Encyclopedia of Behavioral Medicine

Living Edition
| Editors: Marc Gellman

Self-Determination Theory

  • Lauren LawEmail author
  • Dawn Wilson
  • Hannah G. Lawman
Living reference work entry
DOI: https://doi.org/10.1007/978-1-4614-6439-6_1620-2



Self-determination theory is a theory of human motivation that describes two distinct types of motivation: autonomous (regulated through natural and internal processes such as inherent enjoyment or satisfaction) and controlled (regulated through externally held demands and social expectations). Autonomous motivation can be elicited and sustained through social–environmental factors including high autonomy, competence, and relatedness and may contribute to long-term maintenance of a behavior change.


Self-determination theory (SDT) is a theory of human motivation that describes motivation in two distinct types: autonomous and controlled (Deci and Ryan 2008). Autonomous motivation, which includes intrinsic and well-internalized extrinsic motivation, is regulated through natural and internal processes such as inherent satisfaction and can be thought of as an individual’s innate desire to engage in healthy behaviors independent of...

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References and Further Reading

  1. Deci, E. L., & Ryan, R. M. (1985). Intrinsic motivation and self-determination in human behavior. New York: Plenum Press.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  2. Deci, E. L., & Ryan, R. M. (2008). Facilitating optimal motivation and psychological well-being across life’s domains. Canadian Psychology, 49(1), 14–23.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  3. Haff, N., Patel, M. S., Lim, R., Zhu, J., Troxel, A. B., Asch, D. A., & Volpp, K. G. (2015). The role of behavioral economic incentive design and demographic characteristics in financial incentive-based approaches to changing health behaviors: A meta-analysis. American Journal of Health Promotion, 29(5), 314–323.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  4. Kullgren, J. T., Williams, G. C., Resnicow, K., An, L. C., Rothberg, A., Volpp, K. G., & Heisler, M. (2016). The promise of tailoring incentives for healthy behaviors. International Journal of Workplace Health Management, 9(1), 2–16.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  5. Mata, J., Silva, M. N., Vieira, P. N., Carraça, E. V., Andrade, A. M., Coutinho, S. R., …, & Teixeira, P. J. (2009). Motivational “spill-over” during weight control: Increased self-determination and exercise intrinsic motivation predict eating self-regulation. Health Psychology, 28(6), 709.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  6. McSpadden, K. E., Patrick, H., Oh, A. Y., Yaroch, A. L., Dwyer, L. A., & Nebeling, L. C. (2016). The association between motivation and fruit and vegetable intake: The moderating role of social support. Appetite, 96, 87–94.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  7. Ng, J. Y., Ntoumanis, N., Thøgersen-Ntoumani, C., Deci, E. L., Ryan, R. M., Duda, J. L., & Williams, G. C. (2012). Self-determination theory applied to health contexts a meta-analysis. Perspectives on Psychological Science, 7(4), 325–340.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  8. Ryan, R. M., & Deci, E. L. (2000). Self-determination theory and the facilitation of intrinsic motivation, social development, and well-being. American Psychologist, 55(1), 68–78.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  9. Vansteenkiste, M., Neyrinck, B., Niemiec, C. P., Soenens, B., Witte, H., & Broeck, A. (2007). On the relations among work value orientations, psychological need satisfaction and job outcomes: A self-determination theory approach. Journal of Occupational and Organizational Psychology, 80(2), 251–277.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  10. Wilson, D. K. (2015). Behavior matters: The relevance, impact, and reach of behavioral medicine. Annals of Behavioral Medicine, 49(1), 40–48.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
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  12. Wilson, D. K., Kitzman-Ulrich, H., Williams, J. E., Saunders, R., Griffin, S., Pate, R., et al. (2008). An overview of “The Active by Choice Today” (ACT) trial for increasing physical activity. Contemporary Clinical Trials, 29(1), 21–31.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  13. Wilson, D. K., Van Horn, M. L., Kitzman-Ulrich, H., Saunders, R., Pate, R., Lawman, H. G. …, & Mansard, L. (2011). Results of the “Active by Choice Today” (ACT) randomized trial for increasing physical activity in low-income and minority adolescents. Health Psychology, 30(4), 463–471.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  14. Wilson, D. K., Kitzman-Ulrich, H., Resnicow, K., Van Horn, M. L., George, S. M. S., Siceloff, E. R., …, & Coulon, S. (2015). An overview of the Families Improving Together (FIT) for weight loss randomized controlled trial in African American families. Contemporary Clinical Trials, 42, 145–157.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  15. Zeldman, A., Ryan, R. M., & Fiscella, K. (2004). Motivation, autonomy support, and entity beliefs: Their role in methadone maintenance treatment. Journal of Social and Clinical Psychology, 23(5), 675–696.CrossRefGoogle Scholar

Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media, LLC, part of Springer Nature 2019

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Department of PsychologyUniversity of South CarolinaColumbiaUSA

Section editors and affiliations

  • Alan M. Delamater
    • 1
  1. 1.Department of PediatricsUniversity of Miami Miller School of MedicineMiamiUSA