Motivation and Emotion

, Volume 42, Issue 6, pp 831–851 | Cite as

Are students in some college majors more self-determined in their studies than others?

  • Shi YuEmail author
  • Chantal Levesque-Bristol
Original Paper


Self-determination theory proposes that the extent to which students’ motivation is self-determined is critical to learning outcomes. Based on occasional research evidence and our perceptions, we hypothesize that college students in certain majors have profiles that are higher in self-determined motivation than students in other majors. Specifically, our primary hypothesis is that students in the social sciences and humanities tend to be more self-determined, whereas students in business-related majors tend to be less self-determined. The results from two studies using large samples and advanced analytical methods support the primary hypotheses. Comparison results were also obtained for other majors (e.g., engineering and natural sciences), and supplemental analyses supported the critical role of self-determined motivation in learning outcomes among students in all majors. Study 2 also found support for two mechanisms for such differences, i.e., the majors’ learning climates and students’ individual differences in autonomous functioning. The current evidence suggests the importance of promoting more humanistic learning environments in certain academic disciplines.


Academic motivation Self-determination theory College majors Bifactor ESEM 



We thank Professor Alexandre Morin for his generous assistance with data analysis in this study. We thank Dr. Jennifer D Moss for double coding of the majors. We thank Professor Richard Koestner, Professor Rong Su, and members of the Levesque-Bristol lab for providing valuable suggestions for the manuscript.

Compliance with ethical standards

Ethical approval

The research was approved by the institutional review board at the university at which the data collection took place and was performed in accordance with the ethical standards as described in the 1964 Declaration of Helsinki and its later amendments or comparable ethical standards.


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Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Purdue UniversityWest LafayetteUSA

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