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Basic psychological needs as a predictor of
positive affects: a look at peace of mind and
vitality in Chinese and American college students
Shi Yu, Fengjiao Zhang, Ludmila D. Nunes, Yanhe Deng & Chantal Levesque-
To cite this article: Shi Yu, Fengjiao Zhang, Ludmila D. Nunes, Yanhe Deng & Chantal Levesque-
Bristol (2019): Basic psychological needs as a predictor of positive affects: a look at peace of mind
and vitality in Chinese and American college students, The Journal of Positive Psychology, DOI:
To link to this article: https://doi.org/10.1080/17439760.2019.1627398
Published online: 04 Jun 2019.
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Basic psychological needs as a predictor of positive aﬀects: a look at peace of
mind and vitality in Chinese and American college students
, Fengjiao Zhang
, Ludmila D. Nunes
, Yanhe Deng
and Chantal Levesque-Bristol
Department of Applied Psychology, Chinese University of Hong Kong (Shenzhen), Shenzhen, China;
Department of Educational
Psychology, Purdue University, West Lafayette, IN, USA;
Center for Student Psychological Development, Wenzhou University, Wenzhou,
Department of Psychology, Purdue University, West Lafayette, IN, USA;
Faculty of Psychology, Beijing Normal University, Beijing,
Department of Educational Psychology and Center for Instructional Excellence, Purdue University, West Lafayette, IN, USA
Research in the past decade has shown basic psychological needs (BPNs) as essential for human
wellness, but little is known about their eﬀects on positive aﬀects that are more characteristic of
East Asian cultures or whether their eﬀects diﬀer for diﬀerent aﬀective outcomes. We examined
the role of BPNs in a recently conceptualized aﬀect characteristic of East Asians, namely, peace
of mind (PoM). We also investigated whether this eﬀect diﬀers from that on vitality, a high-
arousal aﬀect more characteristic of American culture. Furthermore, we examined whether
these relationships are moderated by culture. Key ﬁndings include: (1) BPNs positively predict
PoM; (2) PoM is positively correlated with vitality, while the eﬀectofBPNsisstrongeronPoM
than on vitality; (3) PoM (relative to vitality) is more characteristic of Chinese than American
college students; and (4) culture does not moderate the relative eﬀect of BPNs on PoM vs.
Received 22 December 2018
Accepted 23 May 2019
basic psychological needs;
peace of mind; vitality;
culture; positive aﬀect;
circumplex model of aﬀects;
The current study investigates the intriguing interre-
lations between a collection of variables: basic psy-
chological needs (BPNs), peace of mind (PoM), vitality,
and culture. Research in the last two decades has
identiﬁed BPNs as critical predictors of aﬀective
well-being. However, most existing research has trea-
ted aﬀective well-being as a monolithic construct
conceptualized by Western scholars. Little is known
about the role of BPNs in diﬀerentiated aspects of
aﬀective well-being, as well as the potential modera-
tion under diﬀerent cultures. The current research
takes advantage of a recent advance in positive aﬀect
(PA) research, namely, the conceptualization of PoM
(Lee, Lin, Huang, & Fredrickson, 2013), a PA that is
more characteristic of East Asian culture, and aims to
answer these questions.
Speciﬁcally, we compare PoM with another type of
PA that is arguably highly distinct: vitality. We pro-
pose that (1) PoM should be positively predicted by
BPNs, (2) PoM should be positively correlated with
vitality, whereas the eﬀect of BPNs on PoM vs. vitality
may be diﬀerent, and (3) there may be some moder-
ating eﬀects of culture on the interrelationships
between BPNs, PoM, and vitality. In the following,
we address these issues in order.
BPNs as a predictor of PoM and other positive
Self-determination theory (SDT; e.g. Deci & Ryan, 2000)
proposes that just as plants must have their physical
needs met to thrive, human beings must also have their
psychological needs met to function optimally. Three
such needs have been identiﬁed to date: autonomy,
relatedness, and competence. Autonomy is deﬁned as
self-governance, or the need to organize one’s experi-
ences in a self-congruent manner and to feel volitional
in regulating one’s behavior; relatedness refers to the
need to establish meaningful relationships with others,
to care for others and be cared for; competence refers
to the need to feel eﬀective in interacting with the
During the last two decades or so, research has consis-
tently shown BPNs to be critical predictors of aﬀective well-
being. First, one of the most used and most representative
measurements for aﬀective well-being is the Positive and
Negative Aﬀect Schedule (PANAS; Watson, Clark, &
Tellegen, 1988). Various studies have shown that
CONTACT Shi Yu Yushi881129@gmail.com
THE JOURNAL OF POSITIVE PSYCHOLOGY
© 2019 Informa UK Limited, trading as Taylor & Francis Group
satisfaction of the three BPNs positively predicts PA and
negatively predicts negative aﬀect (NA) using the PANAS.
that experiencing a past event as satisfying the needs for
autonomy, relatedness and competence is signiﬁcantly
related to experiencing higher PA and lower NA from that
event. Using cross-sectional surveys, other studies have
consolidated these associations across various cultures (e.
g. Church et al., 2013;Sheldonetal.,2004), including East
Asian cultures such as Chinese culture. These associations
have also been supported on a within-individual level, such
that on days that a speciﬁc person experiences BPN satis-
faction, they are also more likely to experience higher PA
(and lower NA) (e.g. Reis, Sheldon, Gable, Roscoe, & Ryan,
Apart from the omnibus PANAS, research has also some-
times focused on speciﬁc aspects of aﬀective well-being.
