Sacrifice—but at what price? A longitudinal study of young adults’ sacrifice of basic psychological needs in pursuit of career goals

  • Anne C. HoldingEmail author
  • André St-Jacques
  • Jérémie Verner-Filion
  • Frank Kachanoff
  • Richard Koestner
Original Paper


Examining two, 3-wave prospective longitudinal samples of university students pursuing a career goal, we propose that young adults make personal sacrifices during goal pursuit. Specifically, we introduce the concept of basic psychological need sacrifice and suggest it is distinguishable from the sacrifice of maintenance and leisure activities. We found that sacrificing basic psychological needs had enduring affective and self-regulatory costs through the effect of increased need frustration over the academic year. Moreover, we found that the sacrifice of psychological needs stemmed from controlling motivational processes, such as extrinsic life aspirations, controlled career goal motivation (assessed at the start of the academic year) and controlled motivation for sacrificing (assessed midyear along with the three types of sacrifices). Psychological distress and need frustration were assessed at baseline and end-of-academic-year, while career goal progress was assessed at the end of the academic year. Implications of these findings for basic psychological needs theory are discussed.


Self-determination theory Need sacrifice Basic psychological needs theory Need frustration Career goals Distress 



The first study of this paper served as the Master’s thesis for André St-Jacques who was supported by a fellowship from the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council of Canada (SSHRC). This research was supported by a grant to Richard Koestner from the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council of Canada (SSHRC) and the Le Fonds de Recherche du Québec—Société et Culture (FQRSC-Quebec).

Compliance with ethical standards

Conflict of interest:

The authors declared no potential conflicts of interest with respect to the research, authorship, and/or publication of this article.


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Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Department of PsychologyMcGill UniversityMontrealCanada
  2. 2.Université du Québec en OutaouaisGatineauCanada
  3. 3.Northwestern UniversityEvanstonUSA

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