Motivation and emotion/Book/2020/Basic psychological need theory

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Basic psychological need theory:
What is basic psychological need theory and how can it be applied?


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According to the basic psychological need theory (BPNT), people have a limited number of psychological needs. It is important for these needs to be satisfied for the wellbeing of the individual. The psychological needs that individuals posses[spelling?] have often been revised but there are generally three that have been agreed upon: Autonomy, Competence, and relatedness (Gunnell, Crocker, Wilson, Mack, & Zumbo, 2013). Basic psychological theory is the consideration of the satisfaction or lack of, and if the needs have been frustrated. The frustration of the needs results in[grammar?] a riskier experience than when the satisfaction is not satisfied.

Autonomy refers to the capacity to make informed and independent decisions. This is crucial in human psychology because its satisfaction results in a sense of integrity. After all, the thoughts and actions of the individual are authentic. However, when frustrated, pressure and conflict can easily be felt because one is being pushed in a direction they are not willing to go. relatedness refers to the fact of being connected which is satisfied through bonding and care. The satisfaction of relatedness makes the individual feel significant to others. Its frustration, however, causes social alienation, exclusion, and the feeling of loneliness. Competence refers to the ability to do something effectively and efficiently. Competence improves one's performance at a task because of the mastery of the task. This is satisfied by engaging in activities where one can make use of their skills and expertise. Frustration causes feelings of failure and helplessness.

The basic psychological need theory is supported by outside research and theories such as; Maslow's theory, Consistency theory, and self-determination theory.

Key points

  • The basic psychological need theory is based on the argument that individuals have limited basic psychological needs.
  • BPNT is supported by other theories; Maslow's theory, Consistency theory, and self-determination theory. 
  • There are criteria for psychological needs determination
  • Psychological needs satisfaction has a social contribution

Basic criteria for basic psychological needs theory

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The focus of BPNT is on psychological needs. However, this does not mean that other basic needs like food, water and shelter should be ignored within the theory. There is an interrelation between psychological and physiological needs and different researchers have done studies on dynamic relations. For instance, to develop and maintain a healthy lifestyle are [grammar?] affected by the satisfaction of needs and also frustrations. The healthy lifestyle feeds back on the need-based experiences of the individual.[factual?]

Additionally, this is similar to the way that physiological needs have to be fulfilled for physical growth and wellbeing then psychological needs have to be satisfied for psychological growth and wellness to occur. The frustration of these needs, on the other hand, reduces flourishing and also increases the probability of feeling ill about the self and psychopathology. This proves that under BPNT there are psychological nutrients that must be satisfied to achieve growth and wellness and adjustment should be done to improve the outcomes where needed. The psychological needs result in functional costs when they are frustrated because the level of happiness is lowered and maladjustment begins to occur.[factual?]

BPNT recognises that there are drivers of human action that are essential for psychological growth and activity. Every fully functioning individual has Autonomy, relatedness, and Competence needs that must be met. This is an assumption of this theory which has been supported by different studies that identify the mechanistic correlation of needs and experiences[factual?]. A study by Lee and Reeve (2020) indicates that the brain morphometry of an individual, particularly the ventral striatum grey matter volume, correlates needs satisfaction with the experiences of participants[explain?].

Further, basic psychological needs in BPNT should be distinguishable from other basic needs. This is true for both the experimental level and dynamic levels. At the experimental level, each need is associated with different experience sets. Dynamically, if a need is satisfied through the frustration of another then that need is not basic but rather derivative. Such needs which arise from the frustration of basic psychological needs are need-substitutes or compensatory preferences. For instance, in the need for security, Autonomy is frustrated because one is in conditions that are controlled which makes them feel caged and unable to express their thoughts and ideas. [factual?]