According to our literature review, the most studied aspects
are anxiety, depression, and vitality. For example, various
studies have supported the negative relationship between
BPN satisfaction and depression using self-report methods
(e.g., Baard, Deci, & Ryan, 2004;Bartholomew,Ntoumanis,
Ryan, Bosch, & Thøgersen-Ntoumani, 2011;Chenetal.,
2015) and qualitative methods (Phillippe, Koestner,
Beaulieu-Pelletier, Lecours, & Lekes, 2012); the association
between anxiety and BPNs has also been supported by
various studies (e.g. Baard et al., 2004; Ilardi, Leone, Kasser,
&Ryan,1993; Phillipe et al., 2012). To our knowledge, the
only type of speciﬁc PA that has been shown to be pre-
dicted by BPNs is vitality. Vitality is deﬁned as ‘one’scon-
scious experience of possessing energy and aliveness’(Ryan
& Frederick, 1997). The positive contribution of the satisfac-
tion of BPNs to the feeling of subjective vitality has been
documented in both cross-sectional (e.g. Baard et al., 2004;
Bartholomew et al., 2011;Chenetal.,2015)andwithin-
Reis et al., 2000;Sheldonetal.,1996) research.
Recent large-scale studies have conﬁrmed the general
importance of BPNs in aﬀective well-being. For example, in
a comprehensive study that used Gallup data representing
66% of the world’s population, Tay and Diener (2011)
showed that experiencing satisfaction in autonomy, relat-
edness and competence positively predicted positive feel-
ings (e.g. ‘enjoyment’) and negatively predicted negative
feelings (e.g. ‘sadness’). Meta-analyses (e.g. Van den Broeck,
Ferris, Chang, & Rosen, 2016; Yu, Levesque-Bristol, & Maeda,
2018) have also supported the relationship between BPNs
and aﬀective well-being in general.
However, beyond general PA and vitality, little is known
about other types of PA. We conducted a search of the
publications of Journal of Positive Psychology using ‘positive
aﬀect’as a search term, but only three papers during
the Journal’s more than 10-year publication history are
concerned with the diﬀerentiations among PA types. In
the same vein, a recent review (Pressman & Cross, 2018)
concluded that PA research has largely applied a one-size-
ﬁts-all view, and the authors advocated a more reﬁned
approach that takes into consideration the diﬀerentiations
among types of PA. More speciﬁcally, research has sug-
gested that PA measures such as PANAS and vitality all
focus on aﬀects with moderate to high levels of arousal.
These aﬀects are less characteristic of the aﬀective
well-being of people in East Asian culture, however (e.g.
Lee et al., 2013;Lu&Gilmour,2004; Tsai, Knutson, & Fung,
2006). Thus, research has called for more attention to rela-
tively low arousal aﬀects, such as calm (Pressman & Cross,
Therefore, it is of substantial theoretical interest to
question whether BPNs are also valid predictors of PAs
that are lower-arousal and more indigenous to East
Asian cultures. Such evidence will serve as a signiﬁcant
contribution to our understanding of the validity of the
eﬀects of BPNs. Therefore, the ﬁrst aim of the current
investigation is to examine the eﬀect of BPNs on a PA
that has recently been conceptualized as more charac-
teristic of the East Asian population, namely, PoM,
which is deﬁned as ‘an internal state of peacefulness
and harmony’(Lee et al., 2013).
We propose that PoM should be predicted by BPNs
because the three BPNs of autonomy, competence, and
relatedness reﬂect the well-functioning of one within one-
self, with the environment, and within the social realm,
respectively. When one’s need for autonomy is met, one’s
behaviors and experiences are regulated in a way that is
consistent with one’s inner true self, and one is hence at
peace with oneself. When one’s need for competence is
met, one feels eﬃcacious interacting with the surrounding
environment, relatively free from uncertainty and frustra-
tion, experiencing a sense of harmony with the physical
world. When one’s need for relatedness is met, one feels
being absorbed and accepted in the social matrix and
hence is in harmony with society. In short, experiences of
the three BPNs should contribute to a sense of peace and
harmony in various aspects of one’slife.
Therefore, our ﬁrst research question is to ask the
RQ1: Do BPNs positively predict PoM?
We hypothesize that the three BPNs positively predict
Relationship between PoM and vitality
To understand the potentially diﬀerential eﬀects of
BPNs on diﬀerent types of PAs, it may not be suﬃcient
2S. YU ET AL.
to examine the eﬀect of BPNs on only one PA (PoM).
Rather, it is more informative to compare the eﬀect of
BPNs on PoM with their eﬀect on another PA that is
distinct from PoM. We chose vitality as such a variable
to contrast PoM.
