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Self-Determination Theory in Practice. University of Michigan Geoffrey Williams, MD, PhD Healthy Living Center, University of Rochester, Rochester, New York, US May 13, 2013. Causes of Death In the US Mokdad et al, JAMA, 2004. Overview of Self-Determination Theory and Health.

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self determination theory in practice

Self-Determination Theory in Practice

University of Michigan

Geoffrey Williams, MD, PhD

Healthy Living Center, University of Rochester, Rochester, New York, US

May 13, 2013

overview of self determination theory and health
Overview of Self-Determination Theory and Health
  • Self Determination Theory Overview
    • Define Motivation as energy directed toward a goal
    • Assumptions: innate aspects of self, needs
    • Motivation and Medical Professionalism
    • Incentives AND/OR Internalization to motivate change
    • SDT Model for Health Behavior Change
    • Meta-analysis
  • Randomized controlled trials - SDT
    • Tobacco abstinence
    • Physical activity, weight loss
    • Dental outcomes
  • Implications for research, medical ethics, clinicians and policy.
self determination theory
Self-Determination Theory
  • An organismic dialectic-individuals in the context of their social surrounding
  • Motivation is human energy directed to a goal
  • Uses free choice paradigm
  • Assumptions: humans are innately motivated toward well-being (e.g., health) and personal growth
psychological needs
Psychological Needs
  • Needs are defined as:

“psychological nutriments that are essential for ongoing psychological growth, integrity, and well-being”

Deci & Ryan, 2000. Psychological Inquiry, 11, 227-268.

psychological needs supporting optimal motivation
Psychological Needs: Supporting Optimal Motivation
  • Autonomy
    • the need to feel choiceful and volitional in one’s behavior
  • Competence
    • the need to feel optimally challenged and capable of achieving outcomes
  • Relatedness
    • the need to feel connected to and understood by important others

Deci & Ryan, 1991, 2000

Ryan & Deci, 2000


Autonomy vs Independence

  • Autonomyhas two definitions:
    • Volition: willingness to act for oneself (even in relation to others’ intentions)
      • Associated with motivation, positive affect, better health
      • People can want to stop smoking, and can accept that others want them to stop, too. Consistent with SDT.
    • Independence: to act without input from others
      • Inconsistent with SDT—does not meet relatedness need
medicine s social surround is our code of biomedical ethics
Medicine’s Social Surround is our Code of Biomedical Ethics

“These “ethics” are stated obligations of the health profession and its professionals, and are intended to ensure that patients who enter relationships with physicians will find them competent and trustworthy to provide expert advice to the patient and society on matters of health.”

Beauchamp & Childress, 2009

medical professionalism a physician charter biomedical ethics
Medical Professionalism – A Physician Charter & Biomedical Ethics
  • Primacy of patient welfare:
    • a dedication to serving patients’ interests.
  • Patient autonomy:
    • To empower patients to make informed decisions
  • Social justice:
    • To eliminate discrimination

ABIM Foundation, 2002

  • Autonomous Motivation
    • Behaviors are chosen and volitional
    • Behaviors are performed for their inherent value
  • Controlled Motivation
    • Behaviors are pressured or coerced
    • Behaviors are performed for some separable outcome

Ryan & Deci, 2000; Deci & Ryan, 1991, 1995; Sheldon et al., 1997; Nix et al., 1999; Ryan et al., 1995

the role of needs support in autonomous motivation
The Role of Needs Support in Autonomous Motivation
  • Keys to facilitating autonomy:
    • elicit & acknowledge feelings & perspectives
    • provide a menu of effective options
      • Emphasize choice when options are present
    • provide meaningful rationale
    • support patient initiations to change
      • Expect failure in behavior change, reframe
    • minimize control

Deci et al., 2006

the role of needs support in relatedness motivation
The Role of Needs Support in Relatedness Motivation
  • Keys to facilitating relatedness:
    • unconditional positive regard
      • nonjudgmental stance
      • continued relationship over time
    • warm positive relationship
    • develop empathy
      • elicit & acknowledge patient perspective
the role of needs support in competence motivation
The Role of Needs Support in Competence Motivation
  • Keys to facilitating perceived competence:
    • high levels of autonomy
    • be positive that the patient can succeed
    • provide effectance feedback
    • identify barriers
    • skills-building/problem-solving
    • build a plan with appropriate levels of challenge
  • Needs support is important because…
  • an inherent, proactive process by which autonomous and competence motivations are increased naturally over time
social contextual factors that undermine autonomous motivation
Social Contextual Factors That Undermine Autonomous Motivation

