Aspirations Index

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Aspirations refer to people’s life goals, and SDT research on aspirations has focused on the relative strength of intrinsic aspirations (viz., meaningful relationships, personal growth, and community contributions) versus extrinsic aspirations (viz., wealth, fame, and image). Specifically, research has examined the antecedents, correlates, and consequences of placing strong relative importance on the extrinsic versus the intrinsic aspirations. Additional research has examined the consequences of actually attaining extrinsic versus intrinsic aspirations.

The Aspiration Index was developed to assess people’s aspirations. There are 7 categories of aspirations with five specific items within each category. The seven categories include: the extrinsic aspirations of wealth, fame, and image; the intrinsic aspirations of meaningful relationships, personal growth, and community contributions; and the aspiration of good health which turned out not to be clearly either extrinsic or intrinsic. Participants rate: (1) the importance to themselves of each aspiration, (2) their beliefs about the likelihood of attaining each, and (3) the degree to which they have already attained each. Various approaches to data analyses can be found in research articles such as Kasser and Ryan (1996).

Research has revealed that having strong relative aspirations for extrinsic outcomes was negatively associated with mental health indicators; whereas, placing more importance on intrinsic aspirations was found to be positively associated with mental health indicators (Kasser & Ryan, 1993; 1996). Studies have also shown that, whereas self-reported attainment of intrinsic aspirations was positively associated with well-being, attainment of extrinsic aspirations was not (Kasser & Ryan, in press; Ryan, Chirkov, Little, Sheldon, Timoshina, & Deci, 1999). Further, Sheldon and Kasser (1998) found in a longitudinal study that well-being was enhanced by the attainment of intrinsic goals, whereas success at extrinsic goals provided little benefit. Finally, initial evidence suggests that controlling, uninvolved parenting is associated with the development of strong relative extrinsic aspiration, whereas autonomy-supportive, involved parenting is associated with the development of stronger intrinsic aspirations (Kasser, Ryan, Zax, & Sameroff, 1995; Williams, Cox, Hedberg, & Deci, 2000). Chapters by Ryan, Sheldon, Kasser, & Deci (1996) and Kasser (2002) are excellent sources for reviews of this research area.


Kasser, T. (2002). Sketches for a self-determination theory of values. In E. L. Deci, & R. M. Ryan (Eds.), Handbook of self-determination research (pp. 123-140). Rochester, NY: University of Rochester Press.

Kasser, T., & Ryan, R. M. (1993). A dark side of the American dream: Correlates of financial success as a central life aspiration. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 65, 410-422.

Kasser, T., & Ryan, R. M. (1996). Further examining the American dream: Differential correlates of intrinsic and extrinsic goals. Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin, 22, 280-287.

Kasser, T., & Ryan, R. M. (2001). Be careful what you wish for: Optimal functioning and the relative attainment of intrinsic and extrinsic goals. In P. Schmuck & K. Sheldon (Eds.) Life goals and well-being. Gottingen: Hogrefe.

Kasser, T., Ryan, R. M., Zax, M., & Sameroff, A. J. (1995). The relations of maternal and social environments to late adolescents’ materialistic and prosocial values. Developmental Psychology, 31, 907-914.

Ryan, R. M., Chirkov, V. I., Little, T. D., Sheldon, K. M., Timoshina, E., & Deci, E. L. (1999). The American Dream in Russia: Extrinsic aspirations and well-being in two cultures. Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin, 25, 1509-1524.
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Ryan, R. M., Sheldon, K. M., Kasser, T., & Deci, E. L. (1996). All goals are not created equal: An organismic perspective on the nature of goals and their regulation. In P. M. Gollwitzer & J. A. Bargh (Eds.), The Psychology of Action: Linking Cognition and Motivation to Behavior (pp. 7-26). New York, NY: Guilford.

Schmuck, P., Kasser, T., & Ryan, R. M. (2000). The relationship of well-being to intrinsic and extrinsic goals in Germany and the U.S. Social Indicators Research, 50, 225-241.

Sheldon, K. M., & Kasser, T. (1998). Pursuing personal goals: Skills enable progress but not all progress is beneficial. Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin, 24, 1319-1331.

Williams, G. C., Cox, E. M., Hedberg, V., & Deci, E. L. (2000). Extrinsic life goals and health risk behaviors in adolescents. Journal of Applied Social Psychology, 30, 1756-1771.
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