Motivation and emotion/Book/2017/Dualistic model of passion

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Dualistic model of passion:
What is the dualistic model of passion and how does it apply to our everyday lives?

Overview[edit | edit source]

Passion is a strong inclination for a self-determined activity that is loved, valued and has a considerable amount of time spent on (Vallerand, 2008). Passions lead people to pursue an activity with enthusiasm for a long period of time {{missing{{ that the activity becomes part of the individual's identity (Vallerand, 2008). It is noticeable when someone is passionate about an activity as they are regularly engaged in the task and perform it with a certain energy and focus. However, it has been suggested that there is a duality to passion, that is, it is a concept that can be broken down to explain different dimensions of passion. Vallerand and his coworkers developed a model of passion that identifies its dualism. The Dualistic Model of Passion aims to describe how two types of passion exist and can lead to different outcomes:

  1. Obsessive passion: the individual's passion for the activity is so great they feel compelled to partake in the activity. The activity can consume the individual's mental resources and they often feel a psychological pressure to pursue the activity, leading to maladaptive outcomes (Belanger et al., 2013). Obsessive passion often leads to a rigid engagement in activity and it becomes difficult to integrate other aspects of life into one's daily activities. It is hard for the individual to detach themselves from their passion and they become defined by it.
  2. Harmonious passion: participation in the activity remains within the individual's control resulting from an autonomous internalisation and often leads to adaptive outcomes. The individual feels free to engage in the activity and this sense of control allows other aspects of life to be easily integrated. Although the activity remains part of the person's identity, it does not define them but merely represents a central feature of their identity (Vallerand, 2008).

To gain a thorough understanding of how the Dualistic Model of Passion can be applied to everyday life this book chapter will discuss the different types of passion and their role in various areas of life:

  • Sport
  • Goal setting
  • Work engagement
  • Addictive behaviours

After reading this chapter you should have a deeper understanding of the two different types of passion and how the Dualistic Model of Passion can be applied to different situations and lead to different outcomes.

Passion in sport[edit | edit source]

Self-determination theory is often used to explain how athletes attain high levels of performance in sport, whilst maintaining their psychological well-being (Verner-Filion et al., 2017). According to self-determination theory, the satisfaction of autonomy, competence, and relatedness is paramount in guiding athletes to sporting success. Vernon-Filion et al. (2017) argue that obsessive passion and harmonious passion are linked to these needs being met, and therefore play an integral role in athletes attaining their goals and improving their performance. It seems common knowledge that passion leads athletes to actively pursue their goals of high performance in sport, however it has been proposed that the two types of passion take different paths to well-being and performance (Verner-Filion et al., 2017). That is, obsessive passion and harmonious passion lead athletes down different paths through their moderating effects on autonomy, competence, and relatedness. Breaking this down will allow a greater understanding of the relationship between the dualistic model of passion, self-determination theory, and the attainment of high performance in sport.

Figure 1. Obsessive passion can drive athletes to train extremely hard sometimes resulting in burnout

Participating in sport provides passionate athletes with feelings of autonomy as it reflects their identity. However, for athletes driven by obsessive passion this feeling of autonomy is restricted, as the athlete feels a controlling pressure to engage in the activity (Akehurst & Oliver, 2014). Thus, the individual that experiences harmonious passion enjoys the activity as their participation is a free choice and not controlled. The level of control the individual has over their participation levels of the activity not only influences the enjoyment, but can have a physiological affect on the athlete. One of the negative effects of passion is it can lead an athlete to over-engage in physical activity, putting them at a greater risk of injury. Linking this idea with the Dualistic Model of Passion, it can be assumed that harmonious passion should have a negative relationship with athlete burnout as the autonomy experienced allows their participation to be a free-choice (Curran et al., 2013) and therefore the individual is less likely to participate to a level that puts them at a risk of injury. Obsessive passion should have a positive relationship with athlete burnout as the individual feels compelled to participate in the activity and exhibits less control and therefore is more likely to persist to a level that could put them at risk of injury. This idea is supported by a previous study (Akehurst & Oliver, 2014) that discovered that dancers who exhibited obsessive passion often participated in more risky behaviour, which exacerbated the risk of chronic injuries. Therefore, the relationship between the Dualistic Model of Passion and self-determination theory can help explain the enjoyment athletes experience when participating in sport through autonomy and how the level of control an athlete has over their participation can affect the risk of injury.

