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Study Shows How Self-determination theory Affects Motivation and Overall Health

Self-determination theory (SDT) refers to a theory of motivation that has been applied in many life domains such as health, sport, education and work. According to this theory, all of us have three key psychological needs: autonomy, competence, and relatedness. These needs influence our motivation. For example, when our social environments, including the places where we receive health care, are more supportive of these needs the quality of our motivation is more autonomous.

There aren’t many literature reviews that have examined the impact of health-domain interventions, informed by self-determination theory on SDT constructs and health indices. A recent study, publish on Health Psychology Review, aimed to address this. Researchers conducted a meta-analysis of such interventions in the health promotion and disease management literatures. Intrinsic motivation reflecting behavioral engagement as a result of enjoyment and personal interest in the behavior as well as in contrast, extrinsic motivation are discussed.

For this review, studies were eligible if they used an experimental design, tested an intervention that was based on SDT, measured at least one SDT-based motivational construct, and at least one indicator of health behavior, physical health, or psychological health. Seventy-three studies met these criteria and provided sufficient data for the purposes of the review.

A random-effects meta-analytic model showed that SDT-based interventions produced small-to-medium changes in most SDT constructs at the end of the intervention period, and in health behaviors at the end of the intervention period and at the follow-up. Small positive changes in physical and psychological health outcomes were also observed at the end of the interventions. Increases in need support and autonomous motivation (but not controlled motivation or amotivation) were associated with positive changes in health behavior.

In conclusion, researchers said SDT-informed interventions positively affect indices of health. However, these effects are modest, heterogeneous, and partly due to increases in self-determined motivation and support from social agents.


Nikos Ntoumanis et al. A meta-analysis of self-determination theory-informed intervention studies in the health domain: effects on motivation, health behavior, physical, and psychological health. Health Psychology Review, 2021, Vol. 15, NO. 2, 214–244 https://doi.org/10.1080/17437199.2020.1718529

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Please note that the information provided in the Polar Blog articles cannot replace individual advice from health professionals. Please consult your physician before starting a new fitness program.

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