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General Need for Autonomy and Subjective Well-Being: A Meta-Analysis of Studies in the US and East Asia

Abstract

Self-determination theory proposes that human beings have universal basic psychological needs for autonomy, competence, and relatedness, which when satisfied lead to well-being. The current meta-analysis synthesized the correlations between the need for autonomy and subjective well-being. More specifically, because some researchers have questioned the role of autonomy in well-being in non-Western cultures, our meta-analysis focused on the results reported from studies conducted in the United States (US, a typical individualist culture) and East Asian countries (typical collectivist cultures). Random-effects analyses using 36 independent samples (22 from the US and 14 from East Asian samples including China and Japan) totaling 12,906 participants showed a moderate correlation (r = .46, p < .001) between autonomy and subjective well-being. The difference between correlations for studies conducted in the East and West was not significant (Δr = .05, p > .05). Overall, this study lends support to self-determination theory’s proposition that autonomy is a universal psychological need and provides suggestions for cultural practices and policies.

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Notes

  1. From the perspective of more recent conceptualizations (Costa et al. 2015a), what Sheldon and Hilpert measured as the opposite to need satisfaction can be argued to be a mixture of need dissatisfaction and need frustration.

  2. It should be noted that many studies measured BPN in a specific domain (e.g., in relationships: La Guardia et al. 2000; education: Jang et al. 2009; physical exercise: Sylvester et al. 2012; work: Baard et al. 2004; and role-related domain: Talley et al. 2012). These studies are not included in the current meta-analysis because we focused on the effect of autonomy on well-being in the general life context. However, these studies also provide valuable support for the conceptualization and importance of autonomy.

  3. According to the United Nations Statistics Division (n.d.), countries or regions in East Asia include China, Taiwan, Hong Kong, Macau, Japan, South Korea, North Korea, and Mongolia. In our review, we found relevant studies in Mainland China, Taiwan, Hong Kong and Japan only.

  4. Although this study did not strictly meet the location requirement, the inclusion of this study was believed to contribute to more than detract from a precise estimation, considering the relative few number of Eastern samples and the relatively short time the Chinese sample had lived in Belgium. Indeed, this sample was treated as culturally Chinese in the original study. We also conducted the analyses without this study, and the results were essentially the same: the differences in correlations were less than .01, both for the Eastern population and on the whole; the cultural moderation test results were still non-significant.

  5. Participants were categorized into five age groups: children under 13 years, adolescents aged 13–17, college-aged (18–22), young and middle-aged adults (23–60), and seniors (over 60). The college-aged group represented a separate group because it was the most sampled age range in our review; the other age groups were divided according to developmental stages (Erikson and Erikson 1998; “Proposed working definition…”, n.d.).

  6. Some studies (e.g., Simsek and Demir 2013) reported only relative PA, which explains why the effect size for all affect was higher than that of PA and NA.

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Acknowledgements

We thank Jing Lv for her help with the study, including double-coding. We thank Hyun Jin Cho and Takuma Nishimura for helping with literature search. We thank Dr Louis Tay for his comments.

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Yu, S., Levesque-Bristol, C. & Maeda, Y. General Need for Autonomy and Subjective Well-Being: A Meta-Analysis of Studies in the US and East Asia. J Happiness Stud 19, 1863–1882 (2018). https://doi.org/10.1007/s10902-017-9898-2

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Keywords

  • Autonomy
  • Self-determination theory
  • Subjective well-being
  • Basic psychological needs
  • Culture
  • Happiness