Self Determination Theory and meeting our physiological needs

Ryan & Deci(2017) suggest an internal locus of control leads to the belief that one can achieve a desired outcome through appropriate behaviour and being higher in internal locus of control is linked to increased motivation. The Self-determination Theory (SDT) is based on an inherent tendency towards growth, and the degree to which behaviour is self-motivated. Subsequently, motivation results from the constant interaction between human nature and social contextual factors, with activity most likely when an individual feels they have volition over its selection. The results of this study are in accordance with the SDT, and suggest that interaction occurs between endurance training, the environment in which it occurs, and motivation. The innate, universal, psychological needs that act on the self to motivate behaviour and provide essential nourishment to ensure the psychological health and well-being of the individual are potentially being met through aerobic training, and the races completed along the way.  Contexts that enable satisfaction of the basic psychological needs are believed to enhance autonomous motivation, which is made up of intrinsic motivation, and extrinsic motivation that has been sufficiently internalised .  

Despite considerable research in the field of SDT, much of the focus has been on education, the workplace, and health, with only a few experimental studies on endurance racing. A study by Hanson et al. (2015) provided support for the SDT and reported higher intrinsic motivation in ultra-marathoners, when compared with full, or half marathoners, but less motivation around weight or health concerns.  Additional research by Schüler et al. (2014) recruited 29 ultra-endurance athletes and observed positive links between relatedness and competence, and feelings of intense experiential involvement in an activity, often referred to as the perceptions of flow (Csikszentmihalyi, 2009). Further research into motivation and the ultra-marathoner, using SDT is warranted, due to its success in explaining variance in health-related exercise behaviour, and its relative simplicity (Hagger & Chatzisarantis, 2008).


Hanson, N., Madaras, L., Dicke, J., Buckworth, J., (2015). Motivational differences between half, full and ultramarathoners. Journal of Sport Behavior; 38 (2), 180-191.

Hagger, M., & Chatzisarantis, N. (2008). Self-determination Theory and the psychology of exercise. International Review of Sport and Exercise Psychology,1(1), 79-103. 

Ryan, R. M., & Deci, E. L. (2017). Self-determination theory: Basic psychological needs in motivation, development, and wellness. New York: Guilford Press.

Schüler, J., Wegner, M., & Knechtle, B. (2014). Implicit Motives and Basic Need Satisfaction in Extreme Endurance Sports. Journal of Sport and Exercise Psychology, 36(3), 293-302.