Before comparing the eﬀects of BPNs on PoM and
vitality, as a ﬁrst step, it is an intriguing question to
ask how PoM and vitality are related. This question is
intriguing because diﬀerent theories lead to diﬀerent
First, according to the inﬂuential circumplex model
of aﬀect (e.g. Barrett & Russell, 1998; Posner, Russell, &
Peterson, 2005), aﬀective experiences can be organized
around a circumplex (a circle) that is underlain by two
dimensions: valence and activation. The dependence of
any two aﬀects is determined by their relative aﬃnity
on the circumplex. According to this theory, PoM
(which is very similar to ‘calm’in the authors’study)
should be placed close to the deactivation pole,
whereas vitality (which is very similar to ‘alert’in their
study; in fact, the term ‘alert’appears in the measure-
ment for vitality by Ryan & Frederick, 1997) should be
placed close to the activation pole. Therefore, there
should be a negative correlation between PoM and
However, another theory challenges this position by
proposing a diﬀerentiation between energetic arousal
and tense arousal (Schimmack & Reisenzein, 2002;
Thayer, 1989). According to this theory, energetic arousal
is recognizable by subjective sensations of energy, vigor,
or peppiness, whereas the opposite is tired; tense arousal
is associated with feelings of tension, anxiety, or fearful-
ness, whereas the opposite is calm. Energetic and tense
arousal are two independent systems. According to this
view, high energetic arousal does not necessitate high
tense arousal, and vice versa. Thayer’s(1989) conception
of energetic arousal is very close to the construct of
vitality. To illustrate, both Thayer’s measurement of ener-
getic arousal and the vitality scale include similar word-
ings such as ‘energetic’; some research, such as Reiger,
Reinecke, Frischlich, and Bente (2014), has used Thayer’s
measurement of energetic arousal interchangeably to
measure vitality. Thayer’s conception of tense arousal is
also very close to the opposite of PoM. Therefore, from
Thayer’s theory, we expect that high vitality does not
necessitate low PoM. Rather, the shared positive valence
between vitality and PoM renders their correlation
From the perspective of SDT, vitality should be posi-
tively correlated with PoM because vitality is also an
indicator of inner harmony. According to Ryan and
Frederick (1997), vitality is the psychological experience
of aliveness or the phenomenological manifestation of
‘life force’, the very essence of life. According to Ryan
and colleagues (e.g. Ryan & Deci, 2017), the very nature
of life is organization. In inanimate matters, there is a
general tendency to deteriorate and decompose; by
contrast, animate beings, insofar as they are alive and
vital, appear to be negentropic. Living things actively
maintain and elaborate themselves. That is, it seems to
be the very essence of organisms, while alive, to work
to preserve and extend their structure and complexity
rather than to move toward entropy (chaos, disorderli-
ness). For humans, this organization is manifest not
only in a physical sense but also in a psychological
sense, such that elements of their psychological experi-
ences are well integrated and at harmony with each
other. Hence, both vitality and PoM reﬂect a state in
which an organism is well integrated and has energy
that is at the disposal of the self –although they seem
disparate because of the explicit manifestation of
whether that energy is used. Therefore, vitality should
be positively related to PoM. Due to this shared under-
lying psychological status, SDT would predict that vital-
ity is positively correlated with PoM.
Thus, our analysis pits the circumplex model against
the perspectives of energetic vs. tense arousal and of
SDT. Thus, our second research question is as follows:
RQ2: How is PoM correlated with vitality?
From an SDT perspective, we hypothesize that the
correlation is positive.
Diﬀerential prediction by BPNs
As stated at the very beginning, one purpose of the current
study is to take a diﬀerentiated perspective of PA and
examine whether there are diﬀerent predictive relation-
ships between BPNs and PA based on the type of PA. As
previously mentioned, the only speciﬁctypeofPAthathas
been examined together with BPNs is vitality, so no existing
literature provides a reference for how the eﬀects of BPNs
on various PAs may diﬀer. We take an exploratory stance
on this issue and simply ask the following:
RQ3: Are the eﬀects of BPNs the same for PoM and for
The moderation of culture
In addition to the eﬀect of BPNs on PoM and vitality, we
also aim to examine the potentially moderating eﬀect of
culture. To be sure, our RQ3, which examines the relative
eﬀect of BPNs on PoM vs. vitality, is a form of testing
THE JOURNAL OF POSITIVE PSYCHOLOGY 3
cultural moderation because PoM (relative to vitality) is
considered more representative of East Asian culture than
American culture (Lee et al., 2013). However, a more estab-
lished approach that has been applied by SDT researchers
to examine cultural moderation is to test the eﬀects of
BPNs in diﬀerent populations. Therefore, this part of our
research concerns using both Chinese and American sam-
ples to detect diﬀerences in the interrelationships between
BPNs, PoM and vitality.
Cultural representativeness of PoM vs. vitality
First, we aim to test whether in a Chinese sample, PoM
is more characteristic than vitality compared to an
Psychologists have theorized that high-arousal (relative
to low-arousal) positive aﬀects are favored less in East Asian
cultures than in American culture. For example, Tsai et al.
(2006)drewontheclassicdiﬀerence in independence and
interdependence between American and East Asian cul-
tures (e.g. Markus & Kitayama, 1991). They argued that
because East Asians have a higher interdependent self,
they tend to adjust to their surrounding environment; in
contrast, because Americans have a higher independent
self, they tend to take actions to inﬂuence their environ-
Schimmack, Diener, & Suh, 1998;Schwartz,1992).
Furthermore, they reasoned that because inﬂuencing the
environment is related to high-arousal aﬀective states
whereas adjusting to the environment is related to low-
arousal states (e.g. Mehrabian & Russell, 1974; Schupp,
Cuthbert, Bradley, Birbaumer, & Lang, 1997), East Asians
should be characterized more by low-arousal aﬀects,
whereas Americans should be characterized more by
high-arousal states. In our study, because PoM is a low-
arousal positive aﬀect and vitality is a high-arousal positive
aﬀect, we extend the previous theorizing to hypothesize
that PoM, relative to vitality, is more characteristic of
Chinese than Americans.
