engagement is highly engaged. However, the perceived level of the respondents in terms of intrusion of work into their private life is moderate. The study found out that the workplace well-being and work engagement of the employees did not differ significantly when measured by sex, age, length of service, educational attainment and type of employment. The study found out also that the workplace well-being and work engagement of the employees were not affected when measured by demographic profile. Furthermore, the study found out that employees’ workplace well-being was positively related with, and strongly connected to, their work engagement. This indicates that workplace well-being was significantly related to employees’ work engagement in the Department of Public Works and Highways. Hence, management strategy, organizational culture, working environment and policy of the Department of Public Works and Highways would be enhanced to boost the level of workplace well-being and employees’ work engagement.
... Selain menemukan data tambahan mengenai kebutuhan afiliasi pada subjek 1, peneliti juga menemukan data mengenai kebutuhan otonomi pada subjek 2. Kebutuhan otonomi adalah kebutuhan untuk mengarahkan diri sendiri dalam pemikiran, perasaan, dan tindakan (Legault, 2016). Subjek yang sebelumnya merupakan seorang mahasiswa penerima beasiswa kerap menceritakan mengenai ketidaksukaannya terhadap tuntutan yang diberikan oleh pihak pemberi beasiswa. ...
Penelitian ini bertujuan untuk mengungkap gambaran motivasi berprestasi pada mahasiswa yang telah melewati masa studi 4 tahun. Subjek dalam penelitian ini adalah dua orang mahasiswa Jurusan Psikologi Universitas Airlangga yang dipilih dengan teknik purposive sampling. Metode yang digunakan dalam penelitian ini adalah studi kualitatif pendekatan studi kasus dengan proses pengambilan data menggunakan teknik wawancara serta menggunakan teknik analisis tematik dengan theory driven. Hasil penelitian menemukan bahwa pilihan, usaha, dan ketekunan pada mahasiswa tidak selalu berorientasi pada hal akademik namun juga dapat berorientasi pada hal-hal non-akademik. Kedua subjek pada penelitian ini memiliki pola yang sama dalam orientasi motivasi berprestasi beserta perubahannya dari masa SMA, masa kuliah 4 tahun dan masa setelah melewati waktu studi 4 tahun. Adanya perubahan orientasi motivasi berprestasi ini dapat disebabkan oleh berbagai macam factor. Pada subjek penelitian ini, faktor yang tampak adalah kebutuhan afiliasi, kebutuhan otonomi, dan tuntutan dari standar pendidikan. Penelitian ini menemukan bahwa motivasi berprestasi mahasiswa dapat mengarah pada prestasi akademik dan prestasi non-akademik. Usaha dan ketekunan yang dilakukan kemudian akan sejalan dengan pilihan fokus prestasi yang telah dipilih sebelumnya.
... When both stimuli are superficial, they are separated from the individual and task. Legault (2016) discusses that intrinsic motivation is deemed the most optimal type of encouragement and is correlated with multiple benefitsincluding satisfaction, persistence, and psychological well-being. Extrinsic motivators are often thought to be helpful to encourage action for activities that are not intrinsically important (Deci and Ryan, 2008). ...
... An enforced reduction of social contact might also be negatively associated with two other basic psychological needs proclaimed by SDT: Contact restrictions may result in a thwarted need for autonomy (i.e. experience of volition and self-direction in thought, feeling and action; Legault, 2016), as statewide measures impose external regulations on individuals that strongly restrict personal freedom (Cantarero et al., 2021). Additionally, loss of social contact might result in a thwarted need for competence (i.e. ...
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The COVID-19 pandemic caused major societal changes worldwide, with the most notable being lockdowns and restrictions on social contact. We conducted a longitudinal study (total n = 1907) in Germany with two time points to (1) identify demographic risk factors of impaired social contact during the pandemic, as well as investigate potential consequences of (2) impaired social contact and (3) different modes of communication on individuals' well-being during the first lockdown in spring 2020. Results indicate that particularly individuals living alone and being unable to work reported a lower frequency of (face-to-face) contact in comparison with participants living with others or working. Impaired social contact was indirectly associated with a negative development in well-being (life satisfaction, anxiety and depression) over time, and this relation was mediated via relatedness. Moreover, the frequency of face-to-face and phone communication during lockdown was positively associated with relatedness and well-being; however, digital communication was not. The findings stress the importance of maintaining social contact in times of social distancing and of fostering reconnection between individuals once the pandemic is over.
