Motivation and Perceived Relatedness

M. Paava Stults

Hanover College


Presented at the May, 2001 Meeting of the Midwestern Psychological Association, Psi Chi Poster Session. (Chicago).




This study investigated the relationships between motivation and perceived relatedness (PR).  Athletes (N = 243) from 10 schools in NCAA Division I, II, and III and NAIA II (in California and Indiana) completed the Sport Motivation Scale and the Perceived Relatedness Scale.  Results indicate that PR intimacy can predict the unique variance for intrinsic motivation (IM) stimulation and extrinsic motivation (EM) identification.  PR acceptance can predict the unique variance for IM knowledge, IM accomplishment, and amotivation. Results are discussed in terms of the self-determination theory.



Several different variables may motivate athletes.  Internal (intrinsic) types of motivators (e.g. the challenge of a new activity) motivate some athletes and external (extrinsic) types of factors (e.g. rewards, trophies) motivate other athletes.  Those who are more intrinsically motivated express more self-determination, which is the innate desire for free choice of one’s acts without external compulsion (Ryan, 1991).  On the contrary, those who are more extrinsically motivated express less self-determination.  In other words, external factors such as rewards exert more influence on one’s choice of actions when one is less self-determined.  This research addresses whether the satisfaction of one’s psychological needs, in particular, the desire to feel close to significant others, facilitates intrinsic motivation.


The Self-Determination Theory

        Deci and Ryan (1985, 1987) explained intrinsic and extrinsic motivators and their influence on self-determination in their theory of self-determination.  Self-determination (Deci & Ryan, 1985, 1987) is a quality of human functioning that involves the experience of a choice.  In other words, it is the experience of an internal locus of causality.  It describes the processes of “self-rule” because it conveys the tendency toward being an origin (deCharms, 1968 as cited in Ryan, 1991) with regard to action and toward transforming external regulations (pressure from coaches, rewards, etc.) into self-regulation where possible.  In simpler words, “self-determination is the capacity or fundamental need to choose and to have choices, rather than reinforcement contingencies, drives, or any other forces or pressures, to be the determinants of one’s actions” (Deci & Ryan, 1985). 

        To summarize and organize the self-determination theory, Vallerand developed the Hierarchical Model of Intrinsic and Extrinsic Motivation (Vallerand, 1997; Vallerand & Losier, 1999).  The sequence would follow as such: “Social factors Ý Psychological Mediators Ý Types of Motivation Ý Consequences”(Figure 1).  In short, this would read: social factors influence athletes’ perceptions of autonomy, competence, and relatedness (which constitute the psychological mediators or needs), which in turn determines their motivation (intrinsic or extrinsic), and then the motivation leads to consequences.  This model is useful in the fact that it allows researchers to review existing sport research on both the determinants and consequences of intrinsic and extrinsic motivation. 

The self-determination theory posits that innate psychological needs (also called mediators) drive one’s intrinsic motivation.  Three needs are especially fundamental when determining the impetus behind action: autonomy, competence, and relatedness.  The need for autonomy refers to the desire to be self-initiating in the regulation of one’s actions (deCharms, 1968).  In autonomy, one experiences the self (the vital core of a person) to be an agent, the “locus of causality” of one’s behavior.  In other words, autonomy entails a sense of freedom, responsibility, and control (Ryan, 1991).  The second need is for competence (referred to as effectance by early researchers), which suggests that all people want to interact effectively with the environment (White, 1959; Harter, 1978).  Finally, relatedness pertains to the desire to feel connected with significant others (Ryan, 1991).  (Relatedness will be discussed in much greater detail in a later section.)  Together, these three elemental needs are necessary to facilitate the growth and actualization of human potentiality (Vallerand & Losier, 1999).

Individuals are intrinsically motivated to pursue situations that will satisfy their basic psychological needs.  In support of this, Piaget once said that the pleasure in mastery, in effectance (or competence), in assimilating, and in experiencing action merely for its own sake is a basic fact of psychic life (Piaget, 1952 as cited in Ryan, 1991).  Consequently, one does not pursue situations that do not satisfy these needs.  From a conceptual point of view, it should be noted that conditions that athletes perceive will facilitate their basic needs of autonomy, competence, and relatedness are also perceived as providing opportunities to facilitate motivation.  People see these opportunities as operators for fulfilling the three innate needs; therefore, the behavior will be pursued.  This is especially interesting to researchers because the theory allows an identification of social conditions that will facilitate intrinsic motivation.