To date, there is some empirical support for this
theorizing. For example, Tsai, Louie, Chen, and Uchida
(2007) showed that bestselling English children’s story-
books in the US contain more excited expressions than
calm expressions, whereas the opposite is true for best-
selling Chinese children’s storybooks in Taiwan. Tsai
et al. (2006) also showed some support for the higher
level of excited feeling than calm feeling in European
Americans compared to Asian Americans, explained by
the higher level of valuation of excited vs. calm feelings
among European Americans than among Asian
Americans. Using their newly developed PoM scale,
Lee et al. (2013) showed that Chinese participants
scored higher on PoM than American participants. On
the other hand, research has also shown that Americans
score higher on vitality than Chinese (Chen et al., 2015)
and Japanese (Elliot et al., 2012) samples.
Overall, although previous studies have variously
supported the idea that Chinese score higher on PoM
than on vitality compared to Americans, no study has
directly addressed this issue. In the current study, we
aim to systematically test this hypothesis.
RQ4: Compared to vitality, is PoM more characteristic of
Chinese than Americans?
We hypothesize that PoM is higher in Chinese than in
Americans, relative to vitality.
Culture as a moderator of the relative eﬀect of BPNs
on PoM and vitality
Third, we aim to examine whether culture also moderates
the eﬀect of BPNs on PoM vs. vitality. This is a three-way
interaction eﬀect: While for RQ3, we examine the two-way
interaction of whether type of PA moderates the eﬀect of
BPNs on the level of PA experienced, here, we further ask
whether the two-way interaction depends on which cul-
ture the participant belongs to. In other words: Is it possible
that Chinese people, when their BPNs are satisﬁed, are
more likely to experience PoM than vitality, and vice versa
for Americans? Although the eﬀects of BPNs on aﬀective
well-being and the cultural speciﬁcity of aﬀects have both
been discussed for more than two decades, to our knowl-
edge,thisistheﬁrst time these two issues have been
combined. In other words, it is asked whether culture
moderates the speciﬁc form of PA that BPN satisfaction is
translated into. Hence, our last research question is as
RQ5: Are BPNs more characteristically translated into PoM
as opposed to vitality for Chinese compared to Americans?
We hypothesize that BPNs are more characteristically
translated into PoM as opposed to vitality in Chinese
compared to Americans.
Participants and procedure
TheAmericansampleconsisted of 146 undergraduate stu-
dents enrolled in an introductory psychology class in a
midwestern US university. After removing irresponsible
responses and respondents whose names were clearly
Asian (to maximize the diﬀerentiation of our American
sample from the Chinese sample), the ﬁnal sample size
was 127 (age M= 21.02 years, SD = 1.34, 89 female,
70.1%). The Chinese sample consisted of 293 students
4S. YU ET AL.
(age M= 18.60 years, SD = 0.81, 255 female, 87%) enrolled in
a southern China regional university. Bonus course credits
were awarded to both samples for participation.
The participants responded to the following scales on a
scale of 1 (not true at all)to7(completely true). Reliabilities
are presented in Table 1.
Basic Psychological Needs Satisfaction and
Frustration (BPNSF; Chen et al., 2015)
The BPNSF scale consists of 24 items, eight for each of
the three needs for autonomy, relatedness, and compe-
tence. Within each need, four items are satisfaction
items, and four are frustration items. An example item
for autonomy satisfaction is ‘I feel my choices express
who I really am’, and an example for autonomy frustra-
tion is ‘I feel pressured to do too many things’.An
example item for relatedness satisfaction is ‘I feel that
the people I care about also care about me’, and an
example for relatedness frustration is ‘I feel excluded
from the group I want to belong to’. An example item
for competence satisfaction is ‘I feel capable at what I
do’, and an example for competence frustration is ‘I feel
insecure about my abilities’. In accordance with prior
studies (e.g. Campbell et al., 2015), average scores for
satisfaction and reverse-coded frustration are also used
for each need.
The PoM scale is a single-factor scale that consists of 7
items. An example item is ‘My mind is free and at ease’.
We obtained both Chinese and English versions of PoM
from the original developers of this scale: Lee et al.
(2013). Lee et al. (2013)ﬁrst developed this scale, refer-
encing aﬀective words drawn from the low-arousal
positive feelings in the circumplex model (e.g., content,
comfortable; Barrett & Russell, 1998) and aiming to
cover feelings of both internal peace and internal har-
mony. The internal consistency was high (approxi-
mately .90) in both Lee et al.’s original development
and the current study (Table 1).
Notably, in the cross-cultural validation ﬁrst con-
ducted by Lee et al. (2013), they found that the PoM
scale supported a hypothesized unidimensional factor
structure in their Chinese sample but not in their
American sample. However, in our study, exploratory
factor analyses supported the unidimensional structure
of the PoM in both Chinese and American samples.
Therefore, we decided that in the current study, it is
best to use the 7-item full version for both our Chinese
and American samples. Additionally, considering that
we have a larger American sample than did Lee et al.
(2013), we suggest that the evidence now leans toward
the good structural validity of the 7-item PoM scale in
American students and that the result of Lee et al. may
be due to limitations in their sample characteristics.
The vitality scale was ﬁrst developed and validated using
American samples by Ryan and Frederick (1997). An exam-
ple item is ‘I feel alive and vital’.Theﬁrst author also
translated the scale into Chinese and sent the back-transla-
tion to Richard Ryan (the ﬁrst author of the original paper)
to ensure that the back-translation was satisfactory (perso-
nal communication, October 2012). The original scale has
seven items. In the current study, we used the 5-item short
version for both the English and Chinese scales. The 5-item
version was ﬁrst validated by Kawabata, Yamazaki, Guo,
and Chatzisarantis (2017) in Japanese and Singaporean
samples. In a recent validation study, this 5-item version
also showed superior psychometric qualities compared to
the original 7-item version among Chinese adolescents
(Liu & Chung, 2019). Although no formal validation of the
5-item version is currently available using American
Table 1. Descriptive statistics, alphas, and correlations of the variables.