Another criterion for the determination of basic needs is the universal nature of needs. Psychological needs are intrinsic and therefore, are universally applicable. They affect all people across their different demographic traits, i.e.[spell out - online use i.e. and e.g. within parentheses] age, gender, nationality, etc. This, therefore, raises the question of whether a need has to be desired for satisfaction or frustration to be derived from it. The concept of individual differences in need strengths has been subject to attention regarding other theories such as the motive disposition theory[factual?]. The claim on universality by BPNT suggests that the differences are insignificant in influencing the need satisfaction or frustration compared to the expected effects. It is also important to note that this universality claim cannot be interpreted too rigidly because there are factors that will affect need fulfilment like culture, history, and personality.[factual?]

Self-determination theory

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Self-determination theory

Self-determination theory is a psychological framework for understanding human motivation. It was developed by psychologists Richard Ryan and Edward Deci and grew out of research on intrinsic motivation, or the internal desire to do something for its own sake, not for an external reward. Self-determination theory states that people are driven by three basic psychological needs: autonomy, competence, and relatedness.[factual?]

Self-determination is an important concept in psychology because it represents the ability of an individual to make choices in their lives for their health and wellbeing. With self-determination, people have control over their life choices which influences their motivation. When people feel that they have more control over the outcome, they are more willing to take action. Having high self-determination is important in different aspects of life. According to the self-motivation theory, motivation comes from three innate and universal psychological needs; Competence, connection, and Autonomy. This theory is, therefore, based on the concept of intrinsic motivation brought about by engaging in rewarding activities. This theory was developed from the work of Edward Deci and Richard Ryan in their 1985 book "Self-Determination and Intrinsic Motivation in Human Behaviour" (Deci and Ryan, 2000). In this book, they developed a theory suggesting that people are motivated by the need to grow and gain a level of self-fulfilment. It, however, has two key assumptions; that the behaviour of individuals is driven by the need for growth and that autonomous motivation is essential for human progress.

Other psychological theory

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Other theories also mention the basic psychological need.[factual?]

Maslow's theory

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Maslow theory

Maslow's theory is a psychological motivational theory that is made up of a five-level model of human needs. The model is depicted as a pyramid at the needs that are arranged in levels. According to Maslow's theory, the needs at the lowest level of the pyramid are more basic than the others and therefore, must be satisfied first, then an individual can move on to other needs. From the bottom of the hierarchy, human needs are; physiological needs, safety needs, love, and belonging needs, esteem needs, and self-actualisation. The model is also divided into two where the first four levels are known as deficiency needs and the topmost is a growth need.[factual?]

Consistency theory

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Consistency theory suggests that people are mostly influenced by the need to maintain a level of congruence among their cognitions. This theory was originally introduced by Fritz Heider, Leon Festinger among others[factual?]. It was first applied to the work behaviour theory by Abraham Korman in 1970. This work behaviour theory is based on two premises; balance notion and self-image standard. In this theory, workers will do and find it more satisfying if the work maximises their sense of cognitive balance and is consistent with their self-image. This theory is, therefore, a motivational theory based on psychological needs.[factual?]

Associated criteria for psychological need determination

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Additional criteria can be derived to explain how the psychological needs work better. One such derived criterion is the costs and benefits of satisfaction or frustration of needs are pervasive which makes them relevant in different outcomes. This is to means [grammar?] that different behavioural, cognitive, or motivation outcomes should follow the pattern of satisfaction or frustration of needs. This should also be applicable at different levels such as personal and societal or conscious to unconscious. This is important for understanding the behaviour of a toddler in exploration driven by a curiosity about their environment (Klassen, Perry, & Frenzel, 2012). The outcomes from such exploration are different and this is influenced by the satisfaction and frustration of their curiosity needs.

