Electronic Thesis and Dissertation Repository

Thesis Format



Master of Science




Meyer, John P.


Self-determination theory (SDT) distinguishes between both quality and quantity of motivation. Motivation within SDT has been treated both as a unidimensional (autonomy continuum) and multidimensional (motivation types) construct. Recently, Meyer et al. (2022) suggested that drawing a distinction between reasons for exerting effort and the mindset experienced while exerting effort may help reconcile the two approaches. Using profile analyses, Meyer and colleagues demonstrated that reasons for engaging in an activity combine in ways that are not unambiguously interpretable from an SDT standpoint. In the present study (N = 500), we replicate the results of Meyer et al. using reason-based motivation measures, as well as develop and test a mindset-based measure of SDT motivation types. We find that autonomous profiles of both measures are associated with superior outcomes. We also find additional theoretical value by including separate approach/avoidance motivation mindset scales. Study implications and limitations are discussed.

Summary for Lay Audience

Human motivation is a complex research area that has been examined from a variety of theoretical perspectives. Self-determination theory (SDT) has been conceptualized for decades, and has recently gained additional traction as a work motivation theory. One of the reasons for the popularity of SDT is its broad scope, helping us explain how human beings thrive in various life domains. As the name suggests, self-determination is a central concept to the theory, referring to one’s ability to make their own choices and set their own direction without the influence of external coercive forces. As such, SDT separates motivation into distinct types differing in degree of self-determination or autonomy. Evidence suggests that motivational states characterized by greater autonomy are generally associated with better organizational and well- being outcomes than when one’s motivation is driven by external influences.

In recent years, statistical techniques have evolved to allow researchers to examine how psychological variables combine within individuals to form profiles. As such, these techniques also allow us to see how motivation types can combine within individuals. Past research has demonstrated that using the most common measures of workplace motivation, internal and external forms of motivation combine in unexpected and interesting ways, such as combinations of extrinsic and intrinsic motivation without the hypothesized undesirable influence of the former. This may be a result of asking people why they work as opposed to how they feel when they work. In this study, we develop a measure of motivational mindsets that might assess motivational states more accurately. Results both replicate past findings and suggest that the new measure might be a useful tool that makes finer-grained distinctions in how people feel when exerting effort. Results also reinforce some core assertions of SDT, namely that autonomous (self-determined) motivation is superior to externally controlled forms.