Com_S Com_F Aut_S Aut_F Rel_S Rel_F BPN_SF PoM Vitality MSD
1 .84 −.58*** .63*** −.35*** .54*** −.29*** .75*** .53*** .56*** 5.05 1.12
2−.47*** .81 −.31*** .60*** −.34*** .59*** −.79*** −.52*** −.33*** 3.54 1.46
3 .67*** −.38*** .78 −.43*** .63*** −.23** .70*** .52*** .54*** 5.00 1.10
4−.32*** .60*** −.36*** .73 −.34*** .57*** −.74*** −.42*** −.30*** 3.69 1.19
5 .61*** −.29*** .59*** −.28*** .84 −.56*** .75*** .44*** .45*** 5.50 1.24
6−.35*** .57*** −.35*** .54*** −.50*** .78 −.74*** −.31*** −.20* 2.77 1.33
7 .77*** −.75*** .75*** −.69*** .74*** −.75*** .91 .61*** .52*** 1.85 1.85
8 .43*** −.50*** .46*** −.38*** .41*** −.44*** .59*** .88 .78*** 4.16 1.26
9 .58*** −.38*** .51*** −.20*** .40*** −.27*** .53*** .59*** .78 4.16 1.21
M4.62 3.56 4.60 3.38 4.97 2.64 1.54 4.82 4.60
SD 0.99 1.07 0.98 1.00 1.11 1.05 1.53 0.99 0.96
***p< .001. Com_S: competence satisfaction; Com_F: competence frustration. Aut_S: autonomy satisfaction; Aut_F: autonomy frustration. Rel_S: relatedness
satisfaction; Rel_F: relatedness frustration. BPN_SF: basic psychological needs satisfaction vs. frustration. The alpha coeﬃcients are on the diagonal.
Statistics above the diagonal are from the American sample; those below the diagonal are from the Chinese sample.
THE JOURNAL OF POSITIVE PSYCHOLOGY 5
samples, previous studies that applied this 5-item version
in American samples showed satisfactory performance
(Yu, Zhang, Nunes, & Levesque-Bristol, 2018). In the current
study, the reliability and concurrent validity of this 5-item
version are also satisfactory (Table 1).
To answer RQ1, we ran a multiple regression on the
total sample that combines Chinese and American stu-
dents. Satisfaction (relative to frustration) of the three
needs was entered as three predictors to predict PoM.
To answer RQ2, we computed the Pearson correlation
coeﬃcient between PoM and vitality.
To answer RQs 3, 4, and 5, we used multilevel mod-
eling. The data had a nested structure because the PoM
and vitality responses were nested within individuals
(the same participant responded to both the PoM and
vitality scales). By adopting a multilevel framework, we
could examine how the type of aﬀect (i.e., PoM vs.
vitality) as a within-individual variable impacts the PA
experienced. Then, between-individual (i.e., level-2)
variables, including BPN satisfaction and culture, could
be added to examine the interaction eﬀects between
BPNs, culture, and type of PA. Hence, the multilevel
model was as follows:
PAti ¼π0iþπ1iðPA TYPEtiÞþeti
π0i¼β00 þβ01 ðCULTUREiÞþβ02 ðBPN SFiÞ
π1i¼β10 þβ11 ðCULTUREiÞþβ12 ðBPN SFiÞ
PAti ¼β00 þβ01 CULTUREiþβ02 BPN SFiþβ03
INTERACTIONiþβ10 PA TYPEti þβ11
CULTUREiPA TYPEti þβ12 BPN SFi
PA TYPEti þβ13 INTERACTIONiPA TYPEti
þr0iþr1iPA TYPEti þeti
In the level-1 model, PA
is the PA that person iexperi-
ences for type of PA t. π
is the average level of PA for
person iacross both types of PA (PoM and vitality);
is the code for the type of PA (vitality is coded
as 0, and PoM is coded as 1), and π
is the coeﬃcient for the
eﬀect of type of PA within person i, essentially an indicator
of the diﬀerence between the PoM and vitality experienced
by person i; e
is the within-individual residual of PA con-
ditional upon the eﬀect of type of PA for person i.
In the level-2 models, β
is the overall mean of PA
across both types of PA and across all individuals;
is a code for participant i’s cultural aﬃliation
(American is coded as 0, and Chinese is coded as 1), and
is the eﬀect of culture on within-individual mean-
level PA; BPN_SF
is the BPN satisfaction (relative to
frustration) of person i, while β
is the eﬀect of BPNs
on the within-individual mean-level PA; INTERACTION
the interaction between CULTURE
and BPNs, while β
is the eﬀect of this interaction on the individual mean
of PA; r
is the level-2 residual of individual mean-level
PA conditional upon culture, BPNs, and their interac-
is the overall diﬀerence slope of PoM vs. vitality
across all individuals; β
are the interaction
eﬀects between culture and BPNs with the type of PA,
is the eﬀect of the 3-way interaction
between culture, BPNs, and the type of PA; r
random eﬀect term of π
It is worth noting that in the current multilevel
analysis, BPN satisfaction vs. frustration was treated as
one whole variable. This decision was made because
when separate variables were used, the number of
variables in the mixed model became relatively large,
and the results showed multiple unexpected coeﬃ-
cients that are hard to explain but apparently due to
Multiple regression (RQ1)
The omnibus F test is signiﬁcant: F(6, 413) = 32.25,
p< .001, which supports the predictive eﬀects of BPN
overall on PoM. The coeﬃcients for each of the need
variables are shown in Table 2. As seen, the satisfaction
of the need for autonomy has a signiﬁcant eﬀect on
PoM, whereas the frustration of the need for autonomy
has a signiﬁcantly negative eﬀect on PoM. The frustra-
tion of the need for competence also has a signiﬁcantly
negative eﬀect on PoM. Interestingly, the eﬀect of relat-
edness on PoM is nonsigniﬁcant.