Another associated criterion is the concrete nature of the experiences and behaviours associated with need satisfaction and frustration. The content must be specified to ensure that it is clear whether the psychological need has been met or not. For instance, in the formation of harmonious relationships, or extension of one's skills, there are specific behaviours that portray a psychological need to be satisfied. On the other hand, if one experiences failure or is lonely then this meets that the need has been frustrated. The understanding of these concrete behaviour should be based on the natural language of people when they reflect on an experience they have undergone. Different qualitative studies have been done to examine the needs-based experiences people have[factual?]. A semi-structured interview on Singaporean youth showed that they highly valued Autonomy, Competence, and relatedness but noted that they often experienced the frustration of these needs[factual?]. This study has helped to solidify the concept of concrete presentation of the outcomes of need satisfaction and frustration[factual?].

The third derived criteria are that the basic needs should influence the actions of an individual. This means that the needs should help people to prefer doing certain activities over others. This is in line with the growth-oriented character of the basic psychological needs in BPNT. People are more attracted to activities, goals, and relationships that promote their sense of volition, mastery, and connection. Additionally, people are also drawn to contexts that support the satisfaction of their needs. Such contexts serve to make the satisfaction of needs easier as opposed to frustration[grammar?]. Need frustration also plays an important role in influencing behaviour because it mobilises corrective behaviour change and the development of coping responses (Deci & Vansteenkiste, 2003).

Lastly, basic needs in BPNT are essential in the explanation of social contexts and their effects on developmental outcomes. BPNs are influenced by context which means they will vary depending on the context[vague]. The social environment as well as the individual's psychological adjustment are important in understanding the expected development outcomes as a result of need satisfaction and frustration (Evelein, Korthagen, & Brekelmans, 2008).

Extension of the list of basic psychological needs

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The issue of whether the current list of basic psychological needs in BPNT needs extension or not has been an ongoing debate over time[factual?]. Different studies have revealed that there are other sets on[grammar?] needs beyond the three current ones. However, these studies[factual?] also show that the three are the most important needs because of their effects upon satisfaction or frustration. A study by Sheldon et al (2001) examining the roles of [what?] candidates needs to include other needs such as security, popularity, pleasure, self-actualisation, luxury, physical thriving, and self-worth. This study revealed that the three basic needs in BPNT have an important role because they ranked top in both satisfaction and frustration cases. A similar pattern was seen in a study by Jang et al. (2009) in which Korean and American students were examined for the most satisfying needs in the school setting. Autonomy, Competence, and relatedness are seen to be associated which means they remain significant even without the satisfaction of other needs such as shelter and respect.

Other studies have focused on specific alternative psychological needs. However, even for these studies, some of these recommended needs cannot be included because they do not satisfy several criteria. For example, self-esteem is a need that is often mentioned as basic because of the experience of the individual upon satisfaction. However, it is still not considered a basic need in BPNT because it does not operate independently of the other ARC (Autonomy, relatedness, and Competence) needs. Then the ARC needs are frustrated then there are concerns about self-worth as well which supports that the dynamics of self-esteem are dependent on the basic needs (Klassen, Perry, & Frenzel, 2012)[awkward expression?].

Some of the proposed new candidate needs are thought-provoking such as adding the need for novelty, novelty-variety, morality, and beneficence. They help to sharpen thinking on the criteria of selecting basic needs. The evidence provided by different researchers is promising but is based on the premise of the evidence of proposed candidate needs. Advancements in this research[factual?] have shown that they can be incorporated into new basic needs if they are well described. Novelty-variety refers to the perception of an individual when he or she does something new. This includes the possibility of combining the activities into different groups for different experiences. A study by Bagheri & Milyavskaya (2020) showed [how?] that novelty-variety can be analytically separated from the other basic needs which is one of the essential criteria for determining a basic need. Additionally, it comes with a cost to well-being when frustrated experimentally and lastly its impact does not depend on the demographic characteristics of the individual. This specific need, therefore, meets three of the five criteria for basic psychological needs.[factual?]

In another study, Gonzalez-Cutre et al. (2020), novelty is defined as the need to experience something different from one's daily routine. This study revealed that novelty satisfaction influenced the motivation of individuals in exercising which contributed to growth in their well-being. Its frustration, on the other hand, resulted in a decline in well-being. The findings of this study differ from Bagheri and Milyavskaya (2020) because it includes the role played by openness in novelty satisfaction and its contribution to wellbeing.