SDT meta-analysis of over 128 RCTS in lab

  • Tangible Rewards
  • Threat of punishment
  • Deadlines
  • Evaluations
  • Competitions

Deci, Koestner & Ryan, 1999

effects of rewards and punishments
Effects of Rewards and Punishments

Deci Koestner & Ryan, 1999

path model motivation adherence health
Path Model:Motivation, Adherence, Health





Gly. Contr.

Qual. of Life








Aut. Motiv.



Fit Indicesχ2= 149.5; df= 33 χ2 /df= 4.53 IFI/CFI= .97 TLI= .94 RMSEA= .03

Non HDL Chol

Williams, et al., Diabetes Educator. 2009;35(3):484-92

sdt meta analysis
SDT Meta-Analysis

Figure 1. The SDT model of health behavior change adapted from Ryan, et al, 2008

sdt meta analysis1
SDT Meta-Analysis
  • We conducted a meta-analysis of studies within the health care and health promotion contexts based on (figures on next slide)…
    • SDT model of behaviour change
      • Figure 1; Ryan, Patrick, Deci & Williams, 2008

Ng, Ntoumanis, Thøgersen-Ntoumani, Deci, Ryan, Duda, & Williams (2012). Perspectives on Psychological Science.

sdt meta analysis methods
SDT Meta-AnalysisMethods
  • 184 data sets from 165 sources (journal articles, theses, etc.)
  • correlation coefficients were meta-analyzed using methods by Hunter & Schmidt (2004)

Ng, Ntoumanis, Thøgersen-Ntoumani, Deci, Ryan, Duda, & Williams (2012). Perspectives on Psychological Science.

sdt meta analysis2
SDT Meta-Analysis

Figure 3. Path diagram of Williams et al.’s (2002, 2006) model using meta-analyzed correlations (n = 13,356). All paths are significant at p < .05; residual variances are omitted for presentation simplicity.

2 (3) = 76.25, p < .01, CFI = .98, RMSEA = .07, SRMR = .03.

self determination theory sdt meta analysis limitations
Self-Determination Theory (SDT) Meta-Analysis Limitations
  • Correlations are bidirectional and thus do not support causal interpretation of the results.
  • Biomedical Ethics mandates respect for autonomy-thus directionality is irrelevant.
  • However, 6 previous RCTs with SDT-based health interventions designed to respect patient autonomy have been shown to increase patient perceptions of autonomy and competence and improve outcomes in:
    • tobacco abstinence (Williams et al, J General Internal Medicine, 2006;Williams et al, Health Psychology, 2006; & Williams et al, Annals of Behavioral Medicine, 2009)
    • dental outcomes (Halvari & Halvari, Mot.& Emot. , 2006; Health Psych ,In Press)
    • physical activity (Fortier et al., Psychology of Sport And Exercise, 2007)
    • weight loss(Silva et al, Medicine & Science in Sports & Exercise, 2011)

Ng, Ntoumanis, Thøgersen-Ntoumani, Deci, Ryan, Duda, & Williams (2012). Perspectives on Psychological Science.


Smoker’s Health Study Design

  • Randomized controlled trial of 30 mo. N=1,006
  • Questionnaire assessments:
  • * autonomous motivation
  • * perceived competence
  • * autonomy support
  • Outcomes:
    • * Took Medication
    • * Tobacco Abstinence at 6, 18, and 30 months
    • * Reduction in % calories from fat, LDL-C

Williams, McGregor et al., Health Psychology. 2006;25(1): 91-101.

the intervention
The Intervention
  • The clinical endpoint of the intervention was to guide the patient to making a clear choice about whether he wanted to change or not.
  • If the patient wanted to stop smoking or change diet then the clinician provided competence training on how to reach that goal.

The “PESO” study

Grouptreatment for overweightandobesewomen, centeredonphysicalactivitymotivationand...


