Motivation and emotion/Book/2019/Psychological need satisfaction and body image

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Psychological need satisfaction and body image:
What is the relationship between psychological need satisfaction and body image?

Overview[edit | edit source]

Psychological need satisfaction refers to the fulfilment of three major psychological needs: autonomy, competence and relatedness (Martela & Ryan, 2019). Studies have shown that body image and the way one perceives themselves[grammar?] is significantly affected by environmental factors and whether or not our key psychological needs are being satisfied. The fulfilment of these needs and the relationship with body image can be explored through several theories of motivation, including self-discrepancy theory, Maslow’s hierarchy of needs and self-determination theory.

Focus questions Crystal Clear app ktip.svg
  1. Why is body image so prominent across cultures?
  2. What are three theories that could be linked to psychological need satisfaction and body image?
  3. What are the consequences if needs are not being satisfied?
  4. What do psychological theories suggest?

Psychological need satisfaction[edit | edit source]

As human beings, individuals have needs that, when fulfilled, result in a sense of accomplishment and overall well-being (Martela & Ryan, 2019). The concept of need satisfaction refers to the experience of fulfilment when basic needs are met. There are three main types of needs that humans[grammar?] have;[grammar?] physiological, psychological and implicit (see figure 1). Psychological needs refer to the instinctive psychological process that are satisfied by environmental conditions (Barroso, Peters, Johnson, Kelder, & Jefferson, 2010). The key psychological needs include autonomy (a sense of psychological freedom), competence (a sense of effectiveness) and relatedness (a connection with significant others and relationships) . Figure one shows the typical environmental events that lead to the satisfaction of these key needs. When these needs are satisfied, individual's experience personal growth, engagement, intrinsic motivation and an overall improvement in well-being (Reeve, 2018).

Figure 1. Table showing the three main types of human needs
Need Defintion Example
Physiological Biological and vital connections between brain structures, hormones and organs for survival Homeostasis, sex, food, water, sleep
Psychological Instinctive psychological processes that seek environmental conditions to promote an individual's well-being Autonomy, competence, relatedness
Implict Environmental events and circumstances that are associated with positive emotions Power, achievement, affiliation,

Autonomy[edit | edit source]

Autonomy is a key psychological need. It refers to the experience of volition and psychological freedom when it comes to thoughts, feelings and actions (Legault, 2017). When autonomic needs are satisfied, people are likely to embrace individuality and less likely to adhere to social and societal pressures. Studies also show that people tend to feel happier, more interested in tasks and generally more engaged when (Legault, 2017). When these needs are frustrated, people tend to experience feelings of alienation, helplessness and hostility.

Competence[edit | edit source]

The need for competence refers to the need to feel challenged and the feeling of effective contribution to the surrounding environment (Legault, 2017). The idea of competence can also refer to the ability to develop new skill and be able to apply the in real life circumstances and applying feedback provided (Legault, 2017). When the need of competence is satisfied, individuals feel a sense of fulfilment and this can contribute to positive personal growth. The concept of competence is not static, it is an on-going and continuous need that requires persistence and challenge to maintain satisfaction (Legault, 2017).

Relatedness[edit | edit source]

Human's are social creatures, and as a result of that, strive to make meaningful social connections with the people around them (Reeve, 2018). Relatedness refers to our need as humans to establish emotional bonds and interpersonal relationships. Our need for relatedness is satisfied when we give and receive emotional support and care from the social organisations we associate with (Reeve, 2018, Vartanian, 2012). When this need is frustrated, individuals will likely experience feelings of isolation and loneliness. This can lead to poor well-being and the development of mental illness.

