Unravelling the Mystery: How Self-Determination Theory Explains Human Behaviour

When trying to understand human behavior, it is often difficult to pinpoint the source of our actions. In recent years, self-determination theory (SDT) has emerged as a promising explanation that helps to unravel this mystery. SDT provides an account of how intrinsic motivation, psychological needs and the perceived environment are all related to the behavior of human individuals. It has been used to explain a wide range of social phenomena, from mindfulness practices to coping with stress, and has been applied in many contexts, from education to sports. By leveraging the power of SDT, we can delve deeper into the complexities of human motivation and behavior. In Unravelling the Mystery: How Self-Determination Theory Explains Human Behaviour, we explore how this framework provides insight into the motivations behind our actions, and look at the implications this has for how we think about human behaviour.

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It’s no secret that trying to understand human behavior can be a daunting prospect; after all, we are complex creatures and discovering the keys to our motivations is often an elusive goal. Fortunately, there is one theory that has helped to shed light on this mystery: Self-Determination Theory (SDT).

Discovering the Keys to Human Motivation

Developed by Edward Deci and Richard Ryan in the 1980s, Self-Determination Theory is based on the notion that humans have three basic psychological needs: autonomy, competence and relatedness. According to this theory, these three needs must be fulfilled in order for an individual to be intrinsically motivated, which is necessary for optimal mental health and well-being. As such, SDT has become a cornerstone of social and , providing new insights into human behavior.

Applying Self-Determination Theory to Human Behaviour

SDT is also used to explain why certain behaviors, such as performance on tasks or engagement in activities, vary from individual to individual. According to SDT, an individual’s behavior is determined by how well the three psychological needs are met. For example, if an individual feels a lack of autonomy or control over a situation, they may be less likely to engage in a task or activity, regardless of how competent they are or how well they identify with the situation. Conversely, an individual who feels a sense of autonomy and control may be more likely to engage in a task or activity, even if they are not particularly competent or related to the situation.

Unearthing the Power of Autonomy and Control

At its core, SDT is about understanding how autonomy and control can be used to improve , engagement and performance. This is because autonomy and control are essential for satisfying the three psychological needs. For example, if an individual is given control over a task or activity, they may feel more autonomy and develop a greater sense of competence. In addition, providing individuals with autonomy and control can increase the likelihood of relatedness, as they may feel connected to the task or activity, furthering their engagement.

Unravelling the Secrets of Human Nature

SDT has helped to uncover some of the most elusive secrets of human nature, providing insight into why we do what we do. For example, SDT has helped us to understand why certain people are more motivated than others, why certain tasks are more engaging than others, and why certain decisions are made more quickly than others. By understanding the underlying needs of an individual, it can be easier to predict their behavior and even shape it in a more positive way.

Examining the Complexity of Human Decision-Making

Beyond understanding the motivations of an individual, SDT can also be used to examine the decision-making process. For example, SDT has been used to study how individual preferences impact decisions, as well as how an individual’s environment and relationships can influence their choices. By looking at the different factors that influence an individual’s decisions, it is possible to gain a better understanding of how they make decisions and the factors that can influence their behavior.

Overall, Self-Determination Theory has helped to unlock some of the secrets of human motivation and behavior. By uncovering the three essential psychological needs, as well as looking at how autonomy and control can influence an individual’s decision-making process, it is possible to gain a greater understanding of why people do what they do. With this knowledge, it is possible to create environments that are conducive to better mental health and overall well-being.


Self-Determination Theory has provided an invaluable insight into the motivations and behavior of humans. By understanding the psychological needs that drive us, it is possible to create an environment that facilitates our intrinsic motivation, leading to better mental health and well-being. Moreover, by examining the factors that influence decision-making, it is possible to gain greater insight into the complexities of human nature.


  • Deci, Edward L., and Richard M. Ryan. Self-determination theory and the facilitation of intrinsic motivation, social development, and well-being. American psychologist, 2000, 55.1, 68-78.
  • Hagger, Martin S., et al. The strength model of self-regulation failure and health-related behavior: A . : official journal of the Division of Health Psychology, , 2010, 29.5, 359-368.
  • Newton, N.L., et al. Using self-determination theory to understand decision-making. The handbook of decision making, 2017, 137-150.

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