Assisted versus asserted autonomy satisfaction: Their unique associations with wellbeing, integration of experience, and conflict negotiation

Abstract

We investigate the possibility of two distinct approaches to autonomy satisfaction—one that is contextually “assisted” and one that is individually “asserted”. Exploratory and confirmatory factor analyses (Pilot Study and Study 1; N = 449) develop and validate the two-factor structure. We then show that asserted and assisted autonomy orientations predict psychological wellbeing through distinct pathways (i.e., highly active/agentic vs. interdependent). In Study 2 (N = 206), we examine the sociodevelopmental antecedents of each type of autonomy satisfaction, revealing that assisted autonomy is associated with having had authoritiative parents, whereas asserted autonomy is associated with having had authoritarian parents. In Study 3 (N = 109) we show that asserted—but not assisted—autonomy predicts the integration of negative life experiences. Finally, in Study 4 (N = 202), we examine the degree to which assisted and asserted autonomy moderate responses to conflict in need-thwarting contexts, showing that assisted autonomy predicts an acquiescent coping style, whereas asserted autonomy predicts an assertive negotiation style.

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Notes

  1. 1.

    Across studies, no gender differences were found in asserted autonomy (Masserted for men = 4.22; SD = .98; Masserted for women = 4.29; SD = .91), F < 1. In Study 2 only, women (M = 4.60; SD = .95) showed significantly more assisted autonomy than men (M = 4.27; SD = 1.02), F(1, 204) = 7.249, p < .001. T there were no gender differences in assisted autonomy across the other studies (Mmen = 4.784; SD = .817; Mwomen = 4.741; SD = .931), F < 1.

  2. 2.

    An alternate one-factor model where both assisted and asserted items were ascribed to the same first-order latent general autonomy factor yielded an undesirable fit, CFI = .727; SRMR = .161; RMSEA = .136, which further justified the proposed two factor structure of autonomy satisfaction. We also tested a standard first order factor structure, with asserted and assisted autonomy specified as separate factors. Not surprisingly, this yielded a fit similar to the second order model, CFI = .96, RMSEA = .07; SRMR = .06.

  3. 3.

    Although they represent theoretically distinct constructs, the strong correlation between assisted autonomy satisfaction and interpersonal connectedness led us to test a measurement model wherein assisted autonomy items and interpersonal connectedness items were specified to load onto the same “interpersonal” factor. This yielded a poor fit, CF1 = .795; SRMR = .147; RMSEA = .121, suggesting that assisted autonomy and interpersonal connectedness are metrically (as well as conceptually) different.

  4. 4.

    Although this manipulation was hypothetical in nature, credibility of the scenarios in supporting or frustrating psychological needs and wellbeing was assessed by measuring state negative mood using 9 items adapted from the PANAS (i.e., Right now I feel: distressed, upset, guilty, scared, hostile, irritable, ashamed, nervous, jittery). Negative mood was assessed both before and after reading the scenario. Changes in negative mood were significantly different across conditions, F(1, 198) = 6.046, p = .015, η 2p  = .031, such that those exposed to the need thwarting manager showed an increase in negative mood (M = .360; SD = .277), whereas those exposed to the supportive manager showed a decrease in negative mood (M = −.057; SD = .234). Changes in negative mood were not related to assisted (r = .03, p = .674) or asserted autonomy (r = .01, p = .883). Also, changes in negative mood were not associated with the outcomes of accommodation (r = −.09 ns) or negotiation (r = −.04 ns). However, an increase in negative mood was associated with rumination (r = .28, p < .001).

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Correspondence to Lisa Legault.

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Appendix: Need-thwarting versus need-supportive interpersonal scenario (Study 4)

Appendix: Need-thwarting versus need-supportive interpersonal scenario (Study 4)

Imagine your worst, most controlling boss

Imagine that you are working for a mid-size company, as a data entry clerk. You are required to be in the office from 8:00a.m. until 4:30p.m. every day, recording and processing sales data. Your boss is rude to his employees; he constantly tells everyone what to do (and how to do it), and criticizes their abilities. But, you feel that he is especially controlling with you. He requires you to complete all the jobs that no one else wants to do, without giving you any say in the matter. He barks orders and demands at you multiple times a day. When you are unable to complete tasks due to time constraints or interruptions, he does not accept your excuses and instead says that you are inadequate. To make matters worse, he often excludes you from team meetings and organized events, and plays favorites with some of your other colleagues. Finally, he frequently belittles you in front of others—pointing out your mistakes and character flaws.

Try to visualize this boss, and his behaviors. Take a few minutes to create this scenario in your mind.

Imagine your best, most supportive boss

Imagine that you are working for a mid-size company, as a data entry clerk. You work approximately 8 h per day—mostly recording and processing sales data. Your boss understands that the work is not always exciting, and so he tries to support you by giving you flexible hours, and letting you choose the projects and tasks you want to work on. Your boss also helps you through the less interesting aspects of your job by explaining why the work is meaningful and helpful, and gives you training and opportunity to develop your analytic skills and other professional abilities. He also tries to make work fun by tailoring tasks to your personal preferences and goals. He provides you with constructive feedback, and believes in your potential to be promoted. Your boss generally likes you as a person and wants to see you succeed.

Try to visualize this boss, and his behaviors. Take a few minutes to create this scenario in your mind.

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Legault, L., Ray, K., Hudgins, A. et al. Assisted versus asserted autonomy satisfaction: Their unique associations with wellbeing, integration of experience, and conflict negotiation. Motiv Emot 41, 1–21 (2017). https://doi.org/10.1007/s11031-016-9593-3

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Keywords

  • Autonomy
  • Psychological needs
  • Wellbeing
  • Motivation
  • Integration
  • Need thwarting
  • Conflict negotiation