Intrinsic and Extrinsic Motivation and Amotivation

Motivation can be divided into three different categories: intrinsic, extrinsic, and amotivation (Deci & Ryan, 1985).  Intrinsic motivation (IM) is participating in an activity for itself, out of interest, and/or for the pleasure and satisfaction derived from simply performing it (Fortier, Vallerand, Briere & Provencher, 1995).  Athletes who participate in sport purely for the love of it or for the challenge that it provides are displaying intrinsic motivation, and are said to be highly self-determined.

 Intrinsic motivation has been postulated to have three separate categories: IM to know, IM to accomplish things, and IM to experience stimulation (Vallerand, 1997; Vallerand, Blais, Briere, & Pelletier, 1989).  IM to know is defined as engaging in an activity for the pleasure and the satisfaction that one experiences while learning, exploring, or trying to understand something new (Vallerand & Fortier, 1998).  IM towards accomplishment focuses on engaging in a given activity for the pleasure and satisfaction experienced while one is attempting to surpass oneself or to accomplish or create something.  The focus is on the process of accomplishing and not on the end result.  Finally, intrinsic motivation to experience stimulation is operative when one engages in an activity in order to experience pleasant sensations associated mainly with one’s senses (e.g. sensory and aesthetic pleasure). 

Extrinsic motivation (EM), on the other hand, is not related to the satisfaction from the activity itself but from factors related externally, such as rewards and punishment.  An athlete who competes for prestige, for camaraderie, to gain a trim physique, or to avoid punishment is motivated extrinsically (Deci & Ryan, 1985; Vallerand & Perrault, 1999).  An extrinsically motivated person may also be self-determined because three categories of extrinsic motivation exist, some of which are self-determined and may be performed through choice. 

The three types of extrinsic motivation, in order from least self-determined to most self-determined, are external regulation, introjected regulation, and identification.  External regulation refers to constraints and rewards that may regulate behavior, such as a coach who forces a player to play a particular sport.   Introjected regulation refers to internal reasons that are limited by the internalization of past external contingencies. Guilt, anxiety, or related self-esteem dynamics are the enforcers of this introjected regulation.  Through introjection, direct reliance on external regulation is minimized but is transformed or reconstructed in terms of inner, affective determinants that still retain a quality of pressure and conflict, or lack of complete integration with the self (Ryan, 1991).  Finally, there is identification, which refers to the internalization of extrinsic motivations regulated to the extent that the behavior becomes valued and judged important for the individual as being chosen by oneself.  Both introjected regulation and identification are internalized reasons for acting (thus these types of EM are partially self-determined) and external regulation is a purely external motivation.  Nevertheless, all three are categorized as external motivation. 

The third motivation, amotivation, is characterized by the thought that actions have no control over outcomes (Deci & Ryan, 1985).  In other words, amotivated athletes believe that forces out of their control determine behaviors.  Amotivation is similar to learned helplessness (Abramson, Seligman, & Teasdale, 1978) and may result after an athlete has had a series of setbacks, such as chronic injury.  Therefore, an athlete who is amotivated, or has become non-motivated, may soon stop to participate in sport because he/she does not know why he/she is competing anymore.

The different types of motivation represent different levels of self-determination.  Intrinsic motivation (I find it enjoyable to…) is the highest in self-determination followed by the extrinsic motivations of identified regulation (I believe it is important to…), introjected regulation (I’d feel guilty if I didn’t…), external regulation (I’ll get in trouble if I don’t…), and amotivation (I don’t know why I bother anymore…).  These motivations constitute the self-determination continuum (Vallerand & Bissonnette, 1992, Ryan, 1991; Figure 2). 


The Psychological Mediator of Relatedness

        Bowlby said of relatedness, “The propensity to make strong emotional bonds to particular individuals  [is] a basic component of human nature” (Bowlby, 1988 as cited in Ryan, 1993).  In addition, Fairbairn (1954) posited that people are innately “object seeking,” meaning that we naturally seek connection and relatedness with others.  Even more, humans tend to seek relatedness and connection to others as much as food and sex (Bowlby, 1988).  Ryan explained that humans strive for cohesion and integration of the individual within a social matrix.  He states, “The principle of organization pertains beyond the individual, and concerns the unity among and between persons on which the continuity of all being depends” (1991).  The need for relatedness suggests that there must be some interactions where authentic relating happens if the self is to feel sustained, enhanced, and coherent. 