Morality is defined as [grammar?] a study by Prentice et al (2020) as a viable fourth need based on initial empirical evidence. An earlier study by the same researchers[factual?] had shown that the satisfaction of moral needs was evident when the participants were asked to talk about events where they had different experiences of satisfaction or frustration. From this study, morality satisfaction revealed that it had a unique variance above and beyond that of BPNT's basic needs. Additionally, its contribution to the social issue shows that it is related to the enactment of moral behaviours and wellness which satisfies the criterion on intrinsic motivation. The need, therefore, satisfies at least two of the BPNT criteria for basic psychological needs.[factual?]

From these studies, it is evident that the needs of novelty, novelty-variety, and morality satisfy some of the criteria for basic psychological needs. This means they can start to be examined further if they fit into the shortlist for an addition. This examination is done through the determination of beneficence satisfaction or frustration. Beneficence satisfaction refers to the feeling of impacting others positively while beneficence frustration is affecting others negatively (Olafsen, Deci, & Halvari, 2018). Even though beneficence frustration is often associated with ill-being, it cannot predict the incremental variance above the frustration of Autonomy, Competence, and relatedness. From understanding the criterion on essentialness, both satisfaction and frustration affect enhancing well-being.[factual?]

Importance of needs

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All humans have certain basic needs that drive their behaviour as they want to achieve these needs. As such, basic psychological needs are important motivational tools for all humans as popularised by Abraham Maslow. Maslow stated that these needs are not all satisfied at the same time which resulted in the need for a hierarchy known as the Maslow's theory (Ryan & La Guardia, 2000). Maslow, therefore, lists the needs from the most basic to the most complex under the assumption that one level must be satisfied before moving on to the next. The social importance of these needs varies depending on their satisfaction or frustration.[factual?]

Needs satisfaction

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One important social application of the basic psychological needs is the sense of security that individuals achieve. The satisfaction of the three needs makes individuals feel secure in their environment and with life. This includes physical security which entails protection from physical harm and having enough food and water to live. There is also emotional security and financial security which also influences the thoughts and behaviour of an individual.[factual?]

The second important social application is the provision of comfort in the given environment. This can only be achieved after one has achieved a sense of security in their lives. Comfort also occurs in different levels such as physical comfort, emotional, and financial comfort (Van den Broeck, Ferris, Chang, & Rosen, 2016). This is beyond just having enough to survive which motivates people to work towards having that level of comfort.

Leisure is also a social benefit of basic needs satisfaction. This comes from the need by humans to take time away from the usual routine to relax and have fun either alone or with others. Leisure is only achieved after satisfying security and comfort but is not an absolute basic need for survival. Spending too much leisure time can hurt the individual's life such as achieving their future goals (López Walle, Balaguer Solá, Castillo Fernádez, & Tristán Rodríguez, 2012). This is not to negate the importance of leisure in the promotion of health and wellness. Leisure time also improves the productivity of an individual because it prevents burnout[factual?].

The last importance of satisfaction of these needs is love which is arguably one of the most important basic needs. Love occurs in two levels, self-love and love for others. Self-love is crucial because if a person does not love him or herself, he or she can engage in behaviours that are self-destructive such as the use of drugs and alcohol. This stops the person from reaching higher levels of needs like respect and life’s purpose. Love for others, on the other hand, is essential for the creation of long-term and meaningful relationships. Not loving others may cause a person to do things that make other people not love them as well and one will experience loneliness. [factual?]

For example, set-top box providers like Tata Sky, Sun Direct etc. follow need satisfaction selling. They have different packages so as to meet the needs of different types of customers. They also have special packages where the customer can choose the channels they want based on their interest and that particular package will be provided to the customer.[factual?]

Needs frustration

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Frustration is a common emotional response to opposition, related to anger, annoyance and disappointment. Need frustration is referred to as perception of the basic psychological needs are being thwarted, which is undermining, alienating and pathogenic.[factual?]

