Motivation and Emotion (2020) 44:1–31
Basic psychological need theory: Advancements, critical themes,
MaartenVansteenkiste1 · RichardM.Ryan2· BartSoenens2
Published online: 21 January 2020
© Springer Science+Business Media, LLC, part of Springer Nature 2020
The study of basic psychological needs has witnessed a strong revival, in part spurred by Basic Psychological Need Theory
(BPNT), one of the six mini-theories within Self-Determination Theory. Empirical studies on BPNT have increased expo-
nentially since the millennium turn, leading to reﬁnements and extensions in theory. In this contribution we review these two
decades of research in order to introduce two special issues on BPNT. We ﬁrst discuss key criteria that deﬁne and identify a
basic need within BPNT. We then review several need-relevant themes, highlighting advancements and trends that charac-
terize contemporary research on BPNT. Speciﬁcally, we address potential extensions of the shortlist of basic psychological
needs, the role of psychological need frustration in increasing vulnerability to maladjustment, the study of the interface
between individuals’ psychological and physical needs (e.g., sleep, sex, hunger), novel insights into critical need-supportive
and need-thwarting practices, and the universality (versus variability) of eﬀects of need satisfactions and supports across
demographics, psychological characteristics, and cultural contexts. We also situate each of the 19 contributions that appear
in this special double-issue on BPNT within these themes, while suggesting avenues for further research on the role of basic
psychological needs in motivation, adjustment, and wellness.
Keywords Basic psychological needs· Adjustment· Universality· Self-determination theory
In everyday language, the term ‘need’ is used in reference
to speciﬁc desired attributes or outcomes. Children may say
that they need a toy for their birthday, adolescents that they
need a new smartphone to stay better connected with their
peers, and adults that they need vacation to recover from
work. In each of these cases, the term ‘need’ denotes the
presence of a particular desire or preference, often rooted in
a deﬁcit or shortage, with such preferences varying widely
In contrast, within Self-Determination Theory (SDT;
Ryan and Deci 2017) the term psychological need is deﬁned
in a more speciﬁc and narrow way, that is, as a psychological
nutrient that is essential for individuals’ adjustment, integ-
rity, and growth (Ryan 1995). In this framework, a speciﬁc
desire can only be assigned the more formal status of a basic
psychological need when its satisfaction is not only condu-
cive to, but essential for individuals’ well-being, while its
frustration increases risk for passivity, ill-being, and defen-
siveness (Ryan and Deci 2000a; Vansteenkiste and Ryan
2013). Clearly, not all motives or desires ﬁt this narrower
deﬁnition. To illustrate, material purchases do not neces-
sarily increase well-being, even when highly desired (e.g.,
Howell and Hill 2009; Van Boven 2005).
This more restrictive deﬁnition of basic needs as necessi-
ties provides the conceptual basis for a parsimonious func-
tional viewpoint on wellness, unlike broader need-naming
approaches common in the ﬁrst half of the twentieth century
(e.g., McDougall 1932; Murray 1938). For a need candidate
to be incorporated in SDT’s shortlist of psychological needs,
a number of objective criteria have to be met (Baumeister
and Leary 1995; Deci and Ryan 2000; Ryan and Deci 2017).
These criteria have been articulated within Basic Psycho-
logical Need Theory (BPNT), a central mini-theory within
the broader framework of SDT (Ryan and Deci 2017; Van-
steenkiste etal. 2010; Vansteenkiste and Soenens 2015).
Deci and Ryan (2000) formally identified the needs
for autonomy, competence, and relatedness as basic
* Maarten Vansteenkiste
1 Department ofDevelopmental, Personality andSocial
Psychology, Ghent University, Ghent, Belgium
2 Institute forPositive Psychology andEducation, Australian
Catholic University, Sydney, Australia
2 Motivation and Emotion (2020) 44:1–31
psychological needs, arguing that support for and satisfaction
of these needs accounts for a broad variety of phenomena
across developmental periods, cultures, and personality dif-
ferences. Basic psychological needs were broadly deﬁned as
critical resources underlying individuals’ natural inclination
to move towards increasing self-organization, adjustment,
and ﬂourishing (Ryan 1995). Abundant research, some of
which has been summarized in meta-analyses (Ng etal. 2012;
Slemp etal. 2018; Van den Broeck etal. 2016; Vasquez etal.
2016; Yu etal. 2018), has since shown that these three psy-
chological needs indeed play a prominent role in develop-
ment, adjustment, and wellness across cultures, with strong
implications for basic motivational science, applied practices,
and even broad social policies (Ryan and Deci 2017).
Reﬂective of this burgeoning interest in basic psycho-
logical needs are these two special issues in Motivation
and Emotion (i.e., Volume 44, Issue 1 and 2), which it is
our pleasure to introduce. In this contribution we do so by
reviewing research on BPNT, highlighting advancements
and emerging trends, as well as future directions. We also
describe a number of themes that have been central to the
study of basic psychological needs and that are addressed
in the contributions within these upcoming issues. Given
space limitations, our review is necessarily selective, both in
terms of the themes discussed and in terms of the empirical
As can be noticed in Fig.1, the review of these diﬀerent
topics follows a particular order. We open with two themes
that focus on the construct of basic psychological needs
as such, discussing potential extensions of SDT’s current
shortlist of psychological needs (Theme 1) and the critical
role of psychological need frustration in increasing risk for
maladjustment (Theme 2). The next theme moves beyond
psychological needs per se by reviewing work on the inter-
face between psychological needs and physical needs and
drives (e.g., sleep, sex, hunger; Theme 3). We then shift
the focus to social contexts, highlighting the importance of
need-supportive and need-thwarting practices (Theme 4).
We conclude with a discussion of the universality (vs. vari-
ability) of the eﬀects of need satisfactions and need supports
as a function of demographic (e.g., age, socioeconomic sta-
tus), psychological (e.g., personality, need strength) and con-
textual (e.g., culture) characteristics (Theme 5). Table1 lists
the 19 empirical contributions in the two upcoming volumes
according to the themes in which they can be situated. Yet,
before addressing these themes, we open by discussing the
criteria used to identify and describe psychological needs
Theme 1 –Need candidate:
Should we extend the shortlist of basic
Theme 2 –Dark side:
Which costs are associated with basic
psychological need frustration?
Theme 4 –Need-relevant conditions:
Are there new insights in the conditions
that affect need-based experiences?
Theme 3 –Physical needs: What is the
interplay between basic psychological
and basic physical needs?
Theme 5 -Universality: How radical
is BPNT’s universality claim? Towards
universality without uniformity
Fig. 1 Overview of the ﬁve reviewed themes related to basic psychological need theory
3Motivation and Emotion (2020) 44:1–31
Basic psychological need theory
Denitional criteria ofbasic psychological needs
BPNT’s trio ofneeds
At the heart of BPNT (Ryan and Deci 2017) is the argument
that individuals have a limited set of basic psychological
needs, the satisfaction of which is essential for ﬂourishing
and well-being. Although the list of psychological needs is
and has always been open for additions, the current set is
limited to three: autonomy, competence, and relatedness.
BPNT considers both the satisfaction and frustration of
these three needs, with frustration representing a stronger
and more threatening experience than the mere absence of
its fulﬁlment. Autonomy refers to the experience of voli-
tion and willingness. When satisfied, one experiences
a sense of integrity as when one’s actions, thoughts, and
feelings are self-endorsed and authentic. When frustrated,
one experiences a sense of pressure and often conﬂict, such
as feeling pushed in an unwanted direction. Relatedness
denotes the experience of warmth, bonding, and care, and
is satisﬁed by connecting to and feeling signiﬁcant to oth-
ers. Relatedness frustration comes with a sense of social
alienation, exclusion, and loneliness. Competence concerns
the experience of eﬀectiveness and mastery. It becomes sat-
isﬁed as one capably engages in activities and experiences
opportunities for using and extending skills and expertise.
When frustrated, one experiences a sense of ineﬀectiveness
or even failure and helplessness.
Ryan and Deci (2017) highlight that these three psycho-
logical needs were distinquished and derived from both
inductive and deductive bases. These broad needs first
emerged inductively from research showing that experiences
of competence and autonomy were essential to developing
and maintaining intrinsic motivation. To illustrate, positive
feedback was found to promote greater interest and enjoy-
ment of an activity (Vallerand and Reid 1984), an eﬀect
Table 1 Overview of the
contributions in the two special
issues in relation to the ﬁve core
Key concept Theme
Issue 1 (February, 2020)
1. Bagheri and Milyavskaya Novelty-variety Need candidate
2. Warburton, Wang, Bartholomew, Tuﬀ,
Need proﬁles Dark side
3. Benita, Benis-Weisman, Matos, and
Emotion regulation Universality
4. Waterschoot, Van der Kaap-Deeder, and
Attentional bias Dark side
5. Holding, St-Jacques, Verner-Filion,
Kachanoﬀ, and Koestner
Need sacriﬁcing Dark side
6. Martela and Ryan Beneﬁcence Need candidate
7. Wüttke Political engagement Need-relevant conditions
8. Lee and Reeve Brain morphometry Deﬁnitional criteria needs
Issue 2 (April, 2020)
9. Assor, Soenens, Yitshaki, Geifman,
Olshtein, and Ezra
Identity development Need-relevant conditions
10. Rouse, Turner, Siddall, Schmid, Stand-
age, and Bilzon
Need proﬁles Dark side
11. Selvi and Bozo Drive for muscularity Dark side
12. Uysal, Aykutoglu, and Ascig Sleep and cholestorol Physical needs
13. Vahlstein, Mutter, Oettingen, and
Obsessive thinking Dark side
14. Prentice, Jayawickreme, and Fleeson Morality Need candidate
15. Van Egmond, Omarshah, Berges,
Benton, Zalira, and Morrell
Resource scarcity Physical needs
16. Vermote, Aelterman, Beyers, Aper,
Buysschaert, and Vansteenkiste
Circumplex model Need-relevant conditions
17. González-Cutre, Romero-Elias,
Jiménez-Loaisa, Beltrán-Carrillo, and
Novelty Need candidate
18. Wörtler, Van Yperen, and Barelds Need strength Universality
19. Baker, Watlington, and Knee Rapport Need-relevant conditions
4 Motivation and Emotion (2020) 44:1–31
accounted for by the satisfaction of individuals’ need for
competence (De Muynck etal. 2017). In contrast, oﬀering
external rewards for partaking in an interesting activity can
undermine intrinsic motivation (Deci etal. 1999), presum-
ably because controlling rewards can shift one’s perceived
locus of causality (deCharms 1968) from internal to exter-
nal, thereby diminishing a sense of autonomy (Houlfort etal.
Although initial SDT-based research focused primarily
on intrinsic motivation, later studies addressed the internali-
zation of extrinsically motivated activities (e.g., Ryan and
Connell 1989). Internalization reﬂects the extent to which
people truly assimilate or take in ambient values or prac-
tices. For individuals to fully internalize a non-interesting
activity, they must personally value and experience own-
ership of the behavior (Ryan and Deci 2017; Vansteenk-
iste etal. 2018). Internalization, like intrinsic motivation,
requires a sense of eﬀectiveness (i.e., competence satisfac-
tion) and volition (i.e., autonomy satisfaction). Yet to fully
understand the variability in the process of internalization,
it was necessary to include also the need for relatedness
because it became clear that activities are more likely to be
well-internalized when there is a genuine sense of connec-
tion with those encouraging these goals and activities. Ide-
ally then, all three psychological needs are satisﬁed to foster
the process of internalization (Milyasvkaya etal. 2014). If
one of the needs is frustrated, internalization is hampered.
For instance, although experiencing a strong bond with a
socializing agent and feeling eﬀective in carrying out a non-
interesting activity may provide a starting point to begin
internalizing its regulation, the internalization process
will be only partial when the need for autonomy remains
unfulﬁlled. In the absence of autonomy, one may engage in
the activity to please others, get approval, avoid feelings of
guilt, or other controlled forms of regulation (Haerens etal.
