The human being is, by definition, an active being: we constantly adopt a wide variety of behaviors in order to stay alive, to adapt to the environment or to develop ourselves in order to be able to face the vicissitudes and the needs. that arise throughout our life cycle. We use the means at our disposal, both internally and at the level of those available in the environment, to act.
But … why are we acting? What moves us ?. These seemingly simple questions have led to the development of a wide variety of theories about what prompts us to take action. One of these theories, which actually brings together a number of sub-theories in this regard, is the theory of self-determination. It is the latter that we will be talking about throughout this article.
The theory of self-determination: what does it tell us?
It receives the name of theory of self-determination to a macroteoría developed mainly by Decí and Ryan that tries to establish to what extent human conduct is influenced by different factors that affect our motivation to act, With particular emphasis on the idea of self-determination or the ability to voluntarily decide what and how to do it as a fundamental explanatory element.
The main objective of the theory of self-determination is to understand human behavior in such a way that this knowledge can be generalized to all situations that human beings of all cultures may encounter and may affect any domain, sphere or area of life.
In this way, this theory focuses on motivation as the main element to analyze, Valuing the existence of an accumulation of energy generated by different human needs which will later acquire a direction or an orientation towards the satisfaction of these needs.
It should be borne in mind that in this sense they are of great importance the personality and the biological and autobiographical elements of the person in question, The context in which their behavior evolves and the specific situation in which it is carried out, being elements that influence each other and that affect the possible emergence of different types of motivation.
Self-determination would be the degree to which we ourselves voluntarily direct our behavior through increasingly internal forces, with the motivation increasingly inherent in the will and the same desire to accomplish the behavior rather than to be intervened by environmental elements that make it necessary to carry out of the action. We are active beings who tend to develop, Grow and seek and integrate the experience perceived both at the level of external and internal elements, because all this will allow us now and in the future to have resources to meet our needs. It is therefore important both what comes to us from the environment and from the innate and impulsive.
We are faced with a theory which integrates and starts from conceptions of different psychological paradigms, among which stand out behaviorists and humanists. On the one hand, there is a search for rigorous and scientific information that explains the mechanisms by which we orient our behavior towards the achievement of a motivating goal (similar to the behaviorist) and on the other hand. acquire the vision of the human being as an active and goal-oriented and goal-oriented being proper to humanist psychology.
It should also be borne in mind that this theory is applicable in almost all areas, since motivation is something necessary for the implementation of any type of activity: from academic training and work to leisure, through interpersonal relationships.
Five major sub-theories
As mentioned above, self-determination theory can be identified as a macrotheory aimed at investigating how motivation works in terms of determining one’s own behavior. This implies that the theory itself is made up of a set of different interrelated sub-theories in order to work on the topic of motivation and self-determination. These sub-theories are mainly the following five.
1. Theory of basic psychological needs
One of the main theories that make up the theory of self-determination is that of basic psychological needs. These needs refer to the psychic constructions that human beings need in order to feel motivated to adopt a behavior, simply leaving aside the physiological components (such as the need to eat or drink). The various studies carried out within the framework of this approach have determined the existence of at least three basic types of psychological needs that explain human behavior: The need for autonomy, the need for personal competence and the need for connection or relationship.
The first of these, autonomy, refers to the need for human beings (and other beings) to know or see themselves as beings capable of influencing behavior through behavior, their own life or in reality. This need implies that the subject sees his actions as something that has a real and palpable effect, that he is able to exercise his will with a certain control over what he does and what it implies: it is more that all the need to feel. free to choose. It is fundamental in the emergence of a personal identity, And in cases where it does not develop fully, behaviors of passivity and dependence may appear in addition to feelings of worthlessness and hopelessness.
The need to perceive one’s own competence is fundamentally related to the above, in that it is based on the ability to control what is happening based on one’s own actions, but in this case it is focusing on belief That we have. Sufficient resources to carry a pipe. It is the belief that we are capable and the feeling of being competent, That the action that we have chosen to carry out autonomously can be carried out thanks to our capacity and have a certain impact on what is happening.
Finally, the need for relationship or connection is a constant in gregarious beings like human beings: we must feel like part of a group, with which to interact in a positive way and to establish relationships of mutual support.
2. Theory of causal orientations
Another fundamental element of the theory of self-determination is that of the theory of causal orientations, in which it aims to elucidate what drives us or in which direction we direct our efforts. In this sense, the theory establishes the existence of three main types of motivation: intrinsic or autonomous, extrinsic or controlled and impersonal or demotivated.
