Are students in some college majors more self-determined in their studies than others?
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.
KeywordsAcademic 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
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.
- Black, A. E., & Deci, E. L. (2000). The effects of instructors’ autonomy support and students’ autonomous motivation on learning organic chemistry: A self-determination theory perspective. Science Education, 84(6), 740–756. https://doi.org/10.1002/1098-237x(200011)84:6%3C740::aid-sce4%3E3.0.co;2-3 CrossRefGoogle Scholar
- Cherry, K. (2017, August 31). Great reasons to study psychology. Retrieved from https://www.verywellmind.com/why-study-psychology-2795149.
- Chirkov, V. I., Ryan, R. M., Kim, Y., & Kaplan, U. (2003). Differentiating autonomy from individualism and independence: A self-determination theory perspective on internalization of cultural orientations and well-being. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 84(1), 97–110. https://doi.org/10.1037//0022-35220.127.116.11.CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
- Epstein, R., & Bower, T. (1997, July 1). Why shrinks have problems. Psychology Today. Retrieved from https://www.psychologytoday.com/articles/199707/why-shrinks-have-problems.
- Gagné, M., Forest, J., Vansteenkiste, M., Crevier-Braud, L., Van den Broeck, A., Aspeli, A. K., … Halvari, H. (2015). The multidimensional work motivation scale: Validation evidence in seven languages and nine countries. European Journal of Work and Organizational Psychology, 24(2), 178–196. https://doi.org/10.1080/1359432x.2013.877892.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
- Grouzet, F. M. (2014). Development, changes and consolidation of values and goals in business and law schools. In The Oxford handbook of work engagement, motivation, and self-determination theory. New York: Oxford University Press.Google Scholar
- Holland, J. L. (1985). Making vocational choices: A theory of careers. Englewood Cliffs: Prentice-Hall.Google Scholar
- Imlay, J. P., & Hamilton, D. (1997). Jungle rules: How to be a tiger in business. London: Kogan Page Publishers.Google Scholar
- László, J. (2008). The science of stories: An introduction to narrative psychology. New York: Routledge.Google Scholar
- Lipson, S. K., Zhou, S., Wagner, I. I. I., Beck, B., K., & Eisenberg, D. (2016). Major differences: Variations in undergraduate and graduate student mental health and treatment utilization across academic disciplines. Journal of College Student Psychotherapy, 30(1), 23–41. https://doi.org/10.1080/87568225.2016.1105657.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
- Litalien, D., Morin, A. J., Gagné, M., Vallerand, R. J., Losier, G. F., & Ryan, R. M. (2017). Evidence of a continuum structure of academic self-determination: A two-study test using a bifactor-ESEM representation of academic motivation. Contemporary Educational Psychology, 51, 67–82.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
- Morin, A. J., Arens, A. K., & Marsh, H. W. (2016). A bifactor exploratory structural equation modeling framework for the identification of distinct sources of construct-relevant psychometric multidimensionality. Structural Equation Modeling: A Multidisciplinary Journal, 23(1), 116–139. https://doi.org/10.1080/10705511.2014.961800.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
- Mouratidis, A. A., Vansteenkiste, M., Sideridis, G., & Lens, W. (2011). Vitality and interest–enjoyment as a function of class-to-class variation in need-supportive teaching and pupils’ autonomous motivation. Journal of Educational Psychology, 103(2), 353–366. https://doi.org/10.1037/a0022773.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
- Nix, G. A., Ryan, R. M., Manly, J. B., & Deci, E. L. (1999). Revitalization through self-regulation: The effects of autonomous and controlled motivation on happiness and vitality. Journal of Experimental Social Psychology, 35(3), 266–284. https://doi.org/10.1006/jesp.1999.1382.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
- Pelletier, L. G., Huta, V., Sharp, E., Lévesque, C., Vallerand, R. J., Guay, F., & Blanchard, C. (2011). The General Motivation Scale (GMS): Its validity and usefulness in predicting success and failure at self-regulation. Ottawa: University of Ottawa.Google Scholar
- Prigogine, I. (1998). The end of uncertainty (Zhan Min, Trans.). Shanghai Technology Education Publishing House.Google Scholar
- Reise, S., Moore, T., & Maydeu-Olivares, A. (2011). Target rotations and assessing the impact of model violations on the parameters of unidimensional item response theory models. Educational and Psychological Measurement, 71(4), 684–711. https://doi.org/10.1177/0013164410378690.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
- Ryan, R. M., & Deci, E. L. (2017). Self-determination theory: Basic psychological needs in motivation, development, and wellness. New York: Guilford Publications.Google Scholar
- Ryan, R. M., & Niemiec, C. (2009). Self-determination theory in schools of education: Can an empirically supported framework also be critical and liberating? Theory and Research in Education, 7(2), 263–272.Google Scholar
- Sagiv, L., & Schwartz, S. H. (2000). Value priorities and subjective well-being: Direct relations and congruity effects. European Journal of Social Psychology, 30(2), 177–198. https://doi.org/10.1002/(sici)1099-0992(200003/04)30:2%3C177::aid-ejsp982%3E3.0.co;2-z CrossRefGoogle Scholar
- Sheldon, K. M., Ryan, R. M., Deci, E. L., & Kasser, T. (2004). The independent effects of goal contents and motives on well-being: It’s both what you pursue and why you pursue it. Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin, 30(4), 475–486. https://doi.org/10.1177/0146167203261883.CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
- Soenens, B., Vansteenkiste, M., Lens, W., Luyckx, K., Goossens, L., Beyers, W., & Ryan, R. M. (2007). Conceptualizing parental autonomy support: Adolescent perceptions of promotion of independence versus promotion of volitional functioning. Developmental Psychology, 43(3), 633.CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
- U.S. Department of Education, National Center for Education Statistics. (2018). Digest of education statistics, 2016 (NCES 2017-094) Chapter 3.Google Scholar
- Vallerand, R. J., Pelletier, L. G., Blais, M. R., Briere, N. M., Senecal, C., & Vallieres, E. F. (1993). On the assessment of intrinsic, extrinsic, and amotivation in education: Evidence on the concurrent and construct validity of the Academic Motivation Scale. Educational and Psychological Measurement, 53(1), 159–172. https://doi.org/10.1177/0013164493053001018.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
- Vansteenkiste, M., Duriez, B., Simons, J., & Soenens, B. (2006). Materialistic values and well-being among business students: Further evidence of their detrimental effect. Journal of Applied Social Psychology, 36(12), 2892–2908. https://doi.org/10.1111/j.0021-9029.2006.00134.x.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
- Vansteenkiste, M., Niemiec, C. P., & Soenens, B. (2010). The development of the five mini-theories of self-determination theory: An historical overview, emerging trends, and future directions. In The decade ahead: Theoretical perspectives on motivation and achievement (pp. 105–165). Bingley: Emerald Group Publishing Limited. https://doi.org/10.1108/s0749-7423(2010)000016a007.
- What psychology graduates are doing after graduation. (2015). Retrieved from http://www.sojump.com/report/1297417.aspx.
- Why study psychology. (n.d.). Retrieved from http://www.psy.unsw.edu.au/why-study-psychology.