Frustration is a common emotional response to opposition, related to anger, annoyance and disappointment.

Need frustration is a separate psychological process than need satisfaction[factual?]. There are some neuroscience studies that could be related to relatedness frustration[factual?], though there are few neuroscience studies about either Competence need frustration or Autonomy need frustration. For example, Eisenberger, Lieberman, and Williams (2003) conducted a neuroscience study about social rejection. In this study, the feeling of social rejection was manipulated as participants played a game of cyber ball but were for a time socially excluded. During episodes of social exclusion, participants showed activations in the anterior cingulate cortex (ACC), anterior insular cortex (AIC), and ventral prefrontal cortex. These findings suggest that the ACC and AIC play key roles, not only when people experience satisfaction from social interactions, but also when they experience frustration from social interactions. This neural pattern is understandable because the AIC is a well-known brain region for the processes of emotion, feeling, and motivation of both positive valence and negative valence (Damasio et al., 2000) and because it is frequently observed that the neural signals from the AIC are rapidly relayed to the ACC (Allman et al., 2010).

There is an example of the frustration that might be following the death or bankruptcy of either party[factual?][grammar?]. If you have drafted the contract so that it contains provisions that cause the contract to become frustrated because of certain events occurring, this may also be a ground for enlivening the doctrine of frustration[explain?]. [factual?]


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BPNT is an important theory in the social setting[also in non-social settings?]. It contributes to the advancement of society through helping in the advancement of individuals within a society[vague]. The satisfaction of the three basic needs is important in the social setting because society as a whole benefits from people who have the Autonomy, relatedness, and Competence. The progress of society depends on its ability to have costs and benefits of needs satisfaction because it guides the behaviour of people.

Secondly, BPNT is essential for the success of a community through the motivation of the people to work towards achieving and satisfying these needs. The behaviour of individuals is influenced by the goals they aim to achieve within a given time. Individual motivation translates to the motivation of the entire society and consequently its success. However, this cannot be achieved without people working together for a common purpose. The third social contribution is that BPNT helps people in the formation of meaningful relationships and friendships within their environment (Li, Wang, & Kee, 2013). These relationships make life better because needs such as love are satisfied with such an environment.

See also

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Allman, J. M., Tetreault, N. A., Hakeem, A. Y., Manaye, K. F., Semendeferi, K., Erwin, J. M., Park, S., Goubert, V. & Hof, P. R. (2010). The von Economo neurons in frontoinsular and anterior cingulate cortex in great apes and humans. Brain Structure and Function, 214,(5-6), 495– 517.

Bagheri, L., & Milyavskaya, M. (2020). Novelty–variety as a candidate basic psychological need: New evidence across three studies. Motivation and Emotion, 44(1), 32-53. DOI: 10.1007/s11031-019-09807-4

Damasio, A. R., Grabowski, T. J., Bechara, A., Damasio, H., Ponto, L. L. B., Parvizi, J., & Hichwa, R. D. (2000). Subcortical and cortical brain activity during the feeling of self-generated emotions. Nature Neuroscience, 3(10), 1049–1056.

Deci, E. L. & Vansteenkiste, M., Ricerche di Psichologia. (2003). Self-determination theory and basic need satisfaction: Understanding human development in positive psychology.logy. KUL. Research centre for motivation and time perspective, Leuven.

Eisenberger, N. I., Lieberman, M. D., & Williams, K. D. (2003). Does rejection hurt? An fMRI study of social exclusion. Science, 302(5643), 290–292.

Evelein, F., Korthagen, F., & Brekelmans, M. (2008). Fulfilment of the basic psychological needs of student teachers during their first teaching experiences. Teaching and teacher Education, 24(5), 1137-1148. DOI: 10.1016/j.tate.2007.09.0011148.