        As a fundamental motivation in itself, the need to belong and form social attachments should stimulate goal-directed activity to satisfy it (Baumeister & Leary, 1995).  People tend to seek out interpersonal contacts and cultivate possible relationships until they have reached a minimum level of social contact and relatedness.  Moreover, social bonds form easily, readily, and without requiring highly particular or conducive settings.  Furthermore, people who have anything in common or even tend to be exposed to each other frequently tend to form friendships or other attachments.  In addition, people tend to resist losing attachments and breaking social bonds, even if there is no reason to maintain them.  Social attachments that form through shared unpleasant experiences is especially compelling support for the belief that people innately desire to belong.   

        There are two common elements that define relatedness.  First, the majority of research maintains that feelings of relatedness comprise a dimension of feeling accepted by others (thus, acceptance relatedness).  Second, we can also identify a dimension of intimacy with others (thus, intimacy relatedness) (Ryan, 1991).

The need of relatedness has many implications in athletics.  Sports teams provide a social framework from which the individual must work.  The athlete cannot ignore this framework and he/she feels a desire to fit within it.  Consequently, the need for relatedness may play a significant role in the dynamics of sports.  Furthermore, one might hypothesize that sports provide many athletes with an outlet to satisfy their need for relatedness.  This may also explain why some people reject sports.  In effect, some people may feel that sports do not satisfy their need for relatedness.  In this case, these people would be intrinsically motivated to pursue satisfaction of this need in other contexts. 


The Present Study

        The present study will explore the relatively untouched mediator of relatedness to ascertain the relationships between relatedness and motivation.  Further research is warranted in the areas of motivation and relatedness for several reasons.  First of all, although much research has been completed regarding motivation in general, few studies have examined them in light of the cognitive evaluation theory (Fortier et al., 1995).  In studies that have looked at the cognitive evaluation theory, most research has focused on intrinsic motivation and has overlooked extrinsic motivation (Fortier et al., 1995, Amorose & Horn, 2000).  Furthermore, most studies previous to Fortier et al.’s (1995) did not study motivation concerning the engagement of sport activity.  In other words, they did not ask the question, “Why do you participate in sport?” Lastly, studies on relatedness, especially in an athletics setting, are sparse.  While research on competence and autonomy is prevalent, few researchers have looked at the need of relatedness in a sport context.

        I hypothesize that there is a relationship between motivation and relatedness.  I propose that those with high relatedness will have high levels of intrinsic motivation.  Conversely, I propose that those with low levels of relatedness will have significantly higher levels of extrinsic motivation.    




Participants were 243 athletes, both male (93) and female (150), participating in intercollegiate athletics at nine schools in California and one school in Indiana.  Athletes represented NCAA Division I (67), NCAA Division II  (59), and NCAA Division III and NAIA Division II (115).  Sports represented include men’s and women’s basketball (133), women’s gymnastics (14), men’s and women’s swimming (40), men’s and women’s indoor track (42), and wrestling (12).  The mean age was 20.01 (SD = 1.58).  



        Athletes completed a demographic questionnaire and two psychological questionnaires, the first being the English version of the Sport Motivation Scale that was developed by N. M. Briere in French (Briere, Vallerand, Blais, & Pelletier,1995). The SMS consists of seven sub-scales that measure the three types of motivation: intrinsic, extrinsic, and amotivation.  There are four items per sub-scale, thus there are a total of 28 items being assessed. Each item represents a possible reason why the athletes participate in his/her sport.  Subjects must rate the extent to which each item corresponds to one of their participation motives on a seven-point likert scale, ranging from “not at all” (1) to “exactly” (7). 

        The English questionnaire is valid, consistent, and reliable.  Pelletier, Fortier, Vallerand, and Tuson (1995) found that the English translation questionnaire has a satisfactory level of internal consistency.  Additionally, correlations between the subscales and confirmatory factor analyses have confirmed the determination continuum and the construct validity of the scale.  The test-retest reliability of the scale has also been confirmed (Pelletier et al, 1995).

        Relatedness is being measured with the Perceived Relatedness Scale, developed by Richer and Vallerand (1999).  This bi-dimensional scale consists of two sub-scales measuring intimacy and acceptance.  There are five items per sub-scale, for a total of ten statements.  Each item explores the way an athlete feels towards his/her teammates.  Participants rate the degree to which they agree with each of the ten statements.  Each statement is in Likert scale form, with (1) representing the lowest level of agreement with the statement, “not at all,” and (7) representing the highest level of agreement, “very strongly.” 

        The Perceived Relatedness Scale was validated in French, but not English.  The sub-scales of the questionnaire displayed adequate levels of internal consistency.  Test-retest correlations revealed fairly high levels of stability.  Internal validity and internal consistency were also confirmed.  Two students of French independently translated the scale in English.  Their translations were compared.  Then a French professor refined their translation.



