Self-determination theory and physical activity: The dynamics of motivation in development and wellness

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To introduce this special issue, we overview self-determination theory (SDT) as it is applied to physical activity, sport, and health. SDT distinguishes intrinsic and extrinsic motivations for physical activities, and specifies separate mini-theories addressing the nature, determinants, and consequences of each. Cognitive evaluation theory (CET) details the central role of intrinsic motivation in both sport and physical activity, and the impact of autonomy and competence supports in promoting people's intrinsic motivation. Organismic integration theory (OIT) describes different forms of extrinsic motivation that vary in their relative autonomy, affecting both persistence and performance. OIT suggests that more internalized extrinsic goals, being more volitional, are better maintained over time. We also review basic psychological need theory (BPNT), which specifies the role of autonomy, competence, and relatedness satisfaction in facilitating and sustaining motivation, and the impact of intrinsic (e.g., health) and extrinsic (e.g., attractiveness) goals in physical activity. We then outline a SDT perspective on vitality and its depletion, including new research on how contact with nature can enhance subjective energy. We conclude by discussing field research, including controlled clinical trials, testing the efficacy of SDT-based interventions in the promotion of physical activity, and other health-related outcomes.


Institute for Positive Psychology and Education

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Journal Article

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ERA Access