González-Cutre, D., Jiménez-Loaisa, A., Alcaraz-Ibáñez, M., Romero-Elías, M., Santos, I., & Beltrán-Carrillo, V. J. (2020). Motivation and physical activity levels in bariatric patients involved in a self-determination theory-based physical activity program. Psychology of Sport and Exercise, 51, 101975. DOI: 10.1016/j.psychsport.2020.1017951795.

Gunnell, K. E., Crocker, P. R., Wilson, P. M., Mack, D. E., & Zumbo, B. D. (2013). Psychological need satisfaction and thwarting: A test of basic psychological needs theory in physical activity contexts. Psychology of Sport and Exercise, 14(5), 599. DOI: 10.1016/j.psychsport.2013.03.007-607.

Jang, H., Reeve, J., Ryan, R. M., & Kim, A. (2009). Can self-determination theory explain what underlies the productive, satisfying learning experiences of collectivistically oriented Korean studnts?. Journal of educational Psychology, 101(3), 644-661. DOI: 10.1037/a0014241 644.

Klassen, R. M., Perry, N. E., & Frenzel, A. C. (2012). Teachers' relatedness with students: An underemphasized component of teachers' basic psychological needs. Journal of Educational Psychology, 104(1), 150-165. DOI: 10.1037/a0026253 150.

Korman, A. K. (1970). Toward an hypothesis of work behaviour. Journal of Applied psychology, 54(1p1), 31-41. DOI: 10.1037/h0028656, 31.

Lee, W., & Reeve, J. (2020). Brain gray matter correlates of general psychological need satisfaction: A voxel-based morphometry study. Motivation and Emotion, 44(1), 151-158. DOI: 10.1007/s11031-019-09799-1 -158.

Li, C., Wang, C. J., & Kee, Y. H. (2013). Burnout and its relations with basic psychological needs and motivation among athletes: A systematic review and meta-analysis. Psychology of Sport and Exercise, 14(5), 692-700. DOI: 10.1016/j.psychsport.2013.04.009-700.

López Walle, J. M., Balaguer Solá, I., Castillo Fernádez, I., & Tristán Rodríguez, J. L. (2012). Autonomy support, basic psychological needs and well-being in Mexican athletes. The Spanish journal of psychology, 15(3), 1283. ISSN: 1138-74161292.

Olafsen, A. H., Deci, E. L., & Halvari, H. (2018). Basic psychological needs and work motivation: A longitudinal test of directionality. Motivation and Emotion, 42(2), 178-189. DOI: 10.1007/s11031-017-9646-2-189.

Prentice, M., Jayawickreme, E., & Fleeson, W. (2020). An experience sampling study of the momentary dynamics of moral, autonomous, competent, and related need satisfactions, moral enactments, and psychological thriving. Motivation and Emotion, 44, 244-256. DOI: 10.1007/s11031-020-09829-3-256.

Ryan, R. M., & Deci, E. L. (2000). Self-determination theory and the facilitation of intrinsic motivation, social development, and well-being. American psychologist, 55(1), 68-78. DOI: 10.1037/0003-066X.55.1.68,

Ryan, R. M., & La Guardia, J. G. (2000). What is being optimized?: Self-determination theory and basic psychological needs. In S. H. Qualls & N. Abeles (Eds.), Psychology and the aging revolution: How we adapt to longer life (p. 145–172). American Psychological Association.

Ryan, R. M., & La Guardia, J. G. (2000). What is being optimized?: Self-determination theory and basic psychological needs. APA Psycnet.

Sheldon, K. M., Elliot, A. J., Kim, Y., & Kasser, T. (2001). What is satisfying about satisfying events? Testing 10 candidate psychological needs. Journal of personality and social psychology, 80(2), 325. DOI: 10.1037//O022-3514.80.2.325

Van den Broeck, A., Ferris, D. L., Chang, C. H., & Rosen, C. C. (2016). A review of self-determination theory’s basic psychological needs at work. Journal of Management, 42(5), 1195-1229. DOI: 10.1177/0149206316632058

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