RCT: 1-yearintervention + 2-yearfollow-up(n=239)

MainOutcomes/Mediators: ExerciseMotivation(Intrinsic/Autonomous), PA/Exercise (1y), Weight (2 to 3 years)

Silva et al. (2008) BMC Public Health 8:234

Silva etal. (2010) JBehavMed 33:110

Silva et al. (2010) Psych Sport Exerc 11: 591

Teixeira etal. (2010) Obesity 18:725


Exercise-specific Elements

Promote Intrinsic Motivation, Autonomy

No fixed exercise prescription!

Provide options, active experimentation

Include challenging PA opportunities

Promote personally-meaningful activities

Ask for leadership, autonomy in organizing

Three-month dance curriculum

Walking/pedometers, safety, skills,...

Silva, Markland, et al., BMC Public Health 2008;8(1), 234.





Mean ± SD

Mean ± SD

Moderate + Vig. PA (min/wk)






Walking (steps/day)






LifestylePAIndex (dif. 0-36 mo)






Physical Activity at 3 years

Minutes of moderate and vigorous PA

Net difference: +86 min/wk

Teixeira etal., (inpreparation)


3-year weight change (completers-only)

Average: -1.7%

- 1.4%

- 1.7%

- 2.0%

- 3.9%

Average: -5.6%

- 5.6%

- 7.4%

Difference: 3.9%

Error Bars Show 95.0% CI of Mean


12 Months

24 Months

36 Months

Teixeira etal., (inpreparation)


Summary “PESO”

Group treatment for overweight and obese women, changed motivation, phys activity, and weight 36 months after intervention

Autonomy, and Competence Mediated the effect of the Intervention on: PA/Exercise, and Weight

Effect was large enough to be clinically important for diabetes prevention and reducing blood pressure

dental study
Dental Study
  • 86 university students (21-35 yrs., X = 27.34 yr., SD = 3.99)
  • A randomised two-group field experiment pre- and post-measures of:
    • autonomous self-regulation
    • perceived competence
    • oral health outcomes (plaque & gingivites)

Halvari & Halvari, 2006, Motivation & Emotion


Munster -Halvari & Halvari (2006). Motivation and Emotion, 30, 294-305

Munster Halvari, et al., (2012). Health Psychology.

clinical implications
Clinical Implications
  • Medical Professionalism, and biomedical ethics indicate that promoting patient autonomy is a primary outcome of the clinical encounter.
  • Empirical evidence from 184 health related studies indicate:

that supporting psychological needs enhances

autonomy, competence and relatedness which, in turn,

predict mental and physical health & QOL

clinical implications1
Clinical Implications
  • Health Care Practitioners who learn to support psychological needs:
    • Elicit perspectives (listen)
    • Acknowledge affect (reflect)
    • Provide effective options for change
    • Provide clear advice (rationale) for change
    • Support initiative for change
    • Minimize control and remain non-judgmental
    • Skills build/problem solve with those willing
    • Provide a positive relationship
  • May be more likely to motivate change, health, and improve quality of life for their patients.
research implications summary
Research Implications & Summary
  • Interventions may have a greater impact if centered around facilitating internalization of patient autonomy and competence.
  • Research may not inform clinical care until it includes the following:
    • Autonomy as an outcome of care
    • With a free choice period in the study design
    • Includes those that don’t want to change
health policy implications
Health Policy Implications
  • Health policy interventions may have a greater impact if delivered in a manner that supports patient autonomy, competence and relatedness that would facilitate the internalization of a value for the health behavior.
  • “We recommend adults to get a minimum of 30 minutes of moderate level physical activity most if not all days per weeks, and two 30 minute sessions of resistance training to maintain your health. Are you willing to do that?
virtual clinicians
Virtual Clinicians
  • We offer intensive interventions that increase motivation to take medications and make lifestyle changes for
    • Tobacco dependence 4-8 visits 30-300 min.
    • Hyperlipidemia – 6 visits 3 MD, 3 RD
    • Weight Loss – 22 visits
virtual clinician
Virtual Clinician
  • 3 NIH grants to develop and test VC’s
    • NIDA – research tool “VCRT”


    • NHLBI – SBIR Clinical Advisory Tool- ICAT


    • LM – Virtual Weight Loss


  • Can we deliver intensive intervention content with a VC for patients?
    • At home
    • In the waiting room
    • On Smart Phone
  • Can we increase well being and autonomy for same or lower cost?
  • Can we adapt intervention for culture gender, and race to eliminate disparities?
next steps
Next Steps
  • Behavioral Economics and Motivation based interventions
  • Effect of presenting health risk information on motivation and adherence
  • SDT model for change in cholesterol and blood pressure management
  • Motivation of health care practitioners
thank you
Thank You!


