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Fulfillment of the basic psychological needs for competence, relatedness, and autonomy is believed to facilitate people’s integrative tendencies to process psychological conflicts and develop a coherent sense of self. The present study therefore used event-related potentials (ERPs) to examine the relation between need fulfillment and the amplitude of conflict negativity (CN), a neurophysiological measure of conflict during personal decision making. Participants completed a decision-making task in which they made a series of forced choices according to their personal preferences. Three types of decision-making situations were created on the basis of participants’ unique preference ratings, which were obtained prior to ERP recording: low-conflict situations (choosing between an attractive and an unattractive option), high-conflict approach-approach situations (choosing between two similarly attractive options), and high-conflict avoidance-avoidance situations (choosing between two similarly unattractive options). As expected, CN amplitudes were larger in high- relative to low-conflict situations, and source localization analyses suggested that the anterior cingulate cortex was the generating structure of the CN. Most importantly, people reporting higher need fulfillment exhibited larger CN amplitudes in avoidance–avoidance situations relative to low-conflict situations; to a lesser extent, they also exhibited larger CN amplitudes in approach–approach situations relative to low-conflict situations. By contrast, people reporting lower need fulfillment exhibited CN amplitudes that poorly discriminated the three decision situations. These results suggest that need fulfillment may promote self-coherent functioning by increasing people’s receptivity to and processing of events that challenge their abilities to make efficient, self-congruent choices.


Institute for Positive Psychology and Education

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Journal Article

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