Figure. 2 Table showing the environmental condition and need satisfaction
Psychological Need Environmental condition involving need Environmental condition satisfying need
Autonomy Opportunities for self-direction Autonomy support
Competence Optimal challenge Guidance and feedback
Relatedness Social interaction Partner responsiveness

Body image[edit | edit source]

Body image refers to the way individuals perceive themselves mentally, emotionally and physically. (Griffiths, Murray, Krug & McLean, 2018). It is a concept that has been present throughout history and across cultures (Griffiths, Murray, Krug & McLean, 2018). Despite it being a personal and internal process, body image can be shaped negatively or positively by the world around us (Mask & Blanchard, 2011). Studies have shown that body image is effected by societal and cultural expectations, media projection and social media usage (Mask & Blanchard, 2011, Brichacek, Neill & Murray, 2018).

Figure 3. Miss universe winners from 1930. This pageant reflects the beauty standards of the time across cultures.

Societal and cultural impacts[edit | edit source]

Throughout history, societies have conceptualised their own portrayal of 'ideal' beauty (Vartanian, 2012). The standards of beauty vary between cultures and countries; what one culture may see as beautiful and ideal, another may see as undesirable or unattractive (Morrison, Kalin, Morrison, 2004). For example, a 2018 survey conducted in Latino-American and African-American communities showed that both men and women were more attracted to individuals who would be considered overweight in contrast to Caucasian communities, which were generally shown to find the most attractive individuals to be within the normal - to -thinner weight range. Notably this attraction towards overweight individuals was largely attributed by the participants to culture norms and cultural histories such as an abundance of food implying financial security (Barroso, Peters, Johnson, Kelder, & Jefferson, 2010).

Now more than ever, ideal body and beauty standards are being thrusted upon individuals through means of the internet and social media (Brichacek, Neill & Murray, 2018). With the likes of new editing apps, photos posted on social media are now depicting an unrealistic idea of beauty, which individuals are comparing themselves too.

Consequences of negative body image[edit | edit source]

When psychological needs are not being satisfied, body negativity arises. This refers to an unrealistic and distorted view of how someone sees aspects of their physical appearance (Hricova, Orosova & Bacikova-Sleskova, 2018). This negative body image can have a diverse range of psychological and physical effects on an individual’s well-being.

Consequences[edit | edit source]

  • Low self-esteem
  • Low self-confidence
  • Substance abuse
  • Unhealthy eating habits

Mental Illness[edit | edit source]

Case study on varying global beauty standards

Since the 1920's, western cultures have desired a sun kissed, tanned look. With prominent celebrities and fashion designers such as Coco Channel, endorsing it’s appeal and beauty, it has become a standard of beauty in these cultures. Overtime, both men and women have gone to, at times, extreme lengths to achieve this tanned look as it has become a sign of beauty. On the contrary, some Asian cultures have considered a tanned complexion to be undesirable. This is because historically, tan skin was associated with individuals in the working class and who were in the sun all day working and those with a fair complexion were from the upper-class and did not have to be out in the sun. Still to this day, studies show that a fair complexion is still considered the pinnacle of beauty in some Asian cultures, with some individuals using make-up and creams to make their skin appear lighter. This proves that beauty standards cause individuals to be unhappy with their body image and with to change their appearance to adhere to beauty standards (Chen, Yarnal, Chick & Jablonski, 2017).

Video break!

This video shows a model photoshopped to fit the ideal beauty standards of different countries around the world:

Self-Discrepancy Theory[edit | edit source]

The idea that human's have multiple self-sates has been theorised and discussed by scholars for over a century (Vartanian, 2012). Self-discrepancy theory (SDT) refers to the idea that individual's have three domains of self. Individuals tend to compare their “actual” self to internalised standards of the “ideal or ought” self. Actual refers to an individuals self perception, ideal is the the individuals perception of what is the ideal attributes and is based on the presence/absence of positive outcomes and the 'ought' self refers to your perception of what others believe to be the ideal self and is based on the presence/absence of negative outcomes (Vartanian, 2012).

In relation to body image, self-discrepancy can be applied. Due to the societal expectations and beauty standards, people, particularly women, feel as though their ideal self is unsatisfactory. There is evidence of body dissatisfaction and they tend to conceptualise their ideal and ought self off a description that society deems as beautiful (Vartanian, 2012).