It appears that both harmonious passion and obsessive passion are positive predictors of mastery, however harmonious passion positively predicts subjective well-being (Vallerand et al., 2008)[explain?]. That is, both types of passion allow an individual to engage in deliberate practice which, in turn, results in an improved performance. Therefore, passion is not a direct predictor of performance in sport but is indirectly linked due to its relationship [missing something?] deliberate practice. However, although both types of passion are predictive of performance, obsessive passion is less reliably related to performance attainment and is unrelated to happiness (Vallerand et al., 2008).

Athletes, especially those engaged in team sports, have a desire to feel connected with others around them like their teammates (Verner-Filion et al., 2017). It has been argued that harmonious passion allows an individual to participate in sport with more openness, which leads to the development of stronger interpersonal relationships (Verner-Filion et al., 2017). An individual with an obsessive passion for their sporting activity is more likely to experience interpersonal problems due to insecurities of their competence and a lack of flexibility in their approach to their activity.


  • According to self-determination theory, autonomy, competence, and relatedness are needs that need to be satisfied in order to attain sporting success.
  • Feelings of autonomy can be restricted in athletes driven by obsessive passion, whereas those driven by harmonious passion participate in an activity more freely.
  • Both harmonious passion and obsessive passion are positively related to competence, as both types of passion lead individuals to engage in deliberate practice.
  • Obsessive passion can lead to interpersonal problems as the individual is less open in their approach to sport than someone who experiences harmonious passion.

Passion and goal setting[edit | edit source]

Belanger et al. (2013) posits that passionate individuals experience different levels of goal engagement to others who lack passion. Individuals with high levels of passion for an activity are more likely to engage in deliberate practice (engagement in an activity with clear goals of improving specific task components), to reach a level of high performance (Vallerand, 2008). Belanger et al. (2013) suggested that the Dualistic Model of Passion helps explain why passionate individuals often experience goal-conflict while they participate in deliberate practice in a certain activity.

The amount of goal-conflict an individual experiences influences their well-being, as their participation in other activities is mediated by their engagement in the activity they are passionate about[factual?]. Goal-conflict arises when a person exhibits rigid persistence towards the passionate activity (Belanger et al., 2013). Obsessive passion is positively related to rigid activity engagement, whereas harmonious passion is negatively related (Belanger et al., 2013). Therefore, it can be expected that individual's who exhibit obsessive passion towards an activity will experience goal-conflict as the activity is seen to clash with other aspects of his or her life. There is a lack of flexibility in the person's life as they feel compelled to practice the activity they are passionate about and other goals or aspects of their life are perceived to be unnecessary distractions. They will find it hard to set goals unrelated to the passionate activity, whereas an individual with harmonious passion is more open and flexible in their approach and can set multiple goals in various areas of their life.

Obsessive and harmonious passion have also been linked to different types of goal-setting:

  1. Mastery goals are those in which individual's focus on the development of personal competence and task mastery (Vallerand, 2008).
  2. Performance-approach goals are those in which a person aims to achieve competence relative to others.
  3. Performance-avoidance goals seek to avoid incompetence in relation to others.

The latter two goals involve comparing one's level of competence to those around them and determining their level of success in regards to these perceived comparisons. A familiar scenario in which performance-approach and performance-avoidance goals are set is in school. You may have been in a class where you wanted to achieve the top rank or avoid being bottom of the class. Both these goals rely on a comparison being made to determine your level of competence. A task-mastery approach in the classroom would be to set a goal to learn all the material taught in the class.

Studies have shown that harmonious passion is positively related to mastery achievement goals (Vallerand, 2008)[Provide more detail]. Interestingly, obsessive passion has been linked with both adaptive (mastery) and maladaptive (approach and avoidance) goals[factual?]. It has been suggested that an individual with obsessive passion feels compelled to seek out all forms of success when participating in an activity. This may be due to the person feeling insecure about their level of competence, making them seek out different forms of achievement goals in order to alleviate these negative feelings.