2015; Markland and Tobin 2010).
Yet a primary source for the inductive evidence leading to
the postulate of these three constructs as basic needs came
from studies of well-being and ﬂourishing. Evidence repeat-
edly showed that satisfaction of basic needs for autonomy,
relatedness, and competence (ARC) were essential for well-
ness, both developmentally (e.g., Grolnick etal. 1991) and
situationally (e.g., Reis etal. 2000). These three needs, each
uniquely but also in interactive ways (e.g., Kluwer etal.
2019), appeared to be essential for individuals’ well-being
across ages, contexts, and cultures.
In addition to inductive reasons to invoke the needs for
autonomy, competence, and relatedness as basic psychologi-
cal needs, Ryan and Deci (2017) argued for the importance
of these needs also on deductive grounds. Speciﬁcally, in
the organismic view that underpins SDT (see Deci and
Ryan 1985; Ryan 1995), it is assumed that human beings
naturally develop in the direction of increasing adaptation,
integration, and coherence where possible. Such integrative
tendencies are both supported and characterized by experi-
ences of autonomy, competence, and relatedness. Within this
organismic view on development, these needs are integral to
the very conception of a fully functioning person.
Given the view that full functioning entails ongoing psy-
chological need satisfactions, BPNT became relevant not
only to intrinsic and well-internalized motivation but also
to well-being more generally (Ryan and Deci 2000a) and to
various developmental outcomes, including pro-social ten-
dencies (Tian etal. 2018; Wray-Lake etal. 2019), identity
Table 2 Description of the key criteria of a basic need within basic psychological need theory
1. Psychological A basic need concerns the psychological and not the physical functioning of human beings
2. Essential The satisfaction of a basic need contributes to growth, well-being, and adjustment and the frustration of the need predicts
problem behavior, ill-being, and psychopathology
3. Inherent A basic need represents an evolved aspect of our psychological nature due to adaptive advantages associated with need
4. Distinct A basic need concerns a distinct set of experiences and its emergence is not contingent upon or derivative from the frustra-
tion of other needs
5. Universal Felt need satisfaction and need frustration should predict the thriving and ill-being of all individuals, regardless of diﬀer-
ences in socio-demographics, personality, cultural background or need strength
1. Pervasive The eﬀects associated with need-based experiences should be reﬂected in myriad cognitive, aﬀective, and behavioral
outcomes, while also surfacing at diﬀerent levels, from the psychological to the neurological/biological
2. Content-speciﬁc Satisfaction and frustration of a basic need manifests through speciﬁc behaviors, experiences, and is well represented in
3. Directional A basic need directs and shapes individuals’ thinking, acting, and feeling, thereby spurring the pro-active search for need-
conducive circumstances, partners, and activities under supportive conditions, while eliciting corrective behavior under
need thwarting circumstances
4. Explanatory A basic need helps to account for or explain the relation between variations in social contexts, both growth-promoting and
toxic, and wellness-related outcomes
5Motivation and Emotion (2020) 44:1–31
consolidation (Luyckx etal. 2009; Skhirtladze etal. 2019),
emotion regulation (Roth etal. 2018, 2019) and political
engagement (Wüttke 2020). That is, BPNT speciﬁed that
these varied positive developmental outcomes would be
facilated by need supports and satisfactions.
Because the basic psychological needs play such a signiﬁ-
cant role within SDT, both theoretically and empirically, it is
important to consider the criteria used to describe BPNT’s
needs (Ryan and Deci 2017). Table2 presents an overview
of nine criteria that characterize the current psychological
needs and that any new basic need-candidate would need to
evidence. Although similar criteria have been proposed by
others (e.g., Baumeister and Leary 1995), herein we group
some criteria, discuss the interconnections between them,
introduce underemphasized criteria, and indicate how they
can be tested empirically. In doing so, we distinguish two
categories of criteria, with a ﬁrst set of ﬁve criteria cha-
racterizing the needs studied within BPNT at a more basic
level and with a second set of four criteria following from
this basic characterization and providing deeper insights into
how basic needs operate.
First, as a psychological theory, BPNT focuses on needs that
are psychological in nature. Physiological needs, such as
hunger, thirst, and sleep, have received considerable atten-
tion in the ﬁeld of biology where the focus is on physical
growth and health. This primary focus on psychological
needs does not imply that physiological needs are ignored
within BPNT, on the contrary. The interface and bidirec-
tional relations between psychological and physiological
needs is an intriguing topic in its own right, with an increas-
ing number of studies shedding light on their dynamic inter-
relations (e.g., Campbell etal. 2018d), as also evidenced
in the present special issue (Uysal etal. 2020). Indeed,
the development and maintenance of a healthy lifestyle is
aﬀected by ongoing need satisfactions and frustrations (e.g.,
Ng etal. 2012), with a healthy lifestyle feeding back into
individuals’ need-based experiences (Campbell etal. 2018c).
Second, much like physiological needs such as hunger
and thirst must be fulﬁlled to grow and thrive physically,
the satisfaction of the psychological needs is seen as impera-
tive or essential to fostering psychological growth, integrity,
and wellness. Conversely, deprivation or frustration of these
needs diminishes ﬂourishing and increases risk for ill-being
and psychopathology. Underscoring the claim that BPNT’s
core needs constitute such essential psychological nutrients,
need satisfaction has been found to predict adjustment (e.g.,
Van den Broeck etal. 2016), to characterize satisfying life
events (e.g., Sheldon etal. 2010), to be critical to a sense of
meaning in life (González-Cutre etal. 2020; Martela etal.
2018) and to contribute to harmonious passions (Vallerand
2016). Conversely, the essential role of these basic psycho-
logical needs manifests also in the functional costs associ-
ated with their frustration, which predicts lower happiness
and multiple forms of maladjustment (Bartholomew etal.
2011; Ryan etal. 2016).
A third criterion is that basic psychological needs have
evolved as an integral part of our human natures. Because
behaviors associated with these basic need satisfactions tend
to provide adaptive advantages (Ryan and Deci 2017; Ryan
and Hawley 2016), psychological needs have come to form
an inherent part of individuals’ functioning. This criterion
ﬁts with the organismic meta-theory underlying BPNT. The
assumption that psychological needs form an ingrained part
of our psychological make-up opposes blank slate concep-
tions in which people’s needs, values, and satisfactions are
scripted or programmed into individuals by social environ-
ments. Instead, BPNT gives recognition to the idea that
there are energizing forces within human nature that foster
psychological growth and proactivity. Indeed, it is hard to
imagine any fully functioning person for whom relatedness,
autonomy, and competence needs are unimportant or chroni-
cally unmet. Congruent with this assumption, an increasing
number of studies have identiﬁed mechanisitic correlates
of need-based experiences (Di Domenico and Ryan 2017;
Reeve and Lee 2019). For instance, Lee and Reeve (2020)
report ﬁndings indicating that individuals’ brain morpho-
metry and, in particular the ventral striatum gray matter
volume, correlates positively with participants’ experienced
Fourth, a basic psychological need in BPNT should be
suﬃciently distinct from other identiﬁed basic needs, both
experientially and dynamically. At the experiential level,
each need should be associated with a qualitatively diﬀerent
set of experiences. Dynamically, basic needs are not just a
by-product of another (thwarted) need. If a candidate psy-
chological need surfaces only as a correlate of another need
or in response to the frustration of established basic psy-
chological needs, such a need is derivative rather than basic
(Ryan and Deci 2017). Needs that emerge only in response
to frustrations of basic psychological needs often represent
a need-substitute or a compensatory preference (Ryan and
Deci 2017; Vansteenkiste and Ryan 2013). An illustrative
example is the desire for security, a preference that typi-
cally becomes salient under conditions of need frustration,
often because of controlling, uncaring, or overchallenging
(i.e., need-thwarting) circumstances. Similarly, a desire for
power (Hofer and Bush 2019; Winter 1973) may signal that
one feels ‘caged’ and, hence, is attempting to compensate
for a lack of autonomy (Martela etal. 2019).
A ﬁfth criterion concerns the universal nature of basic
needs. If psychological needs are inherent, they should
be universally applicable and operative (Ryan and Deci
2017), and thus relevant for individuals regardless of their
6 Motivation and Emotion (2020) 44:1–31
demographic characteristics (e.g., age, nationality, gender;
Henning etal. 2019), personality (e.g., Mabbe etal. 2016),
or cultural background (e.g., Benita etal. 2020). Related
to this issue is the question whether these needs have to be
valued or desired for a person to beneﬁt from their satis-
faction or to suﬀer from their frustration. Individual diﬀer-
ences in need strength have received substantial attention
in other theoretical traditions, including motive disposition
theory (McClelland 1987). According to BPNT’s univer-
sality claim, these diﬀerences play a minimal role in alter-
ing eﬀects of experienced need satisfaction and frustration
relative to the expected main eﬀects (Ryan etal. 2019a).
At the same time, BPNT’s universality claim should not be
interpreted too rigidly. As discussed below, although the
pathways to need fulﬁllment may diﬀer as a function of fac-
tors such as culture, developmental history, and personality,
the satisfaction and frustration of the needs will ultimately
still produce, respectively, beneﬁts and costs across such
variations (e.g., Vansteenkiste etal. 2019; Yu etal. 2018).
Based on these basic and fundamental criteria, additional
criteria can be logically derived that describe the functioning
of psychological needs more deeply. A ﬁrst criterion is that
the beneﬁts associated with need satisfaction and the costs of
need frustration should be pervasive, thus having relevance
to myriad outcomes. That is, a host of motivational, aﬀec-
tive, cognitive, and behavioral outcomes should reliably fol-
low from need satisfactions and frustrations. These eﬀects
should operate at multiple levels of analysis from personal to
societal levels (Ryan and Deci 2017), from conscious to non-
concious (e.g., Banting etal. 2011) and and being observable
not only behaviorally but also neurobiologically (Di Domen-
ico and Ryan 2017; Reeve and Lee 2019). Illustrative of
the ubiquitous outcomes associated with the psychological
needs is the ﬁnding that need frustration predicts phenotypi-
cally diverse forms of dysfunctional behavior and ill-being,
including obsessive thinking (Vahlstein etal. 2020), engage-
ment in unhealthy muscularity-oriented behaviors (Selvi and
Bozo 2020), dishonesty (Kanat-Maymon etal. 2015), and
both internalizing and externalizing problems (e.g., Vanden-
kerckhove etal. 2019a, b). Similarly, need satisfactions have
been found to account for toddlers’ curiosity-driven explora-
tion of the environment (Whipple etal. 2011), adolescents’
negotiation of parental requests (Van Petegem etal. 2017),
and adults’ engagement in volunteering (Huang etal. 2019).
The observation that the psychological needs are involved in
such phenotypically diverse phenomena speaks to the per-
vasive impact of these psychological needs and underscores
the parsimony of BPNT as a theoretical framework.