Thought bubble

Why do people feel the need to adhere to beauty standards?

Theories of motivation and body image[edit | edit source]

Figure 4. Self-determination theory

Self determination theory and need satisfaction[edit | edit source]

Self determination theory (SDT), is a theory of motivation that suggests that individual's have a desire to grow and this can be fulfilled when psychological needs are satisfied (Markland & Ingledew, 2007, Hricova, Orosova & Bacikova-Sleskova, 2018). This theory revolves around the concept of the three key psychological needs; autonomy, competence and relatedness.

Autonomy and body image[edit | edit source]

Autonomy refers to psychological freedom and the desire to feel as though one is in control of their life (Markland & Ingledew, 2007). Studies have shown when an individual has poor self esteem and body dissatisfaction, they are more likely to develop strict and unhealthy habits such as restrictive eating and over exercising in order to feel as though they have control over at least one aspect of their life (Hricova, Orosova & Bacikova-Sleskova, 2018). This is an example of when needs are met in a negative and unproductive manner and this can be counterproductive for an individual's well-being.

Competence and body image[edit | edit source]

The psychological need to be competent refers to need to feel challenged, utilise one abilities and accept feedback (Mask & Blanchard, 2011). In regards to body image, this could be physical competence or the conceptualised standard that only skinny people are healthy. Research shows that when someone with poor body image is striving to fulfil this need, it may result in an increased sense of self-effectiveness (Hricova, Orosova & Bacikova-Sleskova, 2018). This means that an individual may over work themselves and stop at no cost to achieve their desired body image.

If an individual has poor body image, they likely have low self-esteem and confidence too (Hricova, Orosova & Bacikova-Sleskova, 2018). This may effect their ability to receive constructive feedback and hinder their chance of fulfilling the need of competence.

Relatedness and body image[edit | edit source]

Relatedness is a key psychological need as human's have a desire to belong to groups and establish meaningful relationships (Mask & Blanchard, 2011). Research has shown that individuals believe they will develop these connections if they work to achieve the 'ideal' standard of beauty (Markland & Ingledew, 2007). Whilst trying to fulfil the sense of relatedness, individuals may start to develop unhealthy dieting and exercising habits (Hricova, Orosova & Bacikova-Sleskova, 2018). Social isolation, a lack of confidence and mental illness' such as depression, anxiety and body dysmorphia may be developed as well. On the contrary, if an individual has poor body image and self-esteem, this may effect their ability to socialise and develop meaningful relationships thus hindering their chance at achieving relatedness.

Figure 5. Maslow’s hierarchy of needs

Maslow’s hierarchy of needs[edit | edit source]

Maslow's hierarchy of needs is an order of needs created to explore the motivations of individuals (Taormina & Gao, 2013, Reeve, 2018). There are five tiers, starting with the most basic physiological needs and safety, then gradually narrowing into more personal needs such as social (love/belonging), esteem and self actualisation. In reference to body image, Maslow's hierarchy of needs can provide motivations of body image and body positivity.

The tiers that are mainly related to body image are love/belonging, esteem and self-actualisation.

Esteem[edit | edit source]

In the hierarchy, esteem is described as achievement, independence, status, dominance, self respect and respect from others (Taormina & Gao 2013, Reeve, 2018). Individual's[grammar?] who have a positive sense of body image have high self-esteem and in return, they are - to some extent- respected by others (Taormina & Gao, 2013). In society, there is also a sense of achievement if one believe's[grammar?] they have reached an ideal body image[factual?]. Body image greatly impacts not only how you perceive yourself but also how you believe others to perceive you and the extent to which you feel respected and positively recognised[factual?].

Social (love/belonging)[edit | edit source]

Maslow describes the social tier as belongingness, affection and love that derives from the close relationships to us (Reeve, 2018). This can be linked to the psychological need of relatedness and the need for stable and close relationships. When an individual has a poor sense of body image, they may lack the self esteem and confidence to socialise thus not fulfilling these needs.