In the case of intrinsic or autonomous motivation, it represents that force that motivates us in such a way that action comes from internal forces, Realize the behavior due to the pleasure of doing it. A part of a time when all the basic needs mentioned above are well resolved, a time when we act only on the basis of our will and our choice. It is the type of motivation that involves a greater degree of self-determination and is more closely related to mental well-being.
Extrinsic motivation, on the other hand, arises from a lack of satisfaction with some of the psychic or physiological needs that are believed to be satisfied while performing the behavior. We are faced with an action which is carried out because it will allow or facilitate a reduction of a state of deprivation. usually the behavior is considered to be controlled in order to satisfy the need. Although there is some self-determination, it is present to a lesser degree than in intrinsic motivation.
Finally, impersonal motivation or demotivation is that which derives from the feeling of lack of competence and autonomy: we believe that our actions do not predict possible changes and have no effect on reality, not being able to control what we are doing. happens or reality. All needs were frustrated, leading to despair and lack of motivation.
3. Theory of cognitive assessment
The third of the sub-theories that make up the theory of self-determination, in this case, is worked out from the premise that the existence of innate and inherent interests in human beings, receiving the events that occur in the environment (whether external or internal)) a different assessment at the cognitive level and generating different degrees of motivation.
In this also participates the life experience of the subject as the story of learning the consequences and effects of their performance on the environment. These interests are analyzed in order to explain the differences in levels of intrinsic motivationBut it is also evaluated how the extrinsic effects or which aspects or phenomena promote a decrease in motivation. This interest also arises from the perception of how interaction with the world allows or does not allow the satisfaction of basic needs.
In conclusion, we can determine that the theory of cognitive assessment states that the main elements that predict our interest in different aspects of reality are the feeling and attribution of control that we perform, the perceived competence, the orientation of motivation (whether to achieve something or not) and the situation or external factors.
4. Theory of organic integration
The theory of organic integration is a proposition that seeks to analyze the degree and the way in which there are different types of extrinsic motivation, according to the degree of internalization or assimilation of the regulation of one’s own behavior.
This internalization, development gradually generated the capacity that motivation no longer depends on external elements and that intrinsic motivation is born, will emerge throughout self-development on the basis of the acquisition of values and social norms. In this sense, they can distinguish four main types of extrinsic motivation according to the type of behavior regulation implemented.
First we have external regulation, In which one acts to obtain a reward or to avoid harm or punishment being the conduct totally directed and controlled from the outside.
With somewhat more internalized regulation, the extrinsic motivation for introjected regulation occurs when, although the conduct is still conducted to obtain rewards or avoid punishment, the administration or evasion of these is given to a person. internal level, without depending on what external agents are doing.
After that, we can find the extrinsic motivation for an identified regulationThey begin to give their own value to the activities carried out (although they are still carried out for the purpose of seeking / avoiding rewards / punishments).
The fourth and last, very close to the intrinsic regulation of the motivation of the same name but which despite this continues to be governed by external elements, is the extrinsic motivation resulting from the integrated regulation. In this case, the behavior is seen as positive and conducive to the person in itself and without valuing rewards or punishments, but it is still not made to generate pleasure for itself.
5. Theory of the content of objectives
Finally, and although different authors do not integrate it into the theory of self-determination, another of the most relevant theories which have an impact on it is the theory of content of goals. In this sense, as in motivation, we find intrinsic and extrinsic goals. The first of these is based on the pursuit of psychological well-being and personal development, Still mainly goals of personal growth, affiliation, health and contribution to the community or generativity.
As for the extrinsics, they are their own objectives and aim to get out of the person a little and to be dependent on the environment: we mainly have needs for appearance, economic / financial success and notoriety / social consideration. However, the fact that a goal is intrinsic or extrinsic does not imply that the motivation that leads us there is necessarily the one that shares its adjective: it is possible to have an intrinsic motivation to achieve extrinsic goals or vice versa.
- Ryan, RM and Deci, EL (2000). The theory of self-determination and the facilitation of intrinsic motivation, social development and well-being. American Psychologist, 55 (1): 68-78.
- Stover, JB, Bruno, FE, Uriel, FE and Liporace, MF (2017). Theory of Self-Determination: A Theoretical Exam. Perspectives in Psychology, 14 (2).