  • Obsessive passion predicts the suppression of alternative goals and the gradual inhibition of new goals (Belanger et al., 2013).
  • Harmonious passion is positively related to task-mastery goals.
  • Obsessive passion is positively linked with task-mastery, performance-approach, and performance-avoidance goals.

Passion at work[edit | edit source]

Work Engagement Scenarios

Imagine these three different situations:

  1. A person is stuck at the office late at night. They do not enjoy being at work so late, but they feel compelled to continue due to the internal pressures to avoid feeling guilty for not working.
  2. An individual is totally engrossed in their work. Everyone else has left the office at the end of the day but they remain as they feel pressures to continue working to avoid missing the assignments deadline and being known as a failure. As a result, they forget to attend an after-work event with their co-workers.
  3. A person is fully engaged in a work assignment. They thoroughly enjoy the work and find the task fulfilling. A co-worker asks for help in a different task and the individual can detach from their own task to offer their assistance.

Birkeland and Buch (2013) researched the Dualistic Model of Passion, testing the direct effects of harmonious and obsessive passion with work engagement and workaholism.

Work engagement occurs when an individual brings their physical, cognitive, and emotional energies into work (Birkeland & Buch, 2013). It is often described as a positive and fulfilling state of mind that an individual experience in relation to their work (Christian, Garza, & Slaughter, 2011). This is similar to the definition of passion, which has led researchers to believe that the two concepts are not mutually exclusive. Work engagement describes the experiences an individual has while at work, whereas passion describes the relationship with work and how they feel about their work (Birkeland & Buch, 2013).

On the other hand, there appears to be a relationship between workaholism and obsessive passion, as workaholism is defined as spending many hours at one's work and being unable to detach from work (Birkeland et al., 2013). However, a clear distinction between the two must be made. Workaholics do not necessarily enjoy their work and this is a very important component in obsessive passion.

Their [who?] findings include the following:

  1. A positive relationship exists between harmonious passion and work engagement, and obsessive passion and workaholism.
  2. A positive relationship between obsessive passion and burnout were found, supporting the work of previous researchers (Curran et al., 2013).
  3. Birkeland and Buch (2013) also found that harmonious passion was positively associated with work satisfaction, whereas obsessive passion had a negative relationship.
  4. Both harmonious and obsessive passion have been linked with work performance.
  5. Employees with harmonious passion are able to develop positive interrelationships with co-workers and receive more referrals, reiterating the point that those with harmonious passion have more positive experiences at work (Ho & Pollack, 2014).

Relating these findings to our earlier scenarios, you will be able to identify the different experiences the individual would have at work. The first individual does not enjoy their work, however because of other pressures they continue to engage in their work, identifying this person as a workaholic. The second individual is slightly different. They enjoy their work, however they still feel compelled to continue working to avoid failure, resulting in an inability to engage in other activities, exhibiting signs of obsessive passion. The third individual is fully engaged in a task they find fulfilling, however when a co-worker approaches them they are able to detach from their task and engage in a different activity. This individual has harmonious passion as their engagement in their work does not negatively affect their interrelationship with a co-worker and they feel free to detach from their task.


  • Work engagement is often described as a positive and fulfilling state of mind that an individual experiences in relation to their work
  • Workaholism is defined as spending many hours at one’s work and being unable to detach from work
  • Harmonious passion is positively related to work engagement, whereas obsessive passion is associated with workaholism

Passion and addictive behaviours[edit | edit source]

Figure 1. Obsessive passions can lead to negative outcomes such as gambling

The Dualistic Model of Passion posits that obsessive passion often leads to a persistence in behaviour. However, as the activity has taken control of the individual this persistence is often rigid. Thus, continuous engagement in certain behaviours can have negative consequences and eventually lead to addiction (Vallerand, 2010). One such addiction often linked with passion is gambling. Vallerand (2010) suggests that obsessive passion predicts pathological gambling, whereas harmonious passion does not. Interestingly, a different study found that gambling and harmonious passions can have positive effects, such as increased socialisation (Alberghetti & Collins, 2015). We can already start to see that the two different types of passion can lead to different outcomes. Outcomes associated with gambling are often linked with financial and social circumstances. Gamblers with an obsessive passion can experience financial and social related problems from gambling (Alberghetti & Collins, 2015). Furthermore, obsessive passion also predicts higher amounts of money gambled and more time spent gambling, reiterating the idea that obsessive passion is associated with more negative outcomes (Vallerand, 2010). Studies have found that problems extend beyond gambling and to other addictive behaviours[factual?].