Self-actualisation[edit | edit source]

The top tier refers to self-actualisation, which refers to realising personal potential, self-fulfilment and seeking personal growth to further improve abilities (Reeve, 2018 ). This tier can be linked to the psychological needs of autonomy and competence and it implies that an individual has psychological freedom and is always striving to improve their abilities (Taormina & Gao 2013). Body image can impact performance and understanding of self-worth and ability and in turn affect an individual's[grammar?] ability to self-actualise. Maslow believed that to understand this level of need, the person must not only succeed in the previous needs but master them (Taormina & Gao 2013).

Video break

A crash course explaining motivation and emotions:

Let's test our knowledge!
Figure 6. Four body types that society has established for women.

1 The "ideal" body is the same in all cultures. True or False?


2 How many levels does Maslow's hierarchy consist of?


Conclusion[edit | edit source]

Based on psychological theory and research, the relationship between body image and need satisfaction is one of great importance. Body image plays a key part in the human experience, and a poor sense of body image can affect the fulfilment of basic psychological needs such as autonomy, competence and relatedness (Martela & Ryan, 2019).

The key theories in relation to body image and need satisfaction include, self-discrepancy theory, self determination theory and Maslow's hierarchy of needs.

It is important that if you are suffering from body image issues, to contact a professional as it can be detrimental to your quality of life and if left untreated, likely to cause the onset of mental health disorders.

See also[edit | edit source]

References[edit | edit source]

Barroso, C.S., Peters, R.J., Johnson, R.J., Kelder, S.H., & Jefferson, T. (2010). Beliefs and perceived norms concerning body image among African-American and Latino teenagers. Journal of Health Psychology, 15(6), 858-870.

Brichacek, A., Neill, J., & Murray, K. (2018). The effect of basic psychological needs and exposure to idealised Facebook images on university students’ body satisfaction. Cyberpsychology: Journal Of Psychosocial Research On Cyberspace, 12(3)

Chen, H., Yarnal, C., Chick, G., & Jablonski, N. (2017). Egg White or Sun-Kissed: A Cross-Cultural Exploration of Skin Color and Women’s Leisure Behavior. Sex Roles, 78(3-4), 255-271 Griffiths, S., Murray, S., Krug, I., & McLean, S. (2018). The Contribution of Social Media to Body Dissatisfaction, Eating Disorder Symptoms, and Anabolic Steroid Use Among Sexual Minority Men. Cyberpsychology, Behavior, And Social Networking

Hricova, L., Orosova, O., & Bacikova-Sleskova, M. (2018). Disordered eating in the context of Self-determination theory. Current Psychology.

Legault, Lisa. (2016). The Need for Autonomy. Encyclopedia of Personality and Individual Differences.

Legault, Lisa. (2017). The Need for Competence. Encyclopedia of Personality and Individual Differences.

Markland, D., & Ingledew, D. (2007). The relationships between body mass and body image and relative autonomy for exercise among adolescent males and females. Psychology Of Sport And Exercise, 8(5), 836-853.

Martela, F., & Ryan, R. (2019). Distinguishing between basic psychological needs and basic wellness enhancers: the case of beneficence as a candidate psychological need. Motivation And Emotion.

Mask, L., & Blanchard, C. (2011). The effects of “thin ideal” media on women's body image concerns and eating-related intentions: The beneficial role of an autonomous regulation of eating behaviors. Body Image, 8(4), 357-365.


Reeve, J. (2018). Understanding motivation and emotion (7th ed.). Hoboken, NJ: Wiley.

Taormina, & Gao. (2013). Maslow and the Motivation Hierarchy: Measuring Satisfaction of the Needs. The American Journal Of Psychology, 126(2), 155.

Tiggemann, M. (2005). Television and Adolescent Body Image: The Role of Program Content and Viewing Motivation. Journal Of Social And Clinical Psychology, 24(3), 361-381.

Vartanian, L. (2012). Self-Discrepancy Theory and Body Image, 711-717.

External links[edit | edit source]