There are many theories of motivation around, yet most of the ones that turn up on training courses hark back to the 1970s, 1960s and even the 1950s. Is there any new thinking on motivation, for the twenty first century?
It turns out that there is. And it isn’t just new thinking: this is research-based and supported by experimental evidence.
Self Determination Theory
Self determination theory (SDT) emerged into the limelight in 2000 with one of the now most-cited papers in psychology: ‘Self-Determination Theory and the facilitation of intrinsic motivation, social development, and well-being’. It was published in the Journal ‘American Psychologist’, and written by Richard Ryan and Edward Deci of the University of Rochester.
Richard Ryan (left) and Edward Deci (right) are both at the Department of Clinical and Social Sciences in Psychology of the University of Rochester. There, they direct a training program focused on SDT and maintain a substantial website that acts as a valuable (but technical) resource on SDT.
SDT in a Nutshell
We are all motivated to satisfy three fundamental needs, which are described as ‘psychological nutrients’. If one or more of these needs is unfulfilled, we lose motivation. Critically, Ryan and Deci also see the fulfilment of these needs as essential to our sense of well-being.
These three psychological nutrients are:
Being able to make your own choices and live your own life
Feeling able and confident in what you are doing
Having safe, secure social relationships (which do not threaten your feelings of autonomy or competence)
Does this sound familiar?
It did to me. In my well-thumbed copy of Ilona Boniwell’s excellent ‘Positive Psychology in a Nutshell’, I have written against these the terminology from two older and more familiar models: Clayton Alderfer’s 1969 ERG Theory and David McClelland’s 1961 Theory of Needs.
Lots more Depth
So, the needs Ryan and Deci have identified are familiar – although not identical to those described by previous researchers. What is more convincing in their work is the greater subtlety they characterise in examining how these three factors act to motivate us.
They don’t try to describe all of the motivational phenomena that they observe in their experiments with one grand theory. instead, they have articulated five (to date) ‘mini theories’ to account for different aspects of motivation.
These make Self Determination Theory a very compelling model, worthy of greater study.
- Cognitive Evaluation Theory (CET)
How we assess our social context and how that evaluation affects our intrinsic (self) motivation.
- Organismic Integration Theory (OIT)
How we internalise external factors, turning them into motivators or de-motivators.
- Causality Orientations Theory (COT)
how we make behavioural and situational choices based on personality orientations towards autonomy, control and our need for competence.
- Basic Psychological Needs Theory (BPNT)
How autonomy, competence, and relatedness are basic psychological needs, essential to our well-being.
- Goal Contents Theory (GCT)
How intrinsic and extrinsic goals have different affects on our perceptions of satisfaction and well-being. There is a great animated video, made by a colleague of Ryan and Deci, below.
Some Management Pocketbooks you might Enjoy
The Management Models Pocketbook
(for Vroom’s Expectancy Theory and McClelland’s Theory of Needs)