One study looked to clarify the relationship between the types of passion and negative consequences of alcohol and marijuana use (Steers, Neighbors, Hove, Olson, & Lee, 2015). Their findings suggest that harmonious and obsessive passion are related to greater alcohol and marijuana consumption. It was identified that obsessive passion had a stronger association with alcohol-related problems than harmonious passion (Steers et al., 2015). Individuals with an obsessive passion will more likely feel dominated by their desire for substances and therefore be more susceptible to the negative consequences. This links back to Dualistic Model of Passion and the distinction made between obsessive and harmonious passion.


  • Continuous engagement in certain behaviours can have negative consequences and eventually lead to addiction
  • Obsessive passion predicts pathological gambling whereas harmonious passion does not
  • Obsessive passion had a stronger association with alcohol-related problems than harmonious passion.

Measuring passion[edit | edit source]

A lot of studies have investigated the relationship between the two types of passion and different variables. The common method used to evaluate these relationships is the use of the Passion Scale. The Passion Scale was designed to measure the 2 distinct types of passion and use them to predict adaptive and maladaptive outcomes (Marsh et al., 2013). Given the extensive use of this scale it would be useful to know it psychometric properties, as to understand the strengths and weaknesses of using such a scale. Marsh et al. (2013) investigated the validity and reliability of the scale and found that The Passion Scale had strong partial invariance over a variety of activity groups indicating its appropriateness for measuring passion across a variety of contexts. A link to example questions from the Passion Scale can be found in external links. Table 1 summarises the psychometric properties of the Passion Scale as found by Marsh et al., (2013).

Table 1. Psychometric Properties of the Passion Scale
The Passion Scale
Convergent Validity Supported based on validity correlates*
Discriminant Validity Supported based on validity correlates
Reliability High Cronbach alpha
Factor Structure 2 Factor Structure Supported
Note. * = validity correlates include: life satisfaction, rumination, conflict,

time investment, activity liking, and valuation of the activity as a passion


  • The Passion Scale is a commonly used metric to assess the relationship between the two types of passion and other variables.
  • The Passion Scale has been found to be an appropriate measure for a variety of factors including life satisfaction and conflict.

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Test your knowledge

1 Harmonious passion is associated with an increased risk of injury and burnout in athletes


2 Which type of achievement goals is obsessive passion positively associated with?

Task master
All of the above

3 Which theory is often used to explain how athletes attain high levels of performance in sport?

theory of cognitive dissonance
self-determination theory
social exchange theory
dual process theory

4 The Passion Scale has been shown to have strong convergent and discriminant validity


Conclusion[edit | edit source]

  • The Dualistic Model of Passion suggests that two different types of passion exist and how they lead to different outcomes:
    • Obsessive passion is experienced when an individual feels a strong and uncontrollable urge to participate in an activity. The activity is pursued with a rigid persistence and can take over a person's life, reducing their involvement in other activities.
    • Harmonious passion occurs when an individual freely engages in an activity. The enjoyment of the activity is internalised and therefore they do not experience pressures to pursue the activity. The activity remains a significant part of the individual's identity but does not take over.
  • The model can be used to explain how athlete's pursue the excellence in sport. Harmoniously passionate individuals have a great sense of autonomy as their participation in sport reflects part of their identity. As their persistence in training is less rigid they are able to develop strong interpersonal relationships and are less prone to injury compared to obsessively passionate individuals.
  • Obsessive passion is associated with task-mastery, performance-approach, and performance-avoidance goals, however over time, the rigid persistence in the activity leads to the suppression of new and alternate goals. On the other hand, harmonious passion has a positive relationship with task-mastery goals and they feel free to pursue alternate goals and develop new goals.
  • Harmonious passion is associated with work engagement whereas obsessive passion has been linked with workaholism. Although both can lead to positive performance outcomes, workaholism can have negative health and social effects on the individual.
  • Although both types of passion predict engagement in gambling, it is the rigid persistence associated with obsessive passion that often leads to addiction and negative consequences. Obsessive passion has also been linked with the negative effects of alcohol consumption.
  • The Passion Scale was developed to measure a person's type of passion and it has been shown to be a valid and reliable construct.

