SCIENCE WATCH INTERVIEW: Richard Ryan on the Many Applications of Self-Determination Theory
You’ve been working on Self-Determination Theory for a long time. How did it all begin?
I’m a clinical psychologist. The very first motivation project I was involved in, back in the late 1970s, was in schools, and we saw what a big impact classroom teachers were having, not only on learning but on the well-being and self-esteem of the students as a function of their motivation-related practices. This impact occurred within the first three to five weeks of the school year, in fourth, fifth and sixth graders in public school.
As a clinical psychologist, I appreciated how big an effect that was and thought it was important to follow-up and do more research on it. At the time, I was already collaborating with Ed Deci, who is my co-author on this highly cited 2000 paper. So we started to talk about an approach to studying this and a theory to explain it. This, of course, led to the early formulations of Self-Determination Theory, which have since been elaborated by formal theory and experimentation.
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By Science Watch