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Recent studies have addressed the technological and cognitive motivational factors influencing e-learning. However, research investigating the comparative analysis of psychological factors that influence the academic motivation of e-learners and their interconnection has not been reported. Considering the array of psychological challenges faced by the student community in the current pandemic, a detailed look at the sudden transition and its impact on the academic motivation of learners is imperative. This paper examines the impact of psychological factors on the academic motivation of learners in pre-COVID and COVID times. Further, the significant difference in academic motivation during the period is also studied. A structural equation modelling (SEM) analyses the data obtained in two phases—phase 1 (Pre-COVID) and phase 2 (COVID)—from executive business management students of India. To the best of our knowledge, this is the first study that looks at the academic motivation of learners using three different theoretical lenses. Findings suggest that all psychological factors influence the academic motivation moderately/strongly during both the phases, except attention during pre-COVID. However, increased focus on attention and need for relatedness is suggestive during exigencies like COVID. The validity of second order measures, that is, extrinsic motivation, intrinsic motivation and amotivation, fortifies the findings and makes a substantial contribution to the body of the knowledge in e-learning motivation. The study details the research and practical implications of the findings.
Knowledge transfer offices (KTOs) have become key actors in economic growth, innovation, and social and technological progress. Accordingly, scholars have dedicated increasing attention to KTOs' activities and performance. Surprisingly, these topics have mainly been addressed at the macro level through environmental and institutional variables, while scant attention has been given to the effect of micro- and behavioral dynamics on KTO outcomes. By considering four Italian KTOs, our paper aims to better understand the motivational aspects of KTO employees—and particularly the antecedents of such motivation. Focusing on self-determination theory (SDT), we link the three basic needs (relatedness, competence and autonomy) that explain KTO employees' intrinsic motivation to specific university-level and organizational-level antecedents. With regard to the former, we show that university government plays a key role in satisfying the need for autonomy among KTO personnel, while KTO organizational antecedents are more important in addressing the needs for competence and relatedness.
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Conference Paper
This study examines a moderation model to explore how self-determination and organizational tenure influence social desirability of non-sanctioned political tactics by interacting with employees' conservation values. Data were gathered from a state forest department in India and analyzed using structural equation modeling. The results of the study indicate that conservation values negatively and significantly influence social desirability of non-sanctioned political tactics and this relationship strengthens as values of self-determination and tenure increase. Thus study contributes to the value studies and organizational psychology literature by elaborating on the mechanisms by which employees' values affect their attitudes towards political behavior and by exploring self-determination and organizational tenure as boundary conditions of this relationship.
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The present study investigated whether satisfaction and frustration of the psychological needs for autonomy, relatedness, and competence, as identified within Basic Psychological Need Theory (BPNT; Deci and Ryan, Psychol Inquiry 11:227-268, 2000; Ryan and Deci, Psychol Inquiry 11:319-338, 2000), contributes to participants' well-being and ill-being, regardless of their cultural background and interpersonal differences in need strength, as indexed by either need valuation (i.e., the stated importance of the need to the person) or need desire (i.e., the desire to get a need met). In Study 1, involving late adolescents from Belgium and China (total N = 685; Mean age = 17 years), autonomy and competence satisfaction had unique associations with well-being and individual differences in need valuation did not moderate these associations. Study 2 involved participants from four culturally diverse nations (Belgium, China, USA, and Peru; total N = 1,051; Mean age = 20 years). Results provided evidence for the measurement equivalence of an adapted scale tapping into both need satisfaction and need frustration. Satisfaction of each of the three needs was found to contribute uniquely to the prediction of well-being, whereas frustration of each of the three needs contributed uniquely to the prediction of ill-being. Consistent with Study 1, the effects of need satisfaction and need frustration were found to be equivalent across the four countries and were not moderated by individual differences in the desire for need satisfaction. These findings underscore BPNT's universality claim, which states that the satisfaction of basic needs for autonomy, relatedness, and competence represent essential nutrients for optimal functioning across cultures and across individual differences in need strength.
