Motivation and Emotion

, Volume 43, Issue 2, pp 232–241 | Cite as

The path from intrinsic aspirations to subjective well-being is mediated by changes in basic psychological need satisfaction and autonomous motivation: A large prospective test

  • Nora H. HopeEmail author
  • Anne C. Holding
  • Jérémie Verner-Filion
  • Kennon M. Sheldon
  • Richard Koestner
Original Paper


The present study aimed to test the goal contents theory (Ryan and Deci, Self-determination theory: Basic psychological needs in motivation, development, and wellness, Guildford, New York, 2017a) proposal that prioritizing intrinsic aspirations over extrinsic aspirations leads to enhanced well-being through greater satisfaction of basic psychological needs and more autonomous self-regulation. By pooling four prospective studies with an identical five-wave design, we evaluated the impact of aspirations on changes in need satisfaction, goal motivation, and well-being over a school year in a sample of over 1400 university students. Cross-lagged, structural equation modelling (SEM) analyses revealed that relative intrinsic aspirations at baseline predicted experiencing greater need satisfaction, increased autonomous goal motivation, and improved well-being over time. The discussion highlights the value of exploring dynamic relations among the central constructs in self-determination theory.


Self-determination theory Autonomous motivation Intrinsic aspirations Values Basic psychological need satisfaction 



Work on this manuscript was supported by a Canadian Institutes of Health Research Post-Doctoral Fellowship Award (201511MFE-358664-186305) to the first author, a grant by the Russian Academic Excellence Project (5-100) to the fourth author, as well as a Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council of Canada (435-2014-20463) and Fonds de Recherche du Québec-Société et Culture (2017-SE-196443) grant to the last author.


  1. Allison, P. D. (2003). Missing data techniques for structural equation modeling. Journal of Abnormal Psychology, 112(4), 545–557.Google Scholar
  2. Aristotle (1947). Nicomachean ethics (W. D. Ross, Trans.). In R. McKeon (Ed.), Introduction to aristotle. New York: Modern Library.Google Scholar
  3. Auerbach, R. P., Webb, C. A., Schreck, M., McWhinnie, C. M., Ho, M. R., Zhu, X., & Yao, S. (2011). Examining the pathway through which intrinsic and extrinsic aspirations generate stress and subsequent depressive symptoms. Journal of Social and Clinical Psychology, 30(8), 856–886.Google Scholar
  4. Carver, C. S., & Baird, E. (1998). The American dream revisited: Is it what you want or why you want it that matters? Psychological Science, 9(4), 289–292.Google Scholar
  5. Diener, E. (1984). Subjective well-being. Psychological Bulletin, 95(3), 542–575.Google Scholar
  6. Diener, E., & Emmons, R. (1984). The independence of positive and negative affect. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 47(5), 1105–1117.Google Scholar
  7. Diener, E., Emmons, R. A., Larsen, R. J., & Griffin, S. (1985). The satisfaction with life scale. Journal of Personality Assessment, 49, 71–75.Google Scholar
  8. Diener, E., Lucas, R. E., & Oishi, S. (2002). Subjective well-being. Handbook of Psychology, 16(2), 63–73.Google Scholar
  9. Enders, C. K. (2010). Applied missing data analysis. New York: Guilford Press.Google Scholar
  10. Graham, J. W. (2003). Adding missing-data relevant variables to FIML-based structural equation models. Structural Equation Modeling, 10(1), 80–100.Google Scholar
  11. Holding, A. C., Hope, N. H., Harvey, B., Jetten, M., Ariane, S., & Koestner, R. (2017). Stuck in Limbo: Motivational antecedents and consequences of experiencing action crises in personal goal Pursuit. Journal of Personality, 85(6), 893–905Google Scholar
  12. Hope, N., Koestner, R., Holding, A., & Harvey, B. (2016a). Keeping Up with the Joneses: friends’ perfectionism and students’ orientation toward extrinsic aspirations. Journal of Personality, 84(6), 702–715.Google Scholar
  13. Hope, N. H., Milyavskaya, M., Holding, A. C., & Koestner, R. (2016b). The humble path to progress: Goal-specific aspirational content predicts goal progress and goal vitality. Personality and Individual Differences, 90, 99–107.Google Scholar
  14. Kasser, T., & Ahuvia, A. (2002). Materialistic values and well-being in business students. European Journal of Social Psychology, 32(1), 137–146.Google Scholar
  15. Kasser, T., Rosenblum, K. L., Sameroff, A. J., Deci, E. L., Niemiec, C. P., Ryan, R. M., et al. (2014). Changes in materialism, changes in psychological well-being: Evidence from three longitudinal studies and an intervention experiment. Motivation and Emotion, 38(1), 1–22.Google Scholar
  16. Kasser, T., & Ryan, R. M. (1993). A dark side of the American dream: Correlates of financial success as a central life aspiration. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 65(2), 410–422.Google Scholar
  17. Kasser, T., & Ryan, R. M. (1996). Further examining the American dream: Differential correlates of intrinsic and extrinsic goals. Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin, 22(3), 280–287.Google Scholar
  18. Kasser, T., & Ryan, R. M. (2001). Be careful what you wish for: Optimal functioning and the relative attainment of intrinsic and extrinsic goals. In P. Schmuck & K. M. Sheldon (Eds.), Life Goals and Well-being. Lengerich, Germany: Pabst Science.Google Scholar
  19. Kim, Y., Kasser, T., & Lee, H. (2003). Self-concept, aspirations, and well-being in South Korea and the United States. Journal of Social Psychology, 143(3), 227–290.Google Scholar
  20. Kline, R. B. (2011). Convergence of structural equation modeling and multilevel modeling. In M. Williams (Ed.), Handbook of Methodological Innovation. Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage.Google Scholar
  21. Koestner, R., Otis, N., Powers, T. A., Pelletier, L., & Gagnon, H. (2008). Autonomous motivation, controlled motivation, and goal progress. Journal of Personality, 76(5), 1201–1230.Google Scholar
  22. Kraemer, H., Kiernan, M., Essex, M., & Kupfer, D. J. (2008). How and why criteria defining moderators and mediators differ between the Baron & Kenny and MacArthur approaches. Health Psychology, 27(2S), S101–S108.PubMedCentralGoogle Scholar
  23. Law, W. (2012). The impact of extrinsic goals on romantic relationships (Doctoral dissertation, University of Rochester).Google Scholar
  24. Lekes, N., Gingras, I., Philippe, F. L., Koestner, R., & Fang, J. (2010). Parental autonomy-support, intrinsic life goals, and well-being among adolescents in China and North America. Journal of Youth and Adolescence, 39(8), 858–869.Google Scholar
  25. Lekes, N., Hope, N. H., Gouveia, L., Koestner, R., & Philippe, F. L. (2012). Influencing value priorities and increasing well-being: The effects of reflecting on intrinsic values. The Journal of Positive Psychology, 7(3), 249–261.Google Scholar
  26. Martos, T., & Kopp, M. S. (2012). Life goals and well-being: Does financial status matter? Evidence from a representative Hungarian sample. Social Indicators Research, 105(3), 561–568.Google Scholar
  27. Milyavskaya, M., Philippe, F. L., & Koestner, R. (2013). Psychological need satisfaction across levels of experience: Their organization and contribution to general well-being. Journal of Research in Personality, 47(1), 41–51.Google Scholar
  28. Mitchell, M. A., & Maxwell, S. E. (2013). A comparison of the cross-sectional and sequential designs when assessing longitudinal mediation. Multivariate Behavioral Research, 48(3), 301–339.Google Scholar
  29. Moore, E., Holding, A. C., Hope, N. H., Harvey, B., Powers, T. A., Zuroff, D., & Koestner, R. (2018). Perfectionism and the pursuit of personal goals: A self-determination theory analysis. Motivation and Emotion, 42(1), 37–49.Google Scholar
  30. Muthén, L. K., & Muthén, B. O. (2012). MPlus. The comprehensive modeling program for applied researchers: User’s guide (5th ed.).Google Scholar
  31. Niemiec, C. P., Ryan, R. M., & Deci, E. L. (2009). The path taken: Consequences of attaining intrinsic and extrinsic aspirations in post-college life. Journal of Research in Personality, 43(3), 291–306.Google Scholar
  32. Rokeach, M. (1973). The nature of human values (Vol. 438). New York: Free press.Google Scholar
  33. Ryan, R. M., Chirkov, V. I., Little, T. D., Sheldon, K. M., Timoshina, E., & Deci, E. L. (1999). The American dream in Russia: Extrinsic aspirations and well-being in two cultures. Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin, 25(12), 1509–1524.Google Scholar
  34. Ryan, R. M., & Deci, E. L. (2000). The darker and brighter sides of human existence: Basic psychological needs as a unifying concept. Psychological Inquiry, 11(4), 319–338.Google Scholar
  35. Ryan, R. M., & Deci, E. L. (2001). On happiness and human potentials: A review of research on hedonic and eudaimonic well-being. Annual Review of Psychology, 52(1), 141–166.Google Scholar
  36. Ryan, R. M., & Deci, E. L. (2017a). Goal contents theory: Aspirations, life goals, and their varied consequences. In Self-determination theory: Basic psychological needs in motivation, development, and wellness (pp. 272–292). New York: Guildford.Google Scholar
  37. Ryan, R. M., & Deci, E. L. (2017b). Organismic integration theory: Internalization and the differentiation of extrinsic motivation. In Self-determination theory: Basic psychological needs in motivation, development, and wellness (pp. 179–215). New York: Guildford.Google Scholar
  38. Ryan, R. M., Sheldon, K. M., Kasser, T., & Deci, E. L. (1996). All goals are not created equal: An organismic perspective on the nature of goals and their regulation. In P. M. Gollwitzer & J. A. Bargh (Eds.), The psychology of action: Linking cognition and motivation to behavior (pp. 7–26). New York: Guilford.Google Scholar
  39. Ryff, C. D. (1989). Happiness is everything, or is it? Explorations on the meaning of psychological well-being. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 57(6), 1069–1081.Google Scholar
  40. Ryff, C. D., & Singer, B. H. (2013). Know thyself and become what you are: A eudaimonic approach to psychological well-being. Journal of Happiness Studies, 9, 13–39.Google Scholar
  41. Schmuck, P., Kasser, T., & Ryan, R. M. (2000). Intrinsic and extrinsic goals: Their structure and relationship to well-being in German and US college students. Social Indicators Research, 50(2), 225–241.Google Scholar
  42. Schwartz, S. H., & Bardi, A. (2001). Value hierarchies across cultures taking a similarities perspective. Journal of Cross-cultural Psychology, 32(3), 268–290.Google Scholar
  43. Sheldon, K. M. (2014). Becoming oneself: The central role of self-concordant goal selection. Personality and Social Psychology Review, 18(4), 349–365.Google Scholar
  44. Sheldon, K. M., & Hilpert, J. C. (2012). The balanced measure of psychological needs (BMPN) scale: An alternative domain general measure of need satisfaction. Motivation and Emotion, 36(4), 439–451.Google Scholar
  45. Sheldon, K. M., & Kasser, T. (1995). Coherence and congruence: Two aspects of personality integration. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 68(3), 531.Google Scholar
  46. Sheldon, K. M., & Krieger, L. S. (2004). Does legal education have undermining effects on law students? Evaluating changes in motivation, values, and well-being. Behavioral Sciences & The Law, 22(2), 261–286.Google Scholar
  47. Sheldon, K. M., & Kasser, T. (2016). Pursuing personal goals: Skills enable progress, but not all progress is beneficial. Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin, 24(12), 1319–1331.Google Scholar
  48. Sheldon, K. M., Osin, E. N., Gordeeva, T. O., Suchkov, D. D., & Sychev, O. A. (2017). Evaluating the dimensionality of self-determination theory’s relative autonomy continuum. Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin, 43(9), 1215–1238.Google Scholar
  49. 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.Google Scholar
  50. Srivastava, A., Locke, E. A., & Bartol, K. M. (2001). Money and subjective well-being: It’s not the money, it’s the motives. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 80(6), 959.Google Scholar
  51. Tabachnick, B. G., & Fidell, L. S. (2007). Using multivariate statistics (5th ed.). New York: Allyn & Bacon.Google Scholar
  52. Tsang, J. A., Carpenter, T. P., Roberts, J. A., Frisch, M. B., & Carlisle, R. D. (2014). Why are materialists less happy? The role of gratitude and need satisfaction in the relationship between materialism and life satisfaction. Personality and Individual Differences, 64, 62–66.Google Scholar
  53. Vansteenkiste, M., & Ryan, R. M. (2013). On psychological growth and vulnerability: Basic psychological need satisfaction and need frustration as a unifying principle. Journal of Psychotherapy Integration, 23(3), 263–280.Google Scholar

Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media, LLC, part of Springer Nature 2018

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Simon Fraser UniversityBurnabyCanada
  2. 2.McGill UniversityMontrealCanada
  3. 3.Department of Psychological Sciences, University of MissouriColumbiaUSA
  4. 4.Higher School of EconomicsNational Research UniversityMoscowRussia

Personalised recommendations