A second associated criterion is that the experiences and
behaviors associated with the satisfaction and frustration of
BPNT’s psychological need are concrete. Without such a
speciﬁed content, it remains unclear what it means exactly
to have a psychological need met or thwarted (Ryan and
Deci 2017). Examples of speciﬁc behaviors denoting psy-
chological need satisfaction include the formation of harmo-
nious relationships and building rapport (Baker etal. 2020),
steadily extending one’s skills, or pursuing one’s core inter-
ests (Weinstein etal. 2016a). Experiencing failure (Water-
schoot etal. 2020), feeling conﬂicted about identity-relevant
choices (Assor etal. 2020), or feeling lonely (Baumeister
and Leary 1995) each denote experiences of psychologi-
cal need frustration. Further, these concrete experiences
and behaviors should be salient in people’s natural lan-
guage when asked to reﬂect about their most (dis)satisfying
experiences (Jang etal. 2009; Sheldon etal. 2001), to recall
signiﬁcant memories (Philippe etal. 2011), or to engage
in a life review (Bauer and McAdams 2000). Qualitative
studies are ideally suited to examine whether needs-based
experiences naturally emerge as part of individuals’ narra-
tives (e.g., Dieleman etal. 2018; Quested etal. 2018). To
illustrate, semi-structured interviews with Singaporean at-
risk-youth revealed that they highly valued satisfying basic
needs for autonomy, competence, and relatedness, yet they
also noted frequent experiences of need frustration (Nagpaul
and Chen 2019). Such qualitative studies help in identifying
concrete manifestations and themes underlying experiences
of need satisfaction and frustration in diverse life domains,
developmental periods, and cultures.
Third, apart from readily producing beneﬁts when ful-
ﬁlled, these basic needs should at times direct individu-
als’ actions, thereby leading people to proactively seek out
and prefer certain types of activities. Consistent with the
growth- instead of deﬁcit-oriented character of basic needs
within BPNT, people would have a propensity to actively
seek activities, goals, and relationships in which they can
experience a sense of volition, mastery, and connection, and
to avoid need frustrating counterparts (Laporte etal. 2019;
Wei nst ein etal. 2016a). People should also gravitate towards
need-supportive contexts, a tendency more visible for those
with high levels of agency (Legault etal. 2017; Patall etal.
2019; Reeve 2013). Conceptually, these psychological needs
thus not only serve as nutrients at the ‘input’-side (cfr. the
essential criterion), but they also play a directional role,
pulling individuals into action (see also Sheldon 2011).
Similarly, need frustration should also play an important
signaling function, potentially mobilizing corrective behav-
ior and (adaptive) coping responses (Roth etal. 2019).
A ﬁnal criterion is that the basic psychological needs
should play an important explanatory role in the eﬀects of
social contexts on developmental outcomes. Technically,
basic psychological needs should be context-responsive con-
structs (Prentice etal. 2019), thus systematically showing
variability as a function of contextual variations, while also
7Motivation and Emotion (2020) 44:1–31
mediating the relation between variations in social environ-
ments and individuals’ psychosocial adjustment.
Research in the context of BPNT has addressed the
intervening role of the psychological needs using various
methods, including experimental inductions (e.g., Grouzet
etal. 2004), observer ratings (e.g., Wuyts etal. 2017), and
self-reports of perceived contexts (e.g., Ratelle etal. 2018).
Overall, this research has conﬁrmed that SDT’s three basic
needs can indeed account for the outcomes associated with a
wide variety of contextual predictors such as physical abuse
and controlling parenting (Ahmad etal. 2013; Laurin etal.
2015), gamiﬁcation features (Przybylski etal. 2010; Sailer
etal. 2017), socio-economic status (González etal. 2016),
income inequality (Di Domenico and Fournier 2014), and
transformational leadership (Jensen and Bro 2018), but also
personality-based diﬀerences, such as the use of a suppres-
sive emotion regulation style (Benita etal. 2020) or holding
perfectionistic standards (Boone etal. 2014) to give but a
few examples. Indeed, basic need supports and satisfaction
provide clear criteria for “diagnosing” any human context.
In the same way as we can “evaluate” parents’, coaches’, or
teachers’ behaviors as being more or less need-supportive
and need-thwarting, schools, workplaces and even socie-
ties diﬀer in the degree to which they generally support (or
thwart) basic psychological needs (Ryan etal. 2019b). In this
way, SDT provides an antidote to relativism insofar as it has
strong assumptions regarding the essentials for individuals’
mental health and wellness, which can be examined across
both immediate and pervasive social contexts.
Theme 1: Should we extend theshortlist ofbasic
A retrospective look
The question whether the shortlist of basic needs requires
extension has received ongoing attention over the years (e.g.,
Baxter and Pelletier 2019). Some studies have considered a
broader set of need-candidates (including, but not limited
to, ARC) in a comparative way. For instance, Sheldon etal.
(2001) examined the role of ten candidate-needs in the pre-
diction of event-related aﬀect (cfr. Basic Criterion #2), In
addition to SDT’s three basic needs they included needs for
security/safety, popularity, pleasure/stimulation, self-actu-
alization, self-worth, physical thriving, and money/luxury.
Their work largely conﬁrmed the critical role of the three
basic needs, which were ranked in the top ﬁve of the most
satisﬁed (or deprived) needs during both satisfying (and
unsatisfying) events, with all three needs uniquely relating
to event-related aﬀect. Jang etal. (2009) found a similar
pattern in asking Korean and American students about their
most and least satisfying experiences at school. Autonomy
and competence were most salient during self-generated
satisfying events and accounted for substantial variation in
event-related aﬀect. In perhaps the largest study conducted
on needs and well-being, sampling 123 countries, Tay and
Diener (2011) reported that autonomy, competence, and
relatedness each related uniquely to well-being (e.g., positive
aﬀect), with most associations remaining signiﬁcant after
controlling for basic income as well as other needs, such as
having suﬃcient food, shelter, safety, and respect.
In addition to studies considering many needs simultane-
ously, other studies have zoomed in on one speciﬁc alterna-
tive psychological need. Some of these need candidates were
eventually not included in the short list because a number of
criteria were not met (see Ryan and Deci 2000a; Ryan and
Deci 2017 for more extensive discussions). For instance,
self-esteem is often mentioned as a highly salient experi-
ence during a satisfying event (Jang etal. 2009; Sheldon
etal. 2001) and is considered a fundamental need in other
theories (e.g., terror management theory, Pysczynski etal.
2004). Still, self-esteem is not considered a basic need in
BPNT because it does not operate suﬃciently independently
or distinctively from the ARC needs (Basic Criterion #4).
Concerns about self-worth largely surface on moments when
the basic psychological needs are frustrated (Bartholomew
etal. 2018), and thus the dynamics of self-esteem are pri-
marily dependent upon the basic needs (Ryan and Brown
2003). Also, much like other potential need candidates, such
as self-actualization (Maslow 1971) and meaning (Martela
and Steger 2016), self-esteem represents an outcome that
follows from having psychological needs fulﬁlled. Indeed,
past research has shown that all three need satisfactions pro-
mote self-esteem (e.g., Balaguer etal. 2008; Van Egmond
etal. 2020), and help foster meaning (Martela etal. 2018),
authenticity (Thomaes etal. 2017; Ryan and Ryan 2019) and
self-actualization (Diener etal. 2010; Prentice etal. 2020),
critical outcomes that signal a thriving, fully functioning
In the special issues on BPNT, several author teams pro-
pose new candidate-needs, including a need for novelty
(González-Cutre etal. 2020), novelty-variety (Bagheri
and Milyavskaya 2020), beneﬁcence (Martela and Ryan
2020), and morality (Prentice etal. 2020). These proposals
are thought-provoking, and force us to sharpen our think-
ing about the key conceptual and empirical criteria char-
acterizing basic needs that would have to be fulﬁlled for a
candidate-need to be incorporated as a new basic need. The
evidence oﬀered by these diﬀerent author teams is promising
8 Motivation and Emotion (2020) 44:1–31
at this point, with each team providing initial, yet not deci-
sive, evidence for their proposed candidate-needs.
Deﬁning novelty-variety as the individual’s perception
of experiencing or doing something new, including the
possibility to swith things up in diﬀerent combinations,
Bagheri and Milyavskaya (2020) showed in a series of
correlational and vignette-based experimental studies that
novelty-variety can be factor-analytically separated from
the other needs (Basic Criterion #4), that it contributes
uniquely to domain-speciﬁc well-being (over and above
ARC) and comes with a well-being cost when experi-
mentally thwarted (Basic Criterion #2). Moreover, these
eﬀects did not depend on individuals’ age or preference
for novelty-seeking (Basic Criterion #5).
González-Cutre etal. (2020) adopted a more restrictive
conceptual viewpoint by focusing only on the experience
of novelty and by excluding the variety-feature incorpo-
rated by Bagheri and Milyavskaya (2020). They deﬁned
novelty as the need to experience something not previ-
ously experienced, or something that diﬀers from a per-
son’s everyday routines. Controlling for SDT’s three basic
needs, novelty satisfaction was found to still contribute to
individuals’ motivation and adjustment during exercising
(Study 1) and to well-being (Study 2), while its frustration
was related negatively to well-being (Study 2; cfr. Basic
Criterion #2). Diﬀerent from Bagheri and Milyavskaya
(2020), they reported some evidence for the moderating
role of openness to experience in the relation between nov-
elty satisfaction and well-being (cfr. Basic Criterion #5).
Prentice etal. (2020) present a number of arguments for
why morality, deﬁned as the subjective sense that one is
moral, is a viable fourth basic need, while providing ini-
tial empirical evidence for their claim. In an earlier study,
Prentice etal. (2019) had shown that moral need satisfac-
tion was prevalent when participants were asked to recall
events in which they felt (un)satisﬁed, meaningful, pleas-
urable, and at their best/worst. Moreover, moral need sat-
isfaction explained unique variance in event-related aﬀect
above and beyond BPNT’s classic basic needs (Basic Cri-
terion#2). In their contribution to the special issue, they
provided further evidence by showing that moral satisfac-
tion is related to the enactment of moral behaviors and
to wellness at both between- and within-person levels of
analysis, thereby satisfying Basic Criterion #5.
While the proposed candidate needs of novelty, novelty-
variety and morality passed the ‘entrance exam’ to use
Prentice etal.’s (2019) metaphor, in this issue Martela and
Ryan (2020) provided counter-evidence for the classiﬁca-
tion of beneﬁcence as a basic need. Although they had
convincingly shown in earlier work that beneﬁcence satis-
faction, deﬁned as the feeling of having a positive impact
on others, contributes uniquely to well-being (Martela and
Ryan 2016) and sense of meaning (Martela etal. 2018),
they now sought to establish evidence for the unique role
of beneﬁcence frustration, deﬁned as the feeling of having
a negative impact on others. Although beneﬁcence frus-
tration correlated with various indicators of ill-being, it
failed to predict incremental variance above the frustra-
tion of autonomy, competence, and relatedness. Because
the criterion of essentialness (Basic Criterion #2) implies
that both satisfaction and frustration of a basic need should
play a unique role, the authors concluded that beneﬁcence
may constitute a well-being enhancer.
The question of whether additional basic needs should even-
tually be added to the list is intriguing. In making such deci-
sions, it is important to recall that there were both empirical
(inductive) and theory-driven (deductive) reasons to propose
the three current needs (Ryan and Deci 2017). Although
some new need candidates have passed an initial test, this
is just a starting point for a longer journey. Many criteria
still need to be (re)addressed and extended. The criteria
listed herein may provide a source of inspiration to gener-
ate hypotheses and ideas concerning the designs, methods,
and samples needed to conﬁrm or disconﬁrm the status of
a newly proposed candidate-need as a basic need. Although
all criteria deserve attention, we highlight the importance
of two criteria.
Empirical issues First, the universality criterion (Basic
Criterion #5) needs to be subjected to a rigorous test. To
illustrate, there likely exist substantial interindividual dif-
ferences in individuals’ preference for novelty (Gordon and
Luo 2011) and openness to experiences (McCrae and Costa
1987), with these individual diﬀerences potentially play-
ing an important role in the extent to which people beneﬁt
(in terms of well-being) from the experience of novelty
(see Bagheri and Milyavskaya 2020; González-Cutre etal.