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In this chapter we focus on the issues of human autonomy and self-determination. In line with classic existentialist thought, we argue that people vary considerably both in the degree to which they experience autonomy or authenticity and in the degree to which they attempt to act in accord with, or run from, authentic motives. The evidence, derived largely from self-determination theory (SDT), suggests that variations in autonomy have functional import and that knowledge concerning autonomy is practical--it can be used to promote (or diminish) the expression of human potentials and psychological well-being. Indeed, the evidence could not be clearer that autonomy is not a mere illusion. We specifically address the philosophical status of autonomy and its viability as a scientific construct. We begin by tracing the historical connections between existential and phenomenological thought and the central concepts of SDT. We then provide a necessarily cursory review of the evidence concerning the importance of human autonomy for optimal functioning. Following this we address current controversies concerning autonomy, including the recent claims that will is illusory, that the self is a ghost, that awareness is irrelevant, and that autonomy is neither causally potent nor a universal concern. (PsycINFO Database Record (c) 2012 APA, all rights reserved)
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in the wake of interpersonal violence, the restriction of individual freedoms has often followed. This pattern can be observed at various levels of analysis. A recent example at the level of national policy includes the passage of the contro-versial USA PATRIOT Act by the US Government in October, 2001, following the September 11th, 2001 terrorist attacks. Since that time, the Act has been widely criticized for weakening government protection of civil liberties. Prior research has demonstrated that surveillance by an authority figure(s) in itself tends to be experienced as con-trolling (Lepper & Greene, 1975). Towns and cities routinely institute curfews, along with various other restrictions of freedom, following violent riots. At the person-level, parents, teachers, and various other authority figures very typically respond to violent behavior by exercising more control and taking away the rights of others to choose. Certainly, these measures of increased control and restricted freedom are effective toward achieving some desired ends, at least temporarily, Abstract Interpersonally controlling approaches are often used to keep individuals in line, ostensibly in order to create a safer, more civilized society. Ironically, emerging research findings indicate that when people feel controlled, they often respond by behaving in a less civilized, more antisocial manner (Gagné, 2003; Knee, Neighbors, & Vietor, 2001; Mask, Blanchard, Amiot, & Deshaies, 2005; McHoskey, 1999). The present research investigation explored whether a process of mechanistic dehumanization might help to explain the observed relation between interpersonal control and antisocial behavior, specifically with regard to tendencies toward violence. The results indicated that a significant relation between interpersonal control and tendencies toward interpersonal violence was partially mediated by perceived mechanistic dehumanization.
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Human beings can be proactive and engaged or, alternatively, passive and alienated, largely as a function of the social conditions in which they develop and function. Accordingly, research guided by self-determination theory has focused on the social-contextual conditions that facilitate versus forestall the natural processes of self-motivation 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 psychological needs--competence, autonomy, and relatedness--which when satisfied yield enhanced self-motivation and mental health and when thwarted lead to diminished motivation 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 psychotherapy.
This collection of multi-disciplinary essays explores the nature of personal autonomy, considering its developmental origins, its expression within relationships, its importance within groups and organizational functioning, and its role in promoting the democratic and economic development of societies. In Human Autonomy in Cross-Cultural Context: Perspectives on the Psychology of Agency, Freedom, and Well-Being, the starting point for all essays is self-determination theory, which is an integrated theory of human motivation and healthy development that has been under development for more than three decades. From there, the essays go on to provide the following: a theoretical and conceptual account of the nature and psychological mechanisms of personal motivational autonomy and human agency; rich, multidisciplinary empirical evidence supporting the claims and propositions about the nature of human autonomy and capacities for self-regulation; explanations of how and why different psychological and socio-cultural conditions may play a role in promoting or undermining people’s autonomous motivation and well-being; and discussions of how the promotion of human autonomy can positively influence environmental protection, democracy promotion and economic prosperity. While the topics in this text are varied, the authors all share a vision that human autonomy is a fundamental pre-condition for both individuals and groups to thrive. They also collectively believe that without understanding the nature and mechanisms of autonomous agency, vital social and human problems cannot be satisfactorily addressed.
What makes for a life well lived? Autonomy and its relation to full functioning and organismic wellness
  • C P Niemiec
  • R M Ryan
Niemiec, C. P., & Ryan, R. M. (2013). What makes for a life well lived? Autonomy and its relation to full functioning and organismic wellness. In The Oxford handbook of happiness (pp. 214-226). Oxford: Oxford University Press.