The 'when' and 'why' of motivational dynamicsA synthesis of contemporary theories

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Type

Student thesis: Doctoral ThesisDoctor of Philosophy

Original languageEnglish
Awarding Institution
Supervisors/Advisors
  • Christopher Bridle
  • Joanne Hudson
Award date16 Mar 2016
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Abstract

The thesis draws from two contemporary theories of human motivation: self-determination theory (SDT; Deci & Ryan, 1985, 2000) and reversal theory (Apter, 1982) to enhance our understanding of the dynamics of motivation and its effects on well-being. The thesis tests basic psychological needs theory (a sub theory of SDT) in which well-being and psychological growth are predicated by satisfaction of needs for autonomy, competence, and relatedness. Optimum well-being is associated with a balanced satisfaction of these three needs (Sheldon & Niemiec, 2006), whilst thwarting of any need is associated with functional costs (Deci & Ryan, 2000). These relationships are examined in conjunction with the ideas of reversal theory. This posits that an individual's motivation moves dynamically through four mutually exclusive pairs of meta-motivational states, each characterised by a certain way of interpreting some aspect of one's own motivation and associated with their own range of emotions (Apter, 1989, 2001). To be considered \psychologically healthy" people should reverse between states on a regular and frequent basis, thus experiencing a broad range of felt emotions (Apter, 2001). Currently reversal theory literature presents three reversal inducing agents: frustration, satiation, and contingent events, however, literature surrounding the reversal process lacks depth and clarity, particularly in regard to frustration and satiation-induced reversals.Within the present thesis, I posit that examining the conceptual links between reversal theory and SDT might enhance our understanding of the dynamic nature of motivation: how people switch motivational foci, why and when this might occur, and examine ways of triggering motivational switches to enhance well-being. Specifically, the thesis proposes that the active satiation and thwarting of basic psychological needs induces satiation and frustration based reversals. The movement between meta-motivational states is argued to help regulate balanced need satisfaction; although needs cannot all be satisfied at one time, they can be satisfied over time, the purpose of the reversal. Consisting of five chapters: a general introduction including a theoretical integration of SDT and reversal theory, three experimental chapters, and a general discussion, the thesis had four main aims. First, to advocate a movement from working in theoretical silos to examining the meaningful concordance. The advantages of this are demonstrated through the interplay between SDT and reversal theory to better understand the dynamics of motivational focus. Second, to develop and validate an implicit measure of active meta-motivational state, enabling examination of acute changes in motivational focus. Third, to test a novel framework of the antecedents of meta-motivational state changes. Finally, to test the use of meta-motivational state reversals as a mechanism by which individuals may achieve balanced need satisfaction. Taken together the main findings of the thesis were as follows: (1) that an implicit measure of meta-motivational state capable of assessing the full spectrum of states within 90s has utility; (2) evidence that need satisfying and thwarting environments trigger meta-motivational state reversals; (3) indications that people are motivated and able to correct acute imbalance in their need satisfaction as demonstrated through attempts to recoup deprived needs; (4) the proposition that contingent reversals, historically defined as reversals induced by situational changes, might also be induced through cognitive changes; leading to a general conclusion that (5) examination of the meaningful concordance between SDT and reversal theory to understand dynamic motivation appears promising. The thesis has made a number of novel contributions to understanding of human behaviour. For the first time the process of reversing between meta-motivational states has been empirically examined and a mechanism for inducing satiation and frustration reversals has been identified. Furthermore, an implicit measure of meta-motivational state has been developed and validated, which facilitates future research examining the reversal process (e.g., frequency, lability, and purpose). A framework for regulating balanced need satisfaction has been proposed and supported by initial self-report and behavioural data. From an applied perspective the ability to induce reversals and achieve a balance of need satisfaction may prevent maladaptive outcomes associated with both need thwarting and inhibited reversals.