2020). Cultural diﬀerences may also play a role as some
individuals may live in contexts where routine practices are
highly valued and internalized. Another potential modera-
tor concerns the individual’s reasons for acting. When one
volitionally endorses routine activities, one may have a less
pronounced preference for novelty and beneﬁt less (or not
at all) from novelty satisfaction. Similarly, although acting
morally appears to constitute a unique source of well-being,
the question is whether people’s reasons for acting morally
alter their eﬀectiveness. In this context, Weinstein and Ryan
(2010) showed that feeling pressured to engage in prosocial
behavior (i.e., one speciﬁc type of moral behavior) failed to
contribute to the well-being of either the help provider or
recipient (see also Roth 2008).
A second question is whether the eﬀects of proposed
new needs are pervasive (Associated Criterion #1). While
9Motivation and Emotion (2020) 44:1–31
the evidence so far indicates that the newly proposed needs
have aﬀective beneﬁts, it needs to be seen whether similar
beneﬁts arise at the cognitive, behavioral, and physiologi-
cal level, and across varied domains and contexts. Also it
remains a question whether observed eﬀects are lasting, with
the satisfaction and frustration of a newly proposed need
yielding beneﬁts, respectively costs, over a longer period
of time. For example, many experiences of novelty produce
immediate increases in curiosity and excitement, yet may fail
to produce durable eﬀects. Such empirical questions are, in
fact, relevant to all satifactions and frustrations presumably
Conceptual considerations Apart from these empirical con-
siderations, also considerable conceptual work is needed.
First, while most of the eﬀorts have now concentrated on
establishing a fourth need to extend BPNT, another possi-
bility is to reﬁne BPNT by diﬀerentiating diﬀerent facets
within a single need. The advantage of such diﬀerentia-
tion is that parsimony would be maintained, while nuance
would be gained. Facets of a single need should share a
common foundation, while also containing unique aspects.
For instance, relatedness is not a one-way street but instead
entails reciprocity (Ryan and Deci 2017). As such, it may
be possible to distinguish between a ‘giving’ facet and a
‘receiving’ facet within relatedness, with beneﬁcence being
indicative of the former facet (see also Brown etal. 2003).
Further, relatedness does not only involve a sense of connec-
tion and mutuality at the individual level (e.g. Fedesco etal.
2019), but extends to feelings of inclusion and harmony at
the group level (Kelly etal. 2008; Sheldon and Bettencourt
2002) as well as experiences of care vis-à-vis the broader
society, the universe, and even the proposed need-candidate
relatedness with nature (Baxter and Pelletier 2019). Similar
diﬀerentiations can then be made for the need for autonomy
and competence (e.g., Reeve etal. 2003). Along similar
lines, it could be examined whether novelty and variety rep-
resent two facets of an overarching construct, thus sharing
common features but also having unique properties. The
exact relation between novelty and intrinsic motivation also
deserves further exploration, as the latter type of motiva-
tion is also characterized by a tendency for interest-based
exploration, presumably entailing greater novelty satisfac-
tion while also following from it (see González-Cutre etal.
A second conceptual consideration is that it is impor-
tant to develop a better understanding of how the social
context aﬀects newly proposed needs. The current focus is
almost exclusively on the need-experience itself, with little
conceptual work thus far regarding socialization practices
that would characterize an interpersonal style supporting or
undermining potential needs for morality, novelty, or beneﬁ-
cence (see Sylvester etal. 2016). This is important because,
according to Associated Criterion #4, a newly proposed need
has to carry explanatory power, and account for (i.e., medi-
ate) the eﬀect of diverse contextual conditions on individu-
As this journey moves forward, we can learn lessons from
the ﬁeld’s history and only conservatively add a new need
to the list once convincing evidence and arguments are pro-
vided. Patience and openness are critical to avoid premature
conclusions. Illustrative in this context is that beneﬁcence
satisfaction initially appeared to conform to the criteria of
a basic need (Martela and Ryan 2016; Martela etal. 2018),
with subsequent work indicating that frustration of beneﬁ-
cence may fail to yield a unique contribution. Having said
this, we do not want to temper the enthusiasm of scholars
exploring new needs. As aﬃrmative data are gathered, pos-
sibly summarized in meta-analytical overviews, a stronger
position can be taken regarding the ultimate position of pro-
posed candidate needs.
Theme 2: Which costs are associated withbasic
psychological need frustration?
A retrospective look
The initial focus of BPNT was on the role of need supports
and need satisfaction in well-being and healthy psychologi-
cal development (e.g., Ryan etal. 1995). During the past
decade, however, a conceptual and methodological break-
through led to an exponential increase in the study of the
‘dark’ side of human functioning and to a focus on need
thwarting conditions and need frustrating experiences
(Bartholomew etal. 2011; Vansteenkiste and Ryan 2013).
Conceptually, a shift took place from a view in which need
satisfaction was contrasted with its absence on a single
dimension, to a two-dimensional viewpoint in which expe-
riences of need satisfaction and experiences of need frustra-
tion are considered independently. The reason for treating
need frustration as a distinct notion is that it involves an
active threat of the psychological needs (rather than a mere
absence of need satisfaction). These two experiences (i.e.,
need satisfaction and frustration) stand in an asymmetrical
relation to each other, as the absence of need satisfaction
does not necessarily imply the presence of need frustration,
whereas the presence of need frustration denotes the absence
of need satisfaction (Vansteenkiste and Ryan 2013).
Earlier measures of BPNT’s psychological needs pri-
marily tapped into the presence of need satisfaction, with
a few items measuring the absence or deprivation of need
satisfaction being reverse-scored and combined into a
composite satisfaction score (e.g. Reeve and Sickenius
1994; Sheldon etal. 2001; Van den Broeck etal. 2010).
Bartholomew etal. (2011) were the ﬁrst to directly meas-
ure both types of need-based experiences. Their series of
10 Motivation and Emotion (2020) 44:1–31
studies revealed two important ﬁndings. First, congruent
with the presumed asymmetrical relation between need
satisfaction and need frustration, both types of need-based
experiences were found to be negatively and moderately
correlated. Second, as hypothesized, experiences of need
frustration were especially predictive of ill-being, includ-
ing symptoms of burn-out, eating symptomatology, and
negative aﬀect in athletes. In fact, need frustration pre-
dicted incremental variance in maladjustment above and
beyond low need satisfaction, suggesting that need frus-
tration does yield additional functional costs. This work
in the sport context was quickly conﬁrmed in other life
domains, such as work (Trepanier etal. 2016), education
(e.g., Jang etal. 2016a), romantic relationships (e.g., Kindt
etal. 2016; Vanhee etal. 2016), and exercising (e.g., Teix-
eira etal. 2018).
This distinction has led to the development of two-
dimensional need scales within BPNT, such as the Bal-
anced Measure of Psychological Needs (BMPN; Shel-
don and Hilpert 2012) and the Basic Psychological Need
Satisfaction and Frustration Scale (BPNSFS; Chen etal.
2015a). The BPNSFS is currently the most widely used
measure. Originally validated in Dutch, English, Spanish,
and Chinese, today a variety of translations and context-
speciﬁc adaptations are available, including validations
in German (Heissel etal. 2018), Japanese (Nishimura and
Suzuki 2016), Italian (Costa etal. 2018), Hebrew (Benita
etal. 2020), Turkish (Selvi and Bozo 2020), and Portu-
guese (Cordeiro etal. 2016). It has also been adapted
for speciﬁc contexts, including work (Rouse etal. 2020;
Schultz etal. 2015), school (Vandenkerckhove 2019b), and
volunteering, among others (see Appendix for an overview
of diﬀerent translations and adaptations).
The increasing attention paid to individuals’ need frus-
tration was also congruent with SDT’s meta-theoretical
assumption that individuals are vulnerable for being self-
centered, passive, and aggressive (Ryan and Deci 2000b;
Vansteenkiste and Ryan 2013). That is, although we have
the natural tendency to move towards increasing growth
under need-supportive circumstances, there is a potential
for unintegrated regulation of behaviors, harm and defen-
siveness that can be activated by need thwarting condi-
tions. It is in this sense that Ryan and Deci (2017) argued
that ‘distinct human natures’ (p. 620) can manifest as a
function of not only genetic inclinations, but also contex-
tual variations in basic need supports and thwarts and their
interplay (Van Assche etal. 2016).
The development of more valid self-report measures, espe-
cially of need frustration and need thwarting, has spurred
new research on basic psychological needs, widening the
scope of outcomes being researched. These outcomes can
be grouped into various categories, with one category
reflecting immediate ill-being and motivational costs
associated with need frustration, with a second category
pertaining to people’s compensatory responses to need
frustration, and with a third category involving the devel-
opment of need substitutes to cope with (chronic) need
frustration (Ryan etal. 2016).
Motivational costs andIll-being Among the direct costs
associated with basic psychological need frustration are loss
of motivation, disengagement, and experiences of ill-being
and distress. For instance, in the domain of physical educa-
tion, Haerens etal. (2015) found basic need frustration to
relate positively to amotivation, reﬂecting discouragement
and helplessness. Following students throughout an entire
school year, Bartholomew etal. (2018) reported that semes-
ter-to-semester variation in students’ need frustration cova-
ried positively with amotivation and controlled motivation,
and negatively with autonomous motivation. Further, using
a 3-wave longitudinal design, Jang etal. (2016a) reported
that Korean high school students’ increases in need frustra-
tion from the beginning of the school year to midway in the
semester predicted parallel increases in disengagement.
Need frustration has also been found to be a robust pre-
dictor of a variety of ill-being indicators, including stress
(Campbell etal. 2017; Weinstein and Ryan 2011), depres-
sive symptoms (Cordeiro etal. 2016), and anxiety (Ng etal.
2012). Such ﬁndings are evident at both the level of (rela-
tively stable) between-person diﬀerences and at the level
of within-person ﬂuctuations across time, with monthly,
weekly, daily, and even hourly ﬂuctuations in need frustra-
tion co-varying with ﬂuctuations in corresponding negative
aﬀect (e.g., Vandenkerckhove etal. 2019b), stress (e.g.,
Howell etal. 2011), or depressive symptoms (e.g., Bartho-
lomew etal. 2018). Further underscoring the critical impor-
tance of need-based experiences, they were found to predict
university students’ vulnerability for suicidal ideation and
behaviors (Britton etal. 2014; Rowe etal. 2013), even when
controlling for depressive symptoms (see also Tucker and
Wingate 2014). In older adults, reﬂections on need frustra-
tion across one’s life relate to death anxiety, in part because
higher need frustration is associated with greater feelings of
despair, bitterness, and regret (Van der Kaap-Deeder etal.
2019). The fact that need-based experiences are implicated
in the way people think about and handle their ﬁnal destiny
again speaks to the essential and pervasive nature of the
SDT’s current three basic needs.
Compensatory behaviors A confrontation with a need-
frustrating activity or context may elicit diﬀerent responses,
including disengagement from the activity or context or
more active attempts to compensate for frustrated needs.
11Motivation and Emotion (2020) 44:1–31
Such compensatory attempts can take diﬀerent forms (Van-
steenkiste and Ryan 2013). One compensation strategy
involves developing rigid behavior patterns that may be
temporarily functional because they provide a sense of sta-
bility, predictability, and security (Deci and Ryan 2000). For
instance, students, employees, or athletes may compulsively
stick to speciﬁc routines that function as scripts for daily
behavior (e.g., studying at least 8h/day or training at least
4h/day, even when the weather is bad). Especially when
individuals’ self-worth comes to depend on the successful
enactment of these scripts, failing to live up to them elicits
intense guilt and self-criticism, while succeeding in doing
so brings relief and short-lived satisfaction. As such, there
is a risk of developing contingent self-worth (Deci and Ryan
1995; Kernis 2003) insofar as individuals feel that they must
live up to speciﬁc standards or attain particular outcomes
to be worthy. Contingent self-worth functions as a double-
edged sword, on the one hand entailing great commitment
(Crocker etal. 2003) but on the other hand also relating
to greater emotional distress (Van der Kaap-Deeder etal.