See also[edit | edit source]

References[edit | edit source]

Akehurst, S., & Oliver, E. J. (2014). Obsessive passion: A dependency associated with injury-related risky behaviour in dancers. Journal of sports sciences, 32(3), 259-267.

Alberghetti, A., & Collins, P. A. (2015). A passion for gambling: A generation-specific conceptual analysis and review of gambling among older adults in Canada. Journal of gambling studies, 31(2), 343-358.

Bélanger, J. J., Lafreniere, M. A. K., Vallerand, R. J., & Kruglanski, A. W. (2013). When passion makes the heart grow colder: The role of passion in alternative goal suppression. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 104(1), 126.

Birkeland, I. K., & Buch, R. (2015). The dualistic model of passion for work: Discriminate and predictive validity with work engagement and workaholism. Motivation and Emotion, 39(3), 392-408.

Christian, M. S., Garza, A. S., & Slaughter, J. E. (2011). Work engagement: A quantitative review and test of its relations with task and contextual performance. Personnel Psychology, 64(1), 89-136.

Curran, T., Appleton, P. R., Hill, A. P., & Hall, H. K. (2013). The mediating role of psychological need satisfaction in relationships between types of passion for sport and athlete burnout. Journal of Sports Sciences, 31(6), 597-606.

Ho, V. T., & Pollack, J. M. (2014). Passion Isn't Always a Good Thing: Examining Entrepreneurs' Network Centrality and Financial Performance with a Dualistic Model of Passion. Journal of Management Studies, 51(3), 433-459.

Marsh, H. W., Vallerand, R. J., Lafrenière, M. A. K., Parker, P., Morin, A. J., Carbonneau, N., ... & Salah Abduljabbar, A. (2013). Passion: Does one scale fit all? Construct validity of two-factor passion scale and psychometric invariance over different activities and languages. Psychological assessment, 25(3), 796.

Steers, M. L. N., Neighbors, C., Christina Hove, M., Olson, N., & Lee, C. M. (2015). How harmonious and obsessive passion for alcohol and marijuana relate to consumption and negative consequences. Journal of studies on alcohol and drugs, 76(5), 749-757.

Thorgren, S., Wincent, J., & Sirén, C. (2013). The influence of passion and work–life thoughts on work satisfaction. Human Resource Development Quarterly, 24(4), 469-492.

Vallerand, R. J. (2016). The Dualistic Model of Passion: Theory, Research, and Implications for the Field of Education. Building Autonomous Learners: Perspectives from Research and Practice using Self-Determination Theory, 31–58,

Vallerand, R. J. (2010). On passion for life activities: The dualistic model of passion. Advances in experimental social psychology, 42, 97-193.

Vallerand, R. J., Mageau, G. A., Elliot, A. J., Dumais, A., Demers, M. A., & Rousseau, F. (2008). Passion and performance attainment in sport. Psychology of Sport and Exercise, 9(3), 373-392.

Verner-Filion, J., Vallerand, R. J., Amiot, C. E., & Mocanu, I. (2017). The two roads from passion to sport performance and psychological well-being: The mediating role of need satisfaction, deliberate practice, and achievement goals. Psychology of Sport and Exercise, 30, 19-29.

External links[edit | edit source]

  • Increasing Harmonious Passion - A description of how to increase harmonious passion while reducing obsessive passion.
  • The Paradox of Passion - A cognitive psychologist reflects on the existence of two types of passion in different contexts.
  • The Passion Scale - An example of the types of questions asked in the questionnaire commonly used to assess harmonious and obsessive passion.