Self-Determination Theory: Capacity, Strategy & Control Beliefs

Self-Determination Theory: Capacity, Strategy & Control Beliefs
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  • 1:05 Self-Determination…
  • 2:21 Assumptions
  • 3:24 Three Basic…
  • 5:44 Types of…
  • 8:11 Classroom Practices
  • 9:47 Lesson Summary
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Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Melissa Hurst
How do you stay motivated? What motivates your peers and coworkers? Are rewards motivating factors or do people have an internal drive to persist until a given activity is completed? This lesson will describe a theory that encompasses both intrinsic and extrinsic motivators: the self-determination theory.


Do you ever have trouble finding a way to motivate yourself? Maybe it is the end of a long day and you still have two hours of work ahead of you. Are you motivated by external forces such as money and praise you expect to receive after the work is complete? Maybe you are intrinsically interested in the work, so persistence is easy despite your state of exhaustion because you want to learn and finish the task.

Researchers spend a considerable amount of time and effort trying to understand the forces that drive motivation. Research shows that people are indeed motivated by external factors such as praise and rewards. But they are often motivated by internal factors as well, such as interest in the subject or task, personal values or curiosity. The interaction between these external and internal factors can be explained through a motivational theory discussed in this lesson: self-determination theory.

Self-Determination Theory: Definition and Background

Motivationalself-determination theory

Self-determination theory is concerned with people's inherent and innate tendencies and psychological needs. The research on self-determination theory evolved from research on intrinsic and extrinsic motivation.

Briefly, extrinsic motivation is motivation promoted by factors external to the individual. Individuals who are extrinsically motivated work on tasks because they believe that participation will result in desirable outcomes such as rewards or praise.

Examples of extrinsic motivation are money and praise
Extrinsic Motivation Illustration

In contrast, intrinsic motivation refers to motivation to engage in an activity for its own sake. People who are intrinsically motivated perform tasks and engage in behaviors because they find them enjoyable. Simply participating in the activity is reward enough.


In order to be self-determining, people need to decide how to act in their environment. Although it may sound counterintuitive, people will not be fulfilled if their needs are met automatically without choice and having a say in how they participate in an activity or behavior.

The three basic assumptions of self-determination theory explain this idea. First, humans are inherently proactive with their potential and the mastering of their drives and emotions. Second, humans have inherent tendency toward growth, development and integrated functioning. Third, optimal development and actions are inherent in humans, but they don't happen automatically.

Self-determination theory emphasizes humans' natural growth toward positive motivation; however, if people are not nurtured from the social environment they will not benefit and grow and their basic needs will not be fulfilled.

Three Basic Psychological Needs

Theorists propose that there are three basic psychological needs that underlie behavior. These include the need for competence, autonomy and relatedness. These needs are viewed as innate, or, in other words, not learned and are seen in humans across gender, culture and time. These needs must be met in order to foster growth and well-being.

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