There is growing and varied evidence showing how
experiences of need frustration can elicit insecurity about
self-worth and, as one compensatory strategy, foster ego-
involved behaviors. For instance, semester-to-semester
fluctuations in students’ need frustration covaried with
semester-to-semester ﬂuctuations in contingent self-worth
(Bartholomew etal. 2018). Similarly, children’s tendency
to experience self-aggrandizement following success, and
shame and inferiority following failure, appears to be asso-
ciated with need-thwarting parenting styles (Assor and Tal
2012). Further, an obsessive investment in highly passionate
activities is rooted in the experience of need frustration out-
side the beloved activity, suggesting that passionate activi-
ties, although naturally intrinsically motivated, may some-
times be mixed up with compensatory motives (Lalande
etal. 2017). In the relational domain, adults’ problematic
use of Tinder was best predicted by their motive for self-
worth enhancement which, in turn, was rooted in related-
ness frustration (Orosz etal. 2018). Similarly, adolescents’
dyregulated gaming has been predicted by need frustration
in daily life (Mills etal. 2018) in accord with the need den-
sity hypothesis (Rigby and Ryan 2011).
Alternatively, individuals may react to experiences of
need frustration with oppositional deﬁance, thereby doing
the opposite of what is requested by socializing ﬁgures
(Vansteenkiste and Ryan 2013). Such deﬁance is reactive
in nature because the primary goal is to escape from feel-
ing controlled (Koestner and Losier 1996). Oppositional
deﬁance is assumed to be an unskillful way of expressing
resistance against authorities (Parkin and Kuczynski 2012).
Although deﬁance may be undertaken to restore threatened
psychological needs and to regain a sense of independence
and freedom, longitudinal research suggests that deﬁant
adolescents become increasingly alienated from their per-
sonal preferences and interests, experiencing decreasing
autonomy over time (Van Petegem etal. 2015b). Further,
the fact that need frustration elicits oppositional deﬁance
may help to explain why need frustration relates to a variety
of externalizing problems such as the expression of resent-
ment towards authorities (Aelterman etal. 2016), bullying
(Hein etal. 2015), cheating (Kanat-Maymon etal. 2015),
aggressive behaviors (Vandenkerckhove etal. 2019a), and
delinquency (Van Petegem etal. 2015a).
Need substitutes The frustration of psychological needs
may also prompt individuals’ pursuit of need substitutes,
which hold the promise of overcoming at least some of
the insecurities and threats associated with need frustra-
tion. Illustrative in this context is individuals’ endorsement
and pursuit of extrinsic aspirations, including material-
ism, popularity and fame, as well as a perfect body (Kasser
and Ryan 1996). Kasser etal. (1995) showed that a need-
thwarting (i.e., controlling or cold) maternal style predicted
tenagers’development of more extrinsic goal pursuits. Other
studies have provided evidence for relations between need
frustration and such substitute goals and attitudes (Unanue
etal. 2014). For instance, need frustration related positively
to a drive for muscularity among male bodybuilders (Selvi
and Bozo 2020). Interestingly, particularly, relatedness frus-
tration helped explain body builders’ muscle checking and
exercise-dependency (see also Edwards etal. 2016).
Ironically, the hoped-for emotional beneﬁts associated
with the pursuit of extrinsic goals are often overestimated
(e.g., Sheldon etal. 2010). In reality, the pursuit of extrin-
sic goals and even their attainment has been found to relate
to diminished need satisfaction and increased need frustra-
tion, which helps explain their detrimental eﬀects on well-
being (Hope etal. 2019; Leung and Law 2019; Unanue
etal. 2014). Holding etal. (2020) illustrate how this can
occur. In two large samples of university students, Hold-
ing etal. reported that individuals with more extrinsic goals
had more controlled motives for the key career goal they
had selected for themselves in the beginning of an academic
year, which led them to forego the pursuit of psychological
need-satisfying activities during the year. Such psychologi-
cal need sacriﬁcing had a cost, with these students display-
ing increases in need frustration and associated distress by
the end of the year. These ﬁndings indicate that people who
adopt extrinsic goals can get out of touch with what is truly
growth-conducive (see also Sheldon and Corcordan 2019).
Clearly, the study of need frustration as a separate dimension
from need satisfsaction has extended the reach of BPNT,
12 Motivation and Emotion (2020) 44:1–31
with need-based experiences potentially playing a unifying
role between literature on psychological growth and well-
being and literature on psychopathology and risk (Van-
steenkiste and Ryan 2013). Moreover, ﬁndings concerning
compensatory, substitute, and reactive processes associated
with need frustration attest to the dynamic nature of need-
related processes, and the depth in psychological functioning
aﬀorded by BPNT (Ryan and Deci 2017).
Although promising, this literature is still young and
many issues remain. First, if the psychological needs are
truly pervasive (Associated Criterion #1), need frustration
should play a transdiagnostic role in accounting for a diver-
sity of pathological symptoms (Nolen-Hoeksema and Wat-
kins 2011). Illustrating such a potentially transdiagnostic
role, Campbell etal. (2018a) showed that need frustration
not only predicted adolescents’ depressive symptoms and
eating pathology, but also largely accounted for their co-
occurrence and co-evolution across time (Campbell etal.
2018a). Thus, basic need frustration was found to under-
lie phenotypically diﬀerent symptoms and to explain why
these symptoms cluster at the surface level. Such ﬁndings
are congruent with the continuity hypothesis (Haslam etal.
2012; Krueger etal. 2018), which suggests that there is no
abrupt demarcation between adaptation and growth ver-
sus ill-being and psychopathology. Instead, the diﬀerence
between mental health and risk for psychopathology is a
matter of continuity, with need-relevant dynamics playing a
role both in actualizing individuals’ potential for growth and
in awakening vulnerabilities for psychopathology, as mani-
fest in both subclinical and clinical disorders (Ryan etal.
2016). Future research in diverse clinical samples, targeting
diverse symptoms, and using longitudinal designs will help
to further establish how basic need frustration is involved in
the development, maintenance or exacerbation of symptoms
shared across various disorders (Harvey etal. 2004). The
possibility that need frustration may play a transdiagnostic
role is promising because prevention and intervention eﬀorts
could then be oriented towards ameliorating the origins of
psychological need frustration, yielding deep-level, endur-
ing, and multiple beneﬁts. At the same time, pathological
symptoms may sustain need frustration such that one gets
trapped in a negative vicious cycle, an issue that deserves
greater attention in longitudinal work.
A second avenue for future research is to move towards a
person-centered perspective to shed light on individuals’ need
proﬁles and need trajectories (Vansteenkiste and Mouratidis
2016). Such work allows one to gain a deeper insight into
within-person combinations of need satisfaction and frustra-
tion, with proﬁles varying in both the level of satisfaction
and frustration and the balance between needs (Sheldon and
Niemiec 2006). Such proﬁles carry practical value because
they provide a more overarching perspective on individuals’
conﬁguration of need-based functioning instead of “slicing”
an individual into diﬀerent need-relevant dimensions. Know-
ing as a counselor to which need proﬁle an individual belongs
may allow for more tailored interventions targeting one or
more basic needs. Although some studies have identiﬁed
proﬁles based only on need satisfaction scores (Earl etal.
2019), two contributions in this special issue focused on the
within-person patterning of both need satisfaction and need
frustration in the domains of sport and physical education
(Warburton etal. 2020) and work (Rouse etal. 2020). Vari-
ous proﬁles were identiﬁed, with those being characterized
by a stronger presence of need satisfaction and by an absence
of need frustration yielding the most adaptive outcomes. The
opposite proﬁle of low need satisfaction and high frustration
yielded the most maladaptive outcomes (see also Vanhove-
Meriaux etal. 2018). Longitudinal work that charts individu-
als’ trajectories of need satisfaction and need frustration over
time is welcomed to examine the evolution in the identiﬁed
proﬁles. Promising work in this are was conducted among
secondary school (Ratelle and Duchesne 2014) and university
(Gillet etal. 2019) students, thereby revealing considerable
heterogeneity in need trajectories, although these studies
focused on need satisfaction only.
A third avenue for future research involves examining in
greater detail how individuals can learn to cope adaptively
with need-frustrating experiences (Skinner and Zimmer-
Gembeck 2007), with such coping responses speaking to
the directional criterion characterizing basic needs (i.e.,
Associated Criterion #3). A variety of aﬀective, cognitive,
and behavioral responses may be involved, with need frustra-
tion eliciting a corresponding aﬀective desire to get needs
met (Sheldon and Gunz 2009), an attentional shift towards
the thwarted need (Radel etal. 2011), and an ameliora-
tive reaction to try and restore satisfaction of the thwarted
need. In an experimental study, Waterschoot etal. (2020)
showed that participants dispositionally high on resilience
displayed an attentional bias towards competence-relevant
cues in response to manipulated negative feedback. In turn,
this attentional shift was found to be functional in recover-
ing from the blow to their competence need. As noted by
Waterschoot etal., the activation of such an attentional bias
may only be a ﬁrst step in a full-ﬂetched process of recovery
from need frustration. The activated attentional bias would
be part of an early alarm stage (Radel etal. 2011), which
then sets in motion coping strategies that, apart from mobi-
lizing and orienting attention, can also help the individual
to handle the emotional arousal elicited by need frustration.
Skinner, Edge, Altman, and Sherwood (2003) identiﬁed for
each of the three needs a family of need-relevant (mal)adap-
tive coping strategies that deserve more empirical attention.
Notably, such need-speciﬁc coping reactions may, in turn,
be partially genetically determined but also rooted in devel-
opmental exposure to need-supportive or thwarting contexts
(Van Petegem etal. 2017).
13Motivation and Emotion (2020) 44:1–31
Theme 3: What istheinterplay betweenbasic
psychological andbasic physical needs?
A retrospective look
Apart from BPNT’s basic psychological needs, people also
require food, water, air, sex, sleep and other inputs to survive
and to be physically healthy, as noted by drive-based theories
(Hull 1943). Also, in his highly popularized need-hierarchy
Maslow (1954) proposed, in addition to these physiological
needs, a physical need for safety and security, which involves
being protected against physical harm, uncertainty, and pain.
Unlike ARC, which represent growth needs, these deﬁcit
needs become salient and operative when unfulﬁlled, with
their salience again waning when satisﬁed. Although these
needs do not meet all the criteria for basic psychological
needs, they deserve attention insofar as psychological and
physiological/physical needs often dynamically interact.
In fact, until recently indices of physical health and
health-related quality of life have mainly been studied as
outcomes (e.g., Ng etal. 2012; Legate etal. 2017; Tilga etal.
2019). Studies have included measures of somatization and
physical symptoms as indicators of ill-being (e.g., Reinboth
etal. 2004; Reis etal. 2000), which were found to stem from
low need satisfaction and especially high need frustration.
Such ﬁndings were corroborated with objective markers of
physical functioning, including increased cortisol secretion
(Reeve and Tseng 2011), elevated diastolic blood pressure
(Weinstein etal. 2016b), risk high-density lipoprotein levels
(Uysal etal. 2020), immunological responses (e.g., Bartho-
lomew etal. 2011), and even longevity (Kasser and Ryan
1999; Weinstein etal. 2019).
Although studies including indices of physical functioning
as an outcome are informative, a more full-ﬂetched approach
would consider the complex and dynamic interplay between
ARC and individuals’ physiological needs. This would
involve (a) examining how the ARC-dynamics are related
to the satisfaction and disruption in physiological needs and
vice versa (i.e., reciprocal dynamics) and (b) whether and
how both ARC and these other needs independently or inter-
actively predict individuals’ well-being. We brieﬂy review
relevant evidence for such a more dynamic point of view in
relation to the needs for sex, food, sleep, and safety.
