Sportopedia Glossary



A part of Self-Determination Theory was developed by Deci and Ryan and was formally presented in their 1985 book (which has been subsequently revised twice, in 2002 and 2017). An outline of the theory, its applications in diverse fields (psychotherapy, education, work, sport/exercise, etc.), key empirical papers and reviews discussing the theory, questionnaires assessing various constructs proposed by SDT, as well as a list of international researchers who are using the theory in their research can be found at

SDT comprises six mini-theories that were developed to explain different motivational processes. Briefly, in SDT motivation is seen as a multidimensional construct comprising intrinsic motivation and four types of extrinsic motivation that vary in their degree of self-determination (integrated, identified, introjected, and external regulations). These different facets of motivation can be placed along a self-determination continuum with intrinsic being at the highest end and external regulation being at the lowest end. Intrinsic motivation, integrated, and identified types of extrinsic motivation reflect reasons for behavioral engagement stemming from enjoyment and personal value of an activity, and are related to positive outcomes in terms of behavior, cognition, and affect. In contrast, introjected and external regulations reflect behavioral engagement result from internal or external pressures or contingencies, and relate to negative outcomes.

High self-determined forms of motivation are likely to be observed when individuals feel that their basic psychological needs are supported. In SDT, three basic such needs are proposed: autonomy, competence, and relatedness. In contrast, when these needs are frustrated, low self-determined types of extrinsic motivation or lack of motivation (amotivation) are often observed. The social context plays a crucial role in supporting or thwarting these three basic needs. Intervention work using SDT has focused on how individuals in position of authority (e.g., sport coaches, physical education teachers) can be trained to adopt an interpersonal communication style and structure activities in ways that support the three basic needs of others (e.g., athletes, students). In SDT, a distinction is also made between intrinsic (e.g., health) and extrinsic (e.g., fame) goals, with intrinsic goals being associated with high self-determined motivation and psychological well-being.


Ryan, R. M., & Deci, E. L. (2017). Self-Determination Theory: Basic psychological needs in motivation, development, and wellness. New York, NY: The Guilford Press.

***Contributed by Nikos Ntoumanis for Hackfort, D., Schinke, R. J., & Strauss, B. (Eds.). (2019). Dictionary of sport psychology: sport, exercise, and performing arts. Academic Press.