Table 2 also shows that these patterns of eﬀects are
highly consistent across both cultural samples: In both
the US and China, competence frustration and auton-
omy satisfaction are the two most signiﬁcant predictors
of PoM; the frustration of autonomy has a weak and
marginally signiﬁcant eﬀect on PoM.
We also tested whether demographic variables such
as age and gender aﬀect these predictive relationships.
After age and gender are added to the regression
model, the results remain mostly the same. In the com-
bined sample, age signiﬁcantly negatively predicts PoM
(standardized β=−0.20, p< .001), and being female
(compared to male) signiﬁcantly positively predicts PoM
(standardized β= 0.09, p= .026). Competence
6S. YU ET AL.
frustration and autonomy satisfaction remain strong
predictors for PoM, while autonomy frustration
becomes nonsigniﬁcant. The other predictors remain
nonsigniﬁcant. In separate cultural samples, age and
gender are nonsigniﬁcant, competence frustration and
autonomy satisfaction remain strong predictors of PoM,
and the other variables remain nonsigniﬁcant. Overall,
age and gender do not have a substantial inﬂuence on
the predictive eﬀects of BPNs.
Pearson correlations (RQ2)
As shown in Table 1, the correlation between PoM and
vitality is positive and very strong (r= .68, p< .001). We
further calculated the correlations in the subsamples
and found that the correlation is r= .78 (p< .001) in
the US and r= .59 (p< .001) in China. Overall, these
results are consistent with Thayer’s view and with SDT,
and they contradict circumplex theory.
Multilevel modeling (RQ3, RQ4, and RQ5)
First, in accordance with multilevel modeling proce-
dures (Raudenbush & Bryk, 2002), we ran an uncondi-
tional model to determine the degree of nesting of the
data. The intraclass correlation coeﬃcient (ICC) shows
that there is a substantial amount of variance nesting
within individuals (ICC = .68, meaning that 68% of
variance is accounted for by the individual-nesting mul-
tilevel structure of the data), thus supporting the use of
Then, we ran the model as speciﬁed in the Analytic
Strategy section. The multilevel modeling results
showed that the 3-way interaction term is nonsigniﬁ-
=−0.02, SE = .05, p= .736). This result means
that the moderation eﬀect of culture on the interaction
between BPNs and type of PA hypothesized in RQ5 is
nonsigniﬁcant. The interaction between culture and
BPNs on the general level of PA (regardless of whether
it is PoM or vitality) is also nonsigniﬁcant (β
SE = .05, p= .660). This means that culture does not
moderate the eﬀect of BPNs on PA generally.
Hence, the level-2 interaction between culture and
BPN satisfaction was dropped from subsequent analyses.
The results without this interaction term are displayed in
Table 3 and 4. The moderation eﬀect of culture on type of
)issigniﬁcant, which indicates that in addition to
the fact that PoM is experienced on a generally higher
level than vitality (see β
; see also Table 1), the Chinese
college students in our sample experience PoM (relative
to vitality) at an especially higher level than do the
American college students in our sample. Thus, this result
supports our prediction for RQ4. Additionally, the interac-
tion between BPNs and type of PA (β
Because the coeﬃcient is positive, this suggests that the
eﬀect of BPNs on PA is stronger for PoM than for vitality.
The interactions found for RQ3 and RQ4 are plotted
in Figures 1 and 2.
The current study takes a diﬀerential view of the eﬀects
of BPNs on PA. First, we aimed to validate the eﬀect of
BPNs on a type of PA that has recently been concep-
tualized as characteristic of East Asian culture, namely,
PoM. The results support our prediction that BPN satis-
faction (vs. frustration) is positively associated with
experiences of peace and harmony. Second, we aimed
Table 2. Results of the regression analyses using BPNs to predict PoM (RQ1).
Combined Sample China US
Standardized bpStandardized bpStandardized bp
Com_S 0.06 .582ns 0.03 .643ns 0.09 .419ns
Com_F −0.27 < .001*** −0.29 < .001*** −0.35 .002**
< .001*** 0.20 .003** 0.25 .025*
Aut_F −0.13 .021* −0.04 .525ns −0.08 .452ns
Rel_S 0.05 .410ns 0.13 .072ns 0.14 .222ns
Rel_F −0.06 .282ns −0.10 .123ns 0.10 .373ns
***p< .001, *p< .05. Com_S: competence satisfaction; Com_F: competence frustration. Aut_S: autonomy satisfaction; Aut_F: autonomy frustration.
Rel_S: relatedness satisfaction; Rel_F: relatedness frustration.
Table 3. Fixed eﬀects in multilevel modeling (RQs 3, 4, and 5).
Fixed Eﬀect Coeﬃcient SE t-ratio d.f. p-value
For INTRCPT1, π
4.55 0.04 121.80 416 < .001***
0.67 0.09 7.23 416 < .001***
0.36 0.02 15.77 416 < .001***
For PA_TYPE slope, π
0.16 0.04 3.70 416 < .001***
0.24 0.09 2.63 416 .009**
0.06 0.02 2.44 416 .015*
Table 4. Random Eﬀects in Multilevel Modeling.