Sex Using an event-contingent diary methodology, Smith
(2007) reported that undergraduates who experienced
greater autonomy, competence, and relatedness during
sexual interactions reported more positive outcomes (e.g.
relaxed, satisﬁed) and less negative outcomes (e.g., regret,
guilt). Brunell and Webster (2013) further showed that the
beneﬁts of self-determined motives for sex yield basic need
satisfaction during intimate interactions, which radiate to
individuals’ well-being and relationship quality.
Food In terms of individuals’ physiological need for food,
several studies have now reported that need satisfaction is
predictive of healthier eating patterns, whereas need frustra-
tion predicts unhealthy and disrupted eating (e.g. Pelletier
and Dion 2007). Both diary-based (Verstuyf etal. 2013)
and longitudinal (Boone etal. 2014) research among ado-
lescents showed that need frustration predicts vulnerabil-
ity for bulimic symptoms. Presumably, on days that one’s
needs get frustrated, binge eating is more tempting because
it may compensate for the negative aﬀect associated with
need frustration. Also, need frustration has a direct energy-
depleting eﬀect, which helps to explain break-downs in self-
control on such days. Other studies have taken a diﬀerent
approach to this issue by considering the moderating role of
food deprivation in the relation between basic psychologi-
cal needs and outcomes. For instance, Van Egmond etal.
(2020) examined whether resource scarcity, including the
deprivation of food and clean water on a daily basis, may
attenuate the beneﬁcial role of Malawian adolescent girls’
psychological need satisfaction. No evidence for modera-
tion was found, suggesting that psychological need satis-
faction contributes to self-esteem, even among adolescents
growing up in very poor circumstances.
Sleep Studies with both community samples (Campbell
etal. 2015) and with samples of persons with severe sleep
problems, such as patients with unexplained chronic fatigue
(Campbell etal. 2017), have shown that need frustration
relates positively to self-reported poor quality of sleep. In
this special issue, Uysal and colleagues report further evi-
dence from a large-scale study that psychological need frus-
tration predicts subjective sleep indicators (e.g., poor sleep
quality, poor sleep latency, sleep disturbance) two years
later. Potentially explaining these dynamics, need frustra-
tion was associated with higher stress which, in turn, pre-
dicts dysfunctional pre-sleep cognitions that interfere with
sleep patterns (Campbell etal. 2017, 2018b). Interestingly,
the costs of need frustration even manifest through one’s
dreams, with individuals appraising their dreams in a more
negative way and reporting more negative dream contents on
days that their needs get frustrated (Weinstein etal. 2018).
Other studies have shed light on the issue of causality.
Performing cross-lagged analyses, Tavernier etal. (2019)
reported that, after controlling for multiple covariates (i.e.,
personality, chronotype, sleep medication, self-esteem,
social desirability), need fulﬁllment among university stu-
dents predicted improved sleep quality and an increase in
14 Motivation and Emotion (2020) 44:1–31
sleep duration during the weekend (but not over the week)
over one semester, while sleep patterns did not reciprocally
feed back into need satisfaction. Campbell etal. (2018c)
reported on a controlled sleep deprivation experiment in
which participants were deprived of sleep for three consecu-
tive nights (i.e., 5h per night). Although reduced sleep had
an immediate energy-depleting eﬀect after the ﬁrst night, it
took three nights before need satisfaction was eroded, with
a reduction in morning energy and an impaired mindful
approach during the day accounting for these eﬀects.
Safety A number of studies have addressed the unique and
interactive contribution of ARC and perceptions of physical
safety/security in the prediction of well-being. In the Tay
and Diener (2011) study, safety/security satisfaction and
ARC independently contributed to the prediction of well-
being. Chen etal. (2015b) went one step further by exam-
ining the interactive interplay between safety and ARC by
sampling participants experiencing serious threats to safety/
security, such as poor Chinese workers suﬀering from ﬁnan-
cial insecurity, and South-African adults living in unsafe
neighborhoods. Based upon Maslow’s (1954) presumed
hierarchical structure of need satisfaction and the associated
principle of prepotency, Chen etal. (2015b) reasoned that
ARC might either fail to predict unique variance in well-
being among individuals deprived of physical safety or that
ARC would only contribute to enhanced well-being for
those high in safety satisfaction. The growth-promoting role
of ARC would be constrained among individuals high in
physical insecurity because comparatively more resources
would be devoted to the satisfaction of safety. In contrast,
based on BPNT Chen etal. (2015b) argued that even peo-
ple struggling for security experience diﬀerent degrees of
need satisfaction and frustration with ensuing consequences
for their mental health. Findings in both samples indicated
that all three need satisfactions uniquely predicted well-
being above and beyond safety, and moreover, safety did not
moderate eﬀects of the basic psychological needs (see also
Rasskazova etal. 2016).
Based on the assumption that full functioning requires the
satisfaction of both psychological and physiological/safety
needs, it is critical for BPNT to further address the dynamic
interplay between basic psychological needs and other needs
and drives through experimental and longitudinal work. One
question that could be addressed is whether the perceived
psychological threshold for objective conditions of unsafety
(e.g., low income) to translate into perceived insecurity is
dependent upon one’s psychological need satisfaction. That
is, ARC may serve as a resource to better handle signs of
threat and insecurity and to be more satisﬁed with one’s
Another possibility is that eﬀects of physiological and
safety needs are partially accounted for by ARC. To illus-
trate, ﬁnancial security may create the possibility for indi-
viduals to buy themselves the necessary time to pursue their
interests, to connect with others, or to pursue the education
to improve their skills (DeHaan etal. 2016; Di Domenico
and Fournier 2014). In contrast, ﬁnancial diﬃculties may
be a source of pressure and interpersonal tension, which
helps to explain why ﬁnancial diﬃculties predict poorer
well-being. Congruent with this reasoning, the experimental
induction of prospective economic threat, relative to a no-
threat condition, was suﬃcient to undermine participants’
needs for autonomy and competence, which explained their
decreased well-being (Dupuis and Newby-Clark 2016). Sim-
ilarly, the threat of potentially losing one’s job comes with
a severe cost (e.g., greater burnout) because job insecurity
impairs satisfaction of basic psychological needs (Vander
Elst etal. 2012).
Theme 4: Are there new insights intheconditions
thataect need-based experiences?
A retrospective look
Over the past two decades, SDT-based research has inten-
sively studied key practices and correlates of need-suppor-
tive (i.e., autonomy support, structure, warmth) and need-
thwarting (i.e., control, neglect, chaos) contexts (Ryan and
Deci 2017; Vansteenkiste etal. 2010). Historically, auton-
omy support has received the most attention in part because
the need for autonomy is both most unique to SDT and
most controversial and in part because autonomy-support-
ive socializing agents tend to be responsive to competence
and relatednees needs as well. Initially, autonomy support
and control were assessed along a single dimension (e.g.,
Deci etal. 1981), yet, over the years, the practice of control
was increasingly studied in its own right (e.g., Assor etal.
2005). Parallel to the diﬀerentiation between need satisfac-
tion and need frustration, an increasing number of studies
have explored the unique and independent contributions of
autonomy-supportive and controlling styles (e.g., Bartho-
lomew etal. 2011; Bhavsar etal. 2019; Haerens etal. 2018;
Patall etal. 2018).
Also, as acting in an autonomy-supportive way is some-
times perceived to be at odds with setting limits, the question
was addressed whether and how an autonomy-supportive
style can be combined with structure (Jang etal. 2010; Sie-
rens etal. 2009). It is now very clear that autonomy sup-
port and structure are not antithetical. Rather, the setting
of expectations (Vansteenkiste etal. 2012), the monitoring
of whereabouts (Rodriguez-Meirinhos etal. 2019), and the
15Motivation and Emotion (2020) 44:1–31
provision of feedback (Carpentier and Mageau 2013) can be
done in more autonomy-supportive or controlling ways, with
a combination of structure and autonomy-support yielding
the most adaptive outcomes (e.g., Curran etal. 2013).
The study of need-supportive and need-thwarting styles has
rapidly grown over the past years, with studies becoming
increasingly methodologically sophisticated and at the same
time generating novel insights at the conceptual level.
Methodological improvements SDT research has from the
outset iterated between observational (e.g., Deci etal. 1993;
Grolnick etal. 1984) and self-report (e.g., Grolnick and
Ryan 1989) methods. As the research evolved, scholars have
made use of an increasing variety of methods, including lon-
gitudinal designs (e.g., Garn etal. 2019), multi-informant
and/or observational measures of need-support (Bindman
etal. 2015), and multilevel analyses to separate between-
person, within-person (Mabbe etal. 2018) and between-
group eﬀects (Kachanoﬀ etal. 2019).
Longitudinal studies spanning diﬀerent time frames, from
a few months to a decade, have now shown that need sup-
port predicts adjustment over time, as indexed by improved
executive functioning (e.g., Bindman etal. 2015), increased
engagement (e.g., Jang etal. 2016a), better emotion regula-
tion (e.g., Brenning etal. 2015), and higher achievement
and well-being (e.g., Duineveld etal. 2017; Joussemet etal.
2005). Wüttke (2020) adds to this body of literature. Two
long-term representative cohort studies show that parental
need-support plants the seeds of adults’ interest and engage-
ment with politics several decades later.
In contrast, longitudinal research has shown that per-
ceived need thwarting predicts adolescents’ vulnerability to
various types of psychopathology, including both externaliz-
ing (Joussemet etal. 2008) and internalizing problems (Lau-
rin etal. 2015; Soenens etal. 2008). Longitudinal work also
reveals that need-relevant socialization and (mal)adjustment
is not a one-way street. For instance, more autonomously
motivated (Garn etal. 2019) and agentically engaged (Matos
etal. 2018) students are capable of evoking more autonomy-
supportive responses from teachers. Much as such a positive
spiral can unfold over time, people can also get trapped in
a negative vicious cycle, with children’s disaﬀection and
defiance eroding socializers’ need supportiveness (e.g.,
Vansteenkiste etal. 2014) or eliciting more need-thwarting
responses (e.g., Jang etal. 2016a; Soenens etal. 2008).
Because need-supportive socialization manifests diﬀer-
ently in diﬀerent contexts and at diﬀerent ages (Grolnick
etal. 2018), measures need to be attuned to the develop-
mental stage of the sample and to the context at hand. While
an autonomy-supportive style involves a number of basic
practices (i.e., taking the child’s perspective, building in
desired choice, oﬀering a meaningful rationale for requests,
and the use of informational language; Ryan and Deci 2017;
Vansteenkiste and Soenens 2015), some of these practices
may be more salient, critical and easily applicable in cer-
tain contexts and at certain ages than others. To illustrate,
parental autonomy support and control manifest diﬀerently
during a puzzle solving task with toddlers (e.g., Bernier
etal. 2010) versus during a conversation about sexuality
(Mauras etal. 2013) or friendships with adolescents (e.g.,
Wuyts etal. 2018).
Similarly, what a PE teacher says and does to support stu-
dents’ autonomy (Haerens etal. 2013) may not be identical
to what science teachers do (Patall etal. 2018). Observation
tools thus need to capture these sometimes subtle diﬀerences
to be ecologically valid and to maximize the probability of
establishing predictive validity. This idea applies not only to
observational tools, but also to questionnaires, an increasing
number of which are now tailored to context and sample
(e.g., Andreasdakis etal. 2019).
Increasingly, studies are also examining need support
and need thwarting at the level of within-person change.
For instance, in sport athletes, both training-to-training
(Carpentier and Mageau 2016) and game-to-game (Delrue
etal. 2017) variation in experienced need-supportiveness
are predictive of athletes’ self-conﬁdence, autonomous sport
motivation and their pro- and anti-social play. Day-to-day
variations in perceived parental (Van der Kaap-Deeder etal.
2017) and teacher (Patall etal. 2018) need support have
similary been related to daily ﬂuctuations in children’s well-
being and engagement.
Finally, in more recent years, an increasing number of
intervention studies have been conducted(Assor etal. 2018).
