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Testing a motivational process model in the context of physical activity.

Although it is well documented that participation in regular physical activity (PA) can bring significant health benefits (Rhodes, Janssen, Bredin, Warburton, & Bauman, 2017), many people still maintain a physically inactive lifestyle (Andersen, Mota, & Di Pietro, 2016). As motivation is important for the promotion of PA, the motivational framework of self-determination theory (Deci & Ryan, 2008) is highly relevant.

Self-determination theory (SDT) is composed of three subtheories in which the different aspects of motivation are addressed: organismic integration, basic psychological needs, and causality orientations, (Deci & Ryan, 2008). In organismic integration subtheory it is posited that there are different types of behavioral regulations aligned on a continuum of self-determination. The order of most to least self-determined form of regulation is as follows: intrinsic motivation, integrated regulation, identified regulation, introjected regulation, external regulation, and amotivation (Deci, Eghrari, Patrick, & Leone, 1994). Ryan and Connell (1989) developed the relative autonomy index (RAI) to represent the degree to which an individual's behavioral regulation is self-determined. This is calculated by weighting and summing scores for the behavioral regulation types, based on the extent of self-determination: RAI = amotivation x (-3) + external regulation x (-2) + introjected regulation x (-1) + identified regulation x (2) + intrinsic motivation x (3). A higher RAI score reflects a higher level of self-determination, which, in a behavioral regulation context, can lead to adaptive behavior, such as PA (Teixeira, Carraca, Markland, Silva, & Ryan, 2012).

The three psychological needs of autonomy, competence, and relatedness are specified in basic psychological needs subtheory (Ryan & Deci, 2017). Autonomy is an individual's sense of self-volition or self-governance over their behavior, whereas competence is an individual's perception that they can successfully complete challenging tasks. Relatedness is a perception of positive and meaningful connection with others and a feeling of belonging (Ryan & Deci, 2002). This subtheory connects to organismic integration in that psychological needs satisfaction can result in self-determination in the context of behavioral regulation (Vansteenkiste & Ryan, 2013). In addition, this subtheory underlines that autonomy support can contribute to psychological need satisfaction (Edmunds, Ntoumanis, & Duda, 2006). Autonomy support