Ng, J., Ntoumanis, N., Thøgersen-Ntoumanis, C., Deci, E. L., Ryan, R. M., Duda, J. L., & Williams, G. C. (2012). Self-Determination Theory applied to health contexts: A meta-analysis. Perspectives on Psychological Science,7(4), 325-340.

  • ABIM Foundation. (2009). Medical professionalism in the new millennium: A physician charter. Annals of Internal Medicine, 136(3), 243-246.
  • Beauchamp, T. L. & Childress, J. F. (2009). Principles of biomedical ethics. New York: Oxford University Press.
  • Cahill, K., & Perera, R. (2011). Competitions and incentives for smoking cessation (Review). The Cochrane Library.
  • Deci, E. L., La Guardia, J. G., Moller, A. C., Scheiner, M. J., & Ryan, R. M. (2006). On the benefits of giving as well as receiving autonomy support: Mutuality in close friendships. Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin, 32, 313-327.
  • Deci, E. L. & Ryan, R. M. (1991). A motivational approach to self: Integration in personality. In R. Dienstbier (Ed.), Nebraska symposium on motivation: Perspectives on motivation (Vol. 38, pp. 237-288). Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press.
  • Deci, E. L. & Ryan, R. M. (1995). Human autonomy: The basis for true self-esteem. In M. Kernis (Ed.), Efficacy, agency and self-esteem (pp. 31-49). New York: Plenum Publishing Co.
  • Deci, E. L. & Ryan, R. M. (2000). The “what” and “why” of goal pursuits: Human needs and the self-determination of behavior. Psychological Inquiry, 11, 227-268.
  • Moller, A. C., McFadden, H. G., Hedeker, D., & Spring, B. (2012). Financial motivation undermines maintenance in an intensive diet & activity intervention. Journal of Obesity, epub ahead of print.
  • Ng, J., Ntoumanis, N., Thøgersen-Ntoumanis, C., Deci, E. L., Ryan, R. M., Duda, J. L., & Williams, G. C. (2012). Self-Determination Theory applied to health contexts: A meta-analysis. Perspectives on Psychological Science, 7(4), 325-340.
  • Nix, G. A., Ryan, R. M., Manly, J. B., & Deci, E. L. (1999). Revitalization through self-regulation: The effects of autonomous and controlled motivation on happiness and vitality. Journal of Experimental Social Psychology, 35, 266-284.
  • Ryan, R. M. & Deci, E. L. (2000). Intrinsic and extrinsic motivations: Classic definitions and new directions. Contemporary Educational Psychology, 25, 54-67.
  • Ryan, R. M. & Deci, E. L. (2000). Self-determination theory and the facilitation of intrinsic motivation, social development, and well-being. American Psychology, 55(1), 68-78.
  • Ryan, R. M., Deci, E. L., & Grolnick. W. S. (1995). Autonomy, relatedness, and the self: Their relation to development and psychopathology. In D. Cichetti & D. J. Cohen (Eds.), Developmental psychology – Vol. 1: Theory and methods (pp.618-655). New York: Wiley.
  • Sebire, S. J., Standage, M., & Vansteenkiste, M. (2008). Development and validation of the goal content for exercise questionnaire. Journal of Sport and Exercise Psychology, 30, 353-377.
  • Sheldon, K. M., Ryan, R. M., Rawsthorne, L. J., & Ilardi, B. (1997). Trait self and true self: Cross-role variation in the big five personality trails and its relations with psychological authenticity and subjective well-being. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 73, 1380-1393.
the contract with society
The Contract with Society
  • Nonmaleficence (a norm of avoiding the causation of harm)- Hippocrates 400 BC
  • Beneficence (a group of norms of pertaining to relieving, lessening, or preventing harm and providing benefits and balancing benefits against risks and costs). Percival 1802
  • Justice (a group of norms for fairly distributing benefits, risks, and costs) - 2000 Medical Ethics & Professionalism
  • Respect for Autonomy (a norm of respecting and supporting autonomous decisions). 2000 AD

Beauchamp & Childress 2009