Component d.f. χ
0.66 0.43 416 1545.88 < .001***
PA_TYPE slope, r
0.33 0.11 416 487.17 .009**
level-1, e 0.56 0.32
THE JOURNAL OF POSITIVE PSYCHOLOGY 7
to compare the eﬀect of BPNs on PoM and vitality. As a
preliminary step, we also examined the correlation
between PoM and vitality. The results showed that
PoM and vitality are positively associated with each
other, presumably because they are both correlates of
autonomously regulated energy within an integrated
self. We also found that the eﬀect of BPNs on PoM
was stronger than that on vitality. Next, we further
investigated whether culture plays a role in the inter-
relationships between BPNs, PoM, and vitality. First, we
extended previous ﬁndings on the cultural representa-
tiveness of PoM and vitality, ﬁnding that Chinese parti-
cipants are indeed more likely to experience PoM
relative to vitality, compared to American participants.
Second, we did not ﬁnd support for our prediction that
BPN satisfaction tends to translate into diﬀerent types
of PA for people in diﬀerent cultures.
Although the positive association between BPNs and
PoM is generally supported, the speciﬁc pattern of eﬀects
discovered in the current study is quite unexpected and,
to some extent, perplexing. We found that competence
frustration and autonomy satisfaction have strong eﬀects
on PoM and that autonomy frustration has a weak eﬀect
on PoM. Competence satisfaction and either satisfaction
or frustration of relatedness did not show any eﬀect on
PoM. This pattern is highly consistent across both sub-
samples, which indicates that the ﬁndings are not merely
an artifact. It puzzles us to see nonsigniﬁcant eﬀects of
relatedness on PoM. Conceptually, one would certainly
expect miserable social relationships to disturb PoM and
harmonious social relationships to contribute to PoM.
From a statistical perspective, the nonsigniﬁcant eﬀect
may be understood in terms of the eﬀect of relatedness
being ‘suppressed’by other predictors. That is, when
there is relatively high correlation among the indepen-
dent variables, the eﬀects of the weaker independent
variable may be eclipsed by the stronger independent
variable, resulting in eﬀects that are nonsigniﬁcant or
even bear a contrary sign (Deegan, 1978). In this case, if
we drop competence frustration from the regression,
relatedness frustration becomes a signiﬁcant predictor;
similarly, if we drop autonomy satisfaction from the
regression, relatedness satisfaction becomes a signiﬁcant
predictor. Therefore, at the very least, the current ﬁndings
showed that relatedness is not as important for PoM as
the other two needs (especially competence frustration
and autonomy satisfaction). With regard to whether relat-
edness does indeed play a role in addition to the other
two needs or whether it is signiﬁcant if one actually con-
trols the other two needs, we encourage future studies to
investigate this issue using experimental methods.
In the current study, we found that PoM is strongly
predicted by BPNs, and this relationship is even stronger
than that between BPNs and vitality. These results have
implications for the conceptualization of PoM. The satis-
faction of BPNs has been conceptualized as essential to
r‘a way of living that is focused on what is
intrinsically worthwhile to human beings’(Ryan, Huta, &
Deci, 2008). Hence, we propose that PoM may be con-
ceptualized as one of the eudaimonic feelings (Vittersø,
2013). According to Vittersø (2013), not all positive feel-
ings are equally indicative of eudaimonia. For example,
sometimes pleasure (which is a type of positive feeling)
can be derived from behaviors that do not pertain to
optimal human functioning, such as drug abuse.
However, because of the strong relationship of PoM
with BPNs, it may be a feeling that is most likely associated
with one living a life that is inherently worth living. In
Figure 1. PoM vs. vitality in Chinese and Americans.
Figure 2. The diﬀerential predictive eﬀects of BPNs on PoM vs.
8S. YU ET AL.
other words, although PoM was originally conceptualized
as just a PA that characterizes low arousal in Chinese
populations, it may be more than that; it may be seen as
a positive feeling that is particularly reﬂective of an inher-
ently healthy or virtuous way of living.
This conceptualization is consistent with Eastern and
Western philosophies. For example, in Buddhism, equa-
nimity or PoM is seen as an ideal state of mind achieved
by those who reach nirvana or a state of freedom from
troubles in daily life; to achieve this ideal, one has to
practice the Noble Eightfold Path, which speciﬁes the
right ways to live one’s life, including being mindful,
concentrated, right-intended, and so forth (Bohdi,
2010). In Confucianism, PoM is seen as one of the
many reﬂections of ‘moderation’(zhongyong), which is
considered a virtuous way to live. In Daoism, PoM or the
harmonious state is seen as a result of acquiring and
practicing dao, the truth of life and the vital principles
of the world. These cultural beliefs regarding PoM as a
eudaimonic aﬀect are also mirrored in contemporary
Western psychology. Although PoM has not received
attention as a positive state until recently, Western
academia has a long history of documenting the oppo-
site state –inner conﬂict or unsettlement as a conse-
quence of unhealthy functioning (e.g. Horney, 2013).
The positive correlation between PoM and vitality in the
current study rejects the circumplex model of aﬀect and
supports the two-system view of energy. This ﬁnding also
supports the interesting perspective that PoM and vitality
may both be manifestations of an integrated self. In SDT,
vitality has been conceptualized as the phenomenological
indicator for the ‘life energy’per se, but the current study
suggests that an integrated self that autonomously regu-
lates its energy may not necessarily experience that energy
as activated or aroused. Instead, the energy may take a
‘latent’or ‘dormant’mode, in which case one experiences
peacefulness and harmony. In other words, vitality may not
be the exclusive state of mind for someone who possesses
healthy energy. Additionally, considering the positive cor-
relation between vitality and PoM, one could even say that
someone who possesses healthy energy is actually likely to
experience both vitality and other more peaceful states of
operationalize life energy. If we accept that the life energy
one possesses may not exclusively or always be active, then
some items in the vitality scale, such as ‘I nearly always feel
alert and awake’, may not be the most accurate reﬂections
of the optimal vital state that an individual is in.
Furthermore, considering culture, it has been shown that
life energy is more likely to assume a ‘latent’form in East
Asian cultures. Future studies should address these intri-
guing questions regarding how to conceptualize energy
and the role of culture.
The current ﬁndings on culture also have implica-
tions for the universality claim of SDT. Proponents of
SDT have long argued that because BPNs reﬂect the
fundamental processes in all human functioning, their
importance is cross-culturally valid (for a comprehen-
sive review, see Ryan & Deci, 2017,Chapter 22). For
example, Chen et al. (2015) showed that the eﬀects of
needs satisfaction and frustration on vitality are
equivalent across four cultures. The current ﬁndings
extended the null eﬀect of culture by showing that
culture does not moderate the eﬀects of BPNs on PA in
general (the null eﬀect of β
). However, it was
shown that the eﬀects of BPNs are diﬀerent for diﬀer-
ent types of PA that are characteristic of diﬀerent
cultures (the signiﬁcant eﬀect of β
). In a sense, this
result provides a new angle for examining the role of
culture in the purportedly universal eﬀect of BPNs.
Future studies could extend this line of thought and
examine the potentially diﬀerential eﬀects of BPNs on
diﬀerent behaviors and experiences that characterize
The greatest limitation of the current study is that the
PAs were measured on the individual level. Past research
has shown that overall aﬀective self-report is more a
reﬂection of beliefs than an authentic indicator of
moment-to-moment experiences (e.g. Robinson & Clore,
2002). Therefore, we are not conﬁdent of the extent to
which our ﬁndings can be generalized to real-life,
moment-to-moment experiences of vitality and PoM.
Future studies should replicate our ﬁndings using within-
Another limitation is that although our samples are
cross-cultural, they are far from perfectly representative
samples of the Chinese and American populations.
Speciﬁcally, both our samples consisted of college students,
which limits the validity of our conclusions in various ways.
First, although we are not aware of existing research evi-
dence, it is reasonable to speculate that the levels of vitality
and PoM people report may systematically diﬀer among
people of various ages. For example, older people may be
more likely to experience PoM compared to vitality. Hence,
by exclusively using college students, the relationship
between variables is subject to range restrictions, and our
ﬁndings may not accurately depict the full picture. It is
therefore possible that one could ﬁnd the three-way inter-
action (RQ5) to be signiﬁcant if one were to use a more
representative sample. A second aspect of how our college
student samples may aﬀect the validity is that the young
generation of Chinese may be more inﬂuenced by
American culture than their predecessors; thus, the contrast
between traditional Chinese culture and Western culture
may not be pronounced. Third, it is possible that the college
lifestyle contributes to certain eﬀects in our ﬁndings. For
THE JOURNAL OF POSITIVE PSYCHOLOGY 9
example, in both our samples, competence frustration has
the strongest eﬀect on PoM. This result may be explained
by the strong intellectual challenges faced by college stu-
dents, making competence a dominant need for college
students’aﬀective well-being (also see Jang, Reeve, Ryan, &
Kim, 2009). Furthermore, to improve the cultural represen-
tativeness of samples, future studies could take an alterna-
tive approach by measuring the subjective cultural
identiﬁcation of participants and use that as the cultural
independent variable. This alternative approach may pro-
vide higher cultural sensitivity and better representation of
the culture variable than using country membership.
Looking into the future, researchers could examine
these relationships in other Asian and Western coun-
tries beyond China and the US to obtain a more well-
rounded understanding of cultural diﬀerences (Berger,
1997). Future researchers could also further explicate
the association between needs satisfaction and self-
determination processes and PoM. For example,
research in self-determination theory has shown that
basic needs satisfaction contributes to personality
integration and lower conﬂict between parts of the
self (e.g., Weinstein, Deci, & Ryan, 2011;Weinstein,
Przybylski, & Ryan, 2013). Future studies could study
whether personality integration processes mediate the
relationships between BPN and PoM. Additionally, it
has been proposed that mindfulness contributes to
integration and vitality (e.g. Brown & Ryan, 2003). It
similar beneﬁts for PoM.
The current study supports the importance of the needs for
competence and autonomy in experiencing PoM. The
study also supports the prediction derived from SDT and
the two-system view that PoM is positively correlated with
vitality. Culture did not moderate the eﬀects of BPNs in the
sense that college students in China and the US derive
diﬀerential aﬀective outcomes from BPN satisfaction; how-
ever, we found that the eﬀects of BPNs are diﬀerent for
aﬀects that are characteristic of diﬀerent cultures. We also
found that PoM (relative to vitality) was more characteristic
of Chinese college students than American college stu-
dents. Overall, this research contributes to our understand-
ing of basic needs, PA, culture, and their interrelationships.
or weaker than the estimates derived from all subsamples
(i.e. not falling in between). This is normal and common,
and it is caused by the between-subsample relationships.
Readers who want a more in-depth understanding of this
phenomenon could refer to writings on Simpson’s paradox
(e.g. Kievit, Frankenhuis, Waldorp, & Borsboom, 2013).
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