These studies indicate that socializing agents can be trained
to adopt a more need-supportive style and to move away
from a need-thwarting style. Eﬀective intervention programs
for teachers (e.g., Cheon and Reeve 2015), parents (e.g.,
Joussemet etal. 2014; Moe etal. 2018) and coaches (e.g.,
Reynders etal. 2019) are now available, showing beneﬁts
for both the persons being motivated and for the socializing
Conceptual innovations Other studies have attempted to
reﬁne or extend the list of existing need-supportive and
need-thwarting practices. To illustrate, Jang etal. (2016b)
provided more reﬁned insights in the way how choice can
be implemented in the classroom by showing that teaching
a lesson in student preferred vs. non-preferred ways pro-
moted greater autonomy, in turn, relating to greater engage-
ment and learning. Assor etal. (2020) proposed a number
of new autonomy-relevant practices with speciﬁc relevance
to identity development. Active parental eﬀorts to facili-
tate decision-making on the basis of adolescents’ authentic
16 Motivation and Emotion (2020) 44:1–31
inner compass, for instance by encouraging exploration of
personal values and interests or by modeling intrinsic values
oneself, were found to relate positively to adolescents’ iden-
tity development and well-being.
Apart from such extensions and refinements, many
studies also consider need-relevant dimensions simultane-
ously (e.g., Rocchi etal. 2017; Skinner etal. 2005; Zim-
mer-Gembeck, Webb etal. 2015). Such research reveals
that socializing agents capable of nurturing one need often
simultaneously support other needs (e.g., Baard etal. 2004),
while the thwarting of all three needs also happens simul-
taneously in many instances (Costa etal. 2019). Further,
using multi-dimensional scaling analyses, greater insights
were produced in the way that diﬀerent need-supportive and
need-thwarting practices among teachers (Aelterman etal.
2019) and youth sport coaches (Delrue etal. 2019a) can best
be situated vis-à-vis each other. This research has resulted
in a model with a circumplex structure (see Fig.2), which
captures diﬀerent ways in which socialization ﬁgures can
support or thwart individuals’ psychological needs. This cir-
cumplex serves as a guide or compass for socializing agents
because, as can be expected, subareas on the right side in
the model (i.e., attuning, guiding) yield the strongest cor-
relates with need satisfaction and with desirable outcomes,
whereas those on the left side (i.e., abandoning, domineer-
ing) yield the strongest correlates with need frustration and
undesirable outcomes. Vermote etal. (2020) provide fur-
ther evidence for the circumplex structure among teachers
in higher education, showing that autonomously motivated
teachers are more likely to adopt a need-supportive teach-
ing style, whereas those who are more amotivated and hold
more controlled motives and entity beliefs are more likely
to adopt need-thwarting styles.
Although the circumplex model includes a broad variety of
need-supportive and need-thwarting practices, the model is
not exhaustive. Taxonomies involving an overview of criti-
cal need-relevant practices are now available and can form a
basis for enriching the circumplex (e.g., Gillison etal. 2019).
Also, more novel practices such as being patient with mis-
takes (Jiang etal. 2019) and facilitating the formation of an
authentic inner compass (i.e., encouraging children to get
in touch with and explore basic values, interests, and com-
mitments; Assor etal. 2020) are being explored and may
reﬁne or extend the circumplex. The mapping of practices
such as directive support (i.e., providing advice, guidance
and reminders of actions needed to achieve goals) on the
circumplex may help to gain deeper insight in the ambiguous
and inconsistent eﬀects obtained with these practices in past
studies (Carbonneau etal. 2019). In addition, the broader
dimension of relatedness support (e.g., Gonzalez and Chivi-
acowsky 2018; Sparks etal. 2016) deserves being studied in
relation to the circumplex. Finally, qualitative research may
help enrich the circumplex as it sheds light on the multiple
concrete manifestations of socializing agents’ need-support-
ive and need thwarting styles (Côté-Lecaldare etal. 2016).
Further, longitudinal designs will help uncovering
whether socializing agents slip from more structuring to
more controlling and from more autonomy-supportive
to chaotic styles as a function of encountered threats to
their needs, personality characteristics, and the broader
Fig. 2 Graphical representa-
tion of the circumplex model
(Aelterman etal. 2019)
17Motivation and Emotion (2020) 44:1–31
motivating climate, or whether they shift in more desirable
directions as they get trained to adopt a more need-support-
ive socialization style.
Overall then, the circumplex structure is in need of repli-
cation, extension, and reﬁnement in diverse age groups, life
domains, and cultures. Considerable care will be required to
ﬁnd out which practices carry the greatest ecological validity
in every setting, while preserving theoretical precision. From
a practical viewpoint, such in-depth investigations yield the
promise of providing more hands-on guidelines for socializ-
ing agents to adopt a need-supportive style in daily practice.
Theme 5: How radical isBPNT’s universalism claim?
Towards universality withoutuniformity
A retrospective look
The notion that all human beings would share a similar set
of basic psychological needs, the satisfaction of which is
critical for well-being, ﬂourishing, and psychological growth
initially elicited quite some debate. SDT’s view on human
nature appeared especially controversial from the perspec-
tive of some cultural relativist views (e.g., Markus and
Kitayama 2003) because the assumption of a growth ten-
dency supported by universal needs contradicts their blank
slate, culture-as-script understanding of human propensities
(Vansteenkiste and Ryan 2013).
The discussion centered especially on the need for
autonomy, the most disputed need. Although the concept of
autonomy had received attention from scholars in the ﬁelds
of cross-cultural psychology (Markus and Schwartz 2010),
adolescent development (Steinberg and Silverberg 1986),
and organizational psychology (Warr 1994), their view on
autonomy was in many cases more restrictive (rather than
universal). Specifically, autonomy was conceived as an
attribute that should come only in moderate doses or that
would be beneﬁcial only to speciﬁc groups of individuals,
such as those growing up in individualistic cultures (Markus
and Kitayama 2003), adolescents who increasingly strive
for more self-reliance (Zimmer-Gembeck and Collins 2003),
and highly educated employees who are socialized in taking
initiative and expressing their voice (Snibbe and Markus
2005). In such views the beneﬁts of autonomy depend on
one’s culture, age, and social class. Yet, by conceiving
autonomy as a universal psychological need, the claim made
in SDT was that any person better thrives when this need is
Part of the controversy was due to the conceptual confu-
sion surrounding the notion of autonomy (Ryan and Lynch
1989; Vansteenkiste etal. 2005). Most scholars emphasizing
the limited beneﬁts associated with autonomy have deﬁned
autonomy as acting independently and making independent
choices, whereas autonomy within SDT implies that one’s
actions, thoughts, and feelings are undergirded by a sense
of volition and authenticity. Such volitional functioning can
characterize independent behavior, when one wants to act
on one’s own, as well as a willing dependency on others for
inputs and guidance (Soenens etal. 2018). Chirkov etal.
(2003) showed that volitional endorsement of cultural prac-
tices, whether vertical or horizontal, collectivistic or indi-
vidualistic in orientation, contributed to the well-being of
individuals from Russia, the US, South-Korea, and Turkey.
Similarly, studies with Belgian (Van Petegem etal. 2012)
and Chinese (Chen etal. 2013) adolescents have shown that
experiencing a sense of volition during either independent
decision-making or reliance on parents for advice and guid-
ance was related to higher well-being. Across these stud-
ies, the experience of volition appears to be a more decisive
factor in predicting adolescent adjustment than independent
decision making as such (see also Wilde etal. 2018).
In addition to differentiating between autonomy-as-
independence and autonomy-as-volition, researchers have
increasingly tested the role of each of the three needs across
diverse cultural backgrounds. For instance, having provided
evidence for the measurement equivalence of the BPNSNF
scale across Chinese, Belgian, American, and Peruvian
university students, Chen etal. (2015a) reported that their
need-based model held across diﬀerent countries (see also
Church etal. 2013; Sheldon etal. 2011; Taylor and Lon-
sdale 2010). The diversity of countries being sampled in
the current special issues is remarkable, with participants
coming from Brazil, Israel, Belgium, Peru, Canada, Turkey,
Malawi, the US, the UK, the Netherlands, Spain, and Korea,
and with all studies reporting various beneﬁts in relation
to ARC satisfaction and costs in relation to ARC frustra-
tion (see also Benita etal. 2020). Cross-cultural evidence
has now been meta-analytically analyzed with autonomy as
deﬁned within BPNT appearing to carry similar beneﬁts for
individuals from diverse cultures (e.g., Slemp etal. 2018;
Yu etal. 2018).
Over the past years an increasing number of studies have
examined the role of diverse moderators. Figure3 provides
an overview of the diﬀerent places in the context—outcomes
sequence in which moderators can be studied. After brieﬂy
introducing this model, we present a number of conclu-
sions to summarize the state-of-the art of the literature and
we selectively review empirical work underscoring these
Theoretical model The theoretical model shown in Fig.3
highlights that moderating variables can play a role (a) in
the relation between subjective need-based experiences and
outcomes (output-side of the model) and (b) in the relation
18 Motivation and Emotion (2020) 44:1–31
between objectively induced or self-reported contextual sup-
ports and thwarting of the needs and its appraisal in terms of
need satisfaction and frustration (input-side of the model).
Three features of this model deserve being highlighted.
First, the scope of potential moderators of need-based
dynamics that are receiving attention has steadily broad-
ened. Although considerable attention was initially devoted
to the question whether individuals’ cultural background
and nationality would affect the functional impacts of
need-based experiences (e.g., Chirkov and Ryan 2001),
this question has now been widened by addressing demo-
graphic variables (e.g., gender, education, age; Mackenzie
etal. 2018), psychological characteristics (e.g., personal-
ity, need strength, motivational diﬀerences), and situational
features (e.g., group vs. individual interactions). Also, need-
based dynamics have been studied in an increasing number
of diverse populations. To illustrate, need-based dynamics
now appear critical for individuals with mild intellectual
disabilities (Frielink etal. 2019), for the engagement and
productivity of crew members in a long-term mars simu-
lation ﬂight (Goemaere etal. 2019) and for senior adults’
adjustment who face the challenge of achieving ego-integrity
(Custers etal. 2012).
Second, BPNT’s universality claim especially holds
with respect to the output-side of the model: any person,
regardless of sociodemographic or psychological charac-
teristics, should beneﬁt, in one way or another, from need
satisfaction and suﬀer from need frustration, if subjectively
experienced (e.g., Vansteenkiste etal. 2006). In cross-cul-
tural research, this part of the model would be considered
etic (Kotlak 2006), meaning that the correlates associated
with need-based experiences are robust and generalizable
across cultural diﬀerences (Reeve etal. 2018). Yet such
structural invariance in the associations between needs and
outcomes does not imply that no gradations in the strength
of the relations or variations in the type of outcomes are pos-
sible. Depending on individuals’ personality and develop-
mental history, they may have been diﬀerently (de)sensitized
to the beneﬁts associated with need satisfaction and the costs
associated with need frustration (e.g., Moller etal. 2010).
Third, as for the input-side of the model, BPNT does not
involve a one-size-ﬁts-all perspective, as if there would be no
variation in the way how individuals’ needs get supported.