        Coaches were contacted during and before their seasons.  The purpose of the study and procedures were explained.  Appointments were scheduled for the researcher to personally administer the questionnaires to the athletes.  Meetings were before or after a scheduled practice.  The researcher informed the athletes on the nature of the study, assured confidentiality, and given instructions on how to complete the questionnaires.  Athletes who agreed to complete the questionnaires signed a letter of informed consent and then were given the questionnaires.  The researcher gave the athletes as much time as they needed, allowing them to ask questions at any time.  In some cases, coaches were present during the administration of the surveys. 



        The ratings of motivation were tabulated for each participant and then their scores were added for the four items that represented each of the seven motivation types.  For relatedness, the scores were added for the five items that represented the two types of relatedness.  Means were found for the combined scores of each motivation and relatedness type.  The mean was 4.22 (SD = 1.31) for IM knowledge, 5.11 (SD = 1.22) for IM accomplishment, and 5.23 (SD = 1.07) for IM stimulation.  The mean was 3.69 (SD = 1.36) for EM introjection, 3.89 (SD = 1.32) for EM external regulation, and 4.72 (SD = 1.20) for EM identification.  The mean for amotivation was 2.26 (SD = 1.20).  The mean for PR acceptance was 5.31 (SD = 1.25) and for PR intimacy was 5.06 (SD = 1.37).     


Relationships of Motivation and Relatedness

 Entering acceptance and intimacy as predictors and IM stimulation, IM accomplishment, IM knowledge, EM identification, and amotivation as the outcome variables, yielded significant overall equations (see Tables 1-7).  For IM stimulation, only intimacy accounted for much of this variation.  Acceptance was the only predictor for IM accomplishment, and acceptance approached significance (but intimacy did not) as a predictor for IM knowledge.  Acceptance and Intimacy could not account for variation in the extrinsic motivations of EM external regulation and EM introjected regulation.  Intimacy alone approached significance in predicting the unique variation for EM identification.  Finally, acceptance (but not intimacy) did significantly predict for amotivation. 



The results of the present study lend support to the hypothesis that there would be relationships between the different motivations and relatedness.  The multiple regression analyses indicate that relatedness (both acceptance and intimacy) is a predictor of several types of intrinsic and extrinsic motivation and amotivation.  For IM stimulation, intimacy was the greatest predictor.  For IM knowledge and IM accomplishment, acceptance was the greatest predictor.  In other words, those who participated in sports to fulfill intimacy needs were motivated intrinsically to participate in sport in order to experience stimulation.  Likewise, those who participated in sport to fulfill needs for acceptance also were intrinsically motivated to participate in sport to gain knowledge about sport and to experience accomplishment. See Figure 3.

There also appears to be a relationship between EM identification and intimacy.  Athletes who are extrinsically motivated to participate in sport due to identification (and thus an internal valuing of external rewards) seem to satisfy their need for intimacy.  This relationship between EM identification and intimacy was positive, and not negative as hypothesized.  Moreover, since EM identification is the most self-determined of the extrinsic motivations, there appears to be greater support for the hypothesis that intrinsic motivations (the highly self-determined motivations) would be positively related to high ratings of relatedness.  Moreover, these results indicate that when an athlete perceives low acceptance, their motivation may suffer from a lack of need satisfaction, and amotivation may increase. 

        These results fall into line with the self-determination theory (Deci & Ryan, 1985).  The self-determination theory would predict that those who have high perceptions of relatedness would also have high intrinsic motivations, since our needs are being met.  It would also predict that if one did not have high relatedness, one would not be motivated to participate in sports.  It argues that since being related to others is a desire for all humans, one who did not enjoy the benefits of relatedness in sport would seek relatedness elsewhere (academics, clubs, family) and might be compelled to quit their respective sport. 

        Neither acceptance nor intimacy was a good predictor for extrinsic motivations, as may be predicted by the self-determination theory (Ryan & Deci, 2000).  Therefore, one must take a look at the other psychological mediators (or needs).  Competence and autonomy (both covered in cognitive evaluation theory) might be better predictors for extrinsic motivations.  Since autonomy addresses the need for freedom, responsibility, and control, external factors such as rewards and constraints might have a relationship with autonomy instead of relatedness.  Ryan and Deci (2000) note the self-determination theory proposition that extrinsic motivation can vary greatly in its relative autonomy.  Athletes engage in some activities because of personal endorsement and a feeling of choice (similar to EM identification) and others because of compliance with an external regulation (EM external regulation).  Therefore, extrinsic motivations vary along the self-determination continuum. Nevertheless, extrinsic factors such as rewards might also be closely related to variations in competence, which would affect one’s motivation. 



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