Such a radical perspective would not only be pragmatically
naïve, it would also be theoretically inconsistent with the
very idea of what need-supportive socializing agents do. That
is, inherent to the practice of need support is that socializing
agents take both personal characteristics (e.g., personality,
preferences) and situational circumstances into account to
maximize participants’ need-satisfying experiences (Mabbe
etal. 2020; Mageau etal. 2017). Thus, need-supportive
socialization implies ongoing calibration of one’s approach
to others (Vansteenkiste etal. 2019). Overall then, BPNT’s
universality perspective does not require perfect uniform-
ity (Soenens etal. 2015). Instead, diﬀerent ways can lead to
Rome, and thus it is important to understand variations in
Appraisals in terms of need-
Need-supportive context Basic need satisfaction Adjustment
Need thwartingcontext Basic need frustration Maladjustment
Input side Output side
Fig. 3 Graphic Model Providing an Overview of the Empirical Work in BPNT Addressing the Topic of Universality
19Motivation and Emotion (2020) 44:1–31
the emic meanings and functions of SDT constructs. Indeed,
within SDT, such emic diﬀerences reﬂect variations in the
functional signiﬁcance (Deci and Ryan 1985) or meaning that
individuals attribute to a need-relevant practice, a meaning
that can vary as a function of cultural, socio-demographic,
or personality diﬀerences. To illustrate, parents’ request to
monitor homework may be perceived as intrusive and med-
dlesome by some children, thwarting their need for auton-
omy, whereas for others it may be experienced as useful and
constructive guidance so they can competently complete their
homework (e.g., Moe etal. 2018).
Empirical ndings Based on the increasing interest in study-
ing moderators of the eﬀects of need-based experiences, we
tentatively present four intermediate conclusions. Because
the study of moderators within BPNT is relatively recent
and still ongoing, some conclusions formulated herein may
need modiﬁcation as the ﬁeld progresses.
First, the extant evidence strongly suggests that the
explanatory power of the main eﬀects of ARC or ARC-sup-
portive contexts heavily outweighs the supplementary role
played by interaction eﬀects. That is, both the percentage
of variance explained by interactions but also the number
of obtained interactions is rather limited in most, if not all,
studies (e.g., Katz etal. 2009; Van Assche etal. 2018). Such
ﬁndings align with BPNT’s core idea that the satisfaction
and support of these needs is essential in and of themselves.
To illustrate, Wörtler etal. (2020) found in samples of both
Dutch and American employees that experiences of volition,
mastery, and connection at work are conducive to employ-
ees’ engagement and organizational citizenship behavior,
with need strength moderating these eﬀects only to a very
limited degree. Similarly, experimental studies indicate that
learners beneﬁt from an autonomy-supportive teaching style,
with participants’ motivational diﬀerences aﬀecting these
eﬀects only to a limited extent (e.g., Delrue etal. 2019b; De
Meyer etal. 2016; Flünger etal. 2019).
Second, the type of interaction emerging deserves atten-
tion. Although there is some evidence for gradations in the
strength of the beneﬁts and costs associated with, respectively,
subjectively felt basic need satisfaction and need frustration,
no evidence for cross-over interactions has emerged. That is,
there is no evidence that individuals suﬀer from basic need
satisfaction, or show gains from frustrations; if anything, the
nutritional basis of need satisfaction is more pronounced for
some individuals. To illustrate, the eﬀects of need satisfaction
on individuals’ felt emotions (Flünger etal. 2013) and well-
being (Van Assche etal. 2018) become gradually less strong
with decreasing explicit need strength, but even those low in
need strength did not beneﬁt from dissatisfaction or frustration
of their needs (see also Schüler etal. 2016).
Third, comparatively more interactions have been
identiﬁed in the relation between the social context and
need-based experiences and outcomes (i.e., the input side
of the model in Fig.3) than in the relation between need-
based experiences and outcomes (i.e., the output side of
the model in Fig.3). Although mean-level diﬀerences in
need-based experiences exist as a function of demographic
diﬀerences, the eﬀects of need-based experiences in the pre-
diction of (mal)adjustment are often found to be independent
of participants’ gender, age (Mackenzie etal. 2018), ethnic
background (Froiland etal. 2019), or socio-economic status
(Rodriguez-Meirinhos etal. 2019). Similarly, Big Five per-
sonality traits (Mabbe etal. 2016) and diﬀerences in need
strength (e.g., Sheldon etal. 2001) have not been shown
to reliably aﬀect the functional role of need satisfactions
on developmental outcomes. Yet, as for the ﬁrst part of the
model, diﬀerences in individuals’ autonomous motivation
(e.g., Baten etal. 2020; Black and Deci 2000; Mouratidis
etal. 2011), causality orientations (e.g., Hagger and Chatz-
isarantis 2011), need strength (Katz etal. 2009) and motive
dispositions (Sheldon and Schüler 2011) can moderate to
some extent the relation between various need-supportive
and need-thwarting practices and outcomes.
Finally, although need frustration and contextual need
thwarting are generally detrimental to development and psy-
chological growth, there is some evidence that interindivid-
ual diﬀerences determine the type of costs associated with
need frustration and perceived need-thwarting socialization.
To illustrate, adolescents high and low on trait autonomous
functioning experienced a controlling parental request to
put out extra eﬀort after poor exams as equally autonomy
frustrating, but those high on trait autonomy did not per-
ceive the request as illegitimate, nor did they intend to defy
the request, signaling a nuanced pattern of moderation (Van
Petegem etal. 2019). Similarly, psychologically controlling
parenting (i.e., a speciﬁc type of need-thwarting parenting
characterized by love withdrawal and guilt-induction) has
been found to relate to more internalizing problems irre-
spective of children’s Big Five personality traits but to relate
to externalizing problems mainly among children low on
agreeableness (Mabbe etal. 2016).
First, theoretical grounds can best form the basis for select-
ing potential moderators in future research. In this respect,
the psychological distance between the independent, mod-
erating, and dependent variable may be taken into consid-
eration; the closer the psychological distance, the greater
the probability of ﬁnding an interaction pattern. To illus-
trate, trait diﬀerences in indecisiveness (Germeijs and De
Boeck 2002) may be a more viable moderator of the eﬀects
of choice compared to other trait diﬀerences as indecisive-
ness addresses individuals’ skill for choosing. Indeed, prior
work among rope skippers (DeMuynck etal. 2019) and
20 Motivation and Emotion (2020) 44:1–31
elementary school children (Waterschoot etal. 2019) indi-
cates that some of the eﬀects of experimentally provided
choice were less pronounced among highly indecisive indi-
viduals. Further, although a number of studies (e.g., Schüler
etal. 2013) have looked for moderating eﬀects of motives
for power, achievement, and aﬃliation, as conceived within
Motive Disposition Theory, there is no conceptual one-to-
one relation between these motives, denoting interindividual
diﬀerences, and BPNT’s basic needs (see Ryan etal. 2019a).
For this reason, more narrowly deﬁned and operationalized
measures of need strength, tapping into the experience of
need desire (Sheldon and Gunz 2009) or need valuation
(Chen etal. 2015a), have been used in BPNT research.
Nonetheless, their moderating role in the relations between
need-based experiences and outcomes still appears to be
relatively weak (e.g., Chen etal. 2015a; Flünger etal. 2013;
Van Assche etal. 2018).
Second, future research examining the possibility that
need-supportive practices need to be aligned with individu-
als’ characteristics may beneﬁt from the circumplex model
shown in Fig.2 because this model is detailed and rather
nuanced. Illustrative in this context is work by Marbell-
Pierre etal. (2019), who reported that parental provision of
choice related to positive developmental outcomes among
US, but not among Ghanaian adolescents. In contrast, paren-
tal perspective taking, a central element of autonomy sup-
port and the attuning approach in particular, was related
to higher adjustment irrespective of participants’ cultural
background. Such ﬁndings are fully congruent with the cir-
cumplex model, which suggests that the attuning approach
may be more directly need-nurturing, while the participative
approach is merely need-enabling (Aelterman etal. 2019).
Third, also the broader (cultural) climate may aﬀect the
functional signiﬁcance of speciﬁc need-relevant practices.
For instance, American compared to Chinese elementary
school children perceived a controlling teacher as more
hurtful and controlling, which was reﬂected in their reduced
motivation for schoolwork (Zhou etal. 2012). Similarly,
Chinese adolescents perceive the parental practice of guilt-
induction as more benign compared to Belgian teens, yet still
as more controlling and autonomy-thwarting compared to
autonomy support (Chen etal. 2016; see also Chao and Aque
2009). Not only the broader cultural ambience but also the
more immediate family environment may alter the meaning
attributed to need-relevant practices. For example, adoles-
cents who grew up in a home characterized by increasing
autonomy-supportive socialization over the years perceived
exposure to a new autonomy-supportive, relative to a con-
trolling, encounter with parents as more autonomy satisfy-
ing and reacted in more constructive ways to a controlling
situation (Van Petegem etal. 2017).
Finally, speciﬁc situational features may play a role in
altering the perceived meaning and eﬀectiveness of need-
supportive and need-thwarting practices. For instance, in a
study among judo athletes, a controlling intervention by a
judo coach was perceived as more controlling and harmful
when athletes, despite clear eﬀorts, struggled to master a
new technique compared to when the athletes were depicted
as disturbing the training of their peers (Delrue etal. 2019b).
Although a controlling response was less favorable in both
situations compared to an autonomy-supportive one, the
context of disturbance attenuated some of the costs associ-
ated with coach control.
The present overview makes clear that, today, research on
basic psychological needs is active and growing. Based on
BPNT, the topic of basic psychological needs has been stu-
died by researchers across the world, presumably because it
touches upon fundamental theoretical questions regarding
our human nature and carries far-reaching practical impli-
cations for parents, educators, managers, coaches and other
social relationships. Concern for basic psychological needs
also has implications for (re)organizing schools and work
settings, as well as for developing sustainable health care
and welfare policies.
At this point, pressing, yet exciting questions loom, such
as possible extensions of the shortlist of basic needs, the
multiple and variable manifestations of need frustration,
and the variable pathways towards psychological growth,
ﬂourishing, and integrity on the “bright side”, and towards
ill-being and psychopathology on the “dark side”. It is our
hope that this special double-issue in Motivation and Emo-
tion contributes to this intensive research journey, ultimately
helping to shed light on what it means to live, and to support
a purposeful and ﬂourishing life.
21Motivation and Emotion (2020) 44:1–31
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Table 3 Overview of diﬀerent translations and adaptations of the basic psychological need satisfaction and frustration scale (BPNSFS)
A manual with the diﬀerent versions of the BPNSFS can be retrieved from the Self-Determination Theory website (https ://selfd eterm inati onthe
ory.org/) or can be provided by the ﬁrst author
General measures Language Population
Chen etal. (2015a) Chinese Adults
Chen etal. (2015a) Dutch Adults
Frielink etal. (2019) Dutch Adults with intellectual dis-
Van der Kaap-Deeder etal. (2015) Dutch Children
Chen etal. (2015a) English Adults
Heissel etal. (2018) German Adults
Benita etal. (2020) Hebrew Adults
Costa etal. (2018) Italian Adults
Nishimura and Suzuki (2016) Japanese Adults
Cordeiro etal. (2016) Portuguese Adults
Chen etal. (2015a) Spanish Adults
Rodríguez-Meirinhos etal. (2019a, b) Spanish Children
Domain-speciﬁc measures Language Domain
Haerens etal. (2015) Dutch Physical education
Aelterman etal. (2016) Dutch Training
Van Petegem etal. (2015a) Dutch Vignette/Situation
Vanhee etal. (2016) Dutch Romantic relations
Vandenkerckhove (2019) Dutch Education (students)
Aelterman etal. (2019) Dutch Education (teachers)
Delrue etal. (2019a, b) Dutch Sport
Aelterman etal. (2016) English Training
Goemaere etal. (2019) English Space travel
Schultz etal. (2015) English Work
Tilga etal. (2018) Estonian Physical education
Behzadnia etal. (2018) Persian Physical education
Rodrigues etal. (2019a) Portuguese Physical exercise
Rodrigues etal. (2019b) Portuguese Exercise instructors
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Mabbe etal. (2018) Dutch Parents’ general functioning
Kindt etal. (2016) Dutch Romantic relations
Van der Kaap-Deeder etal. (2017) Dutch Children’s general functioning
Brenning etal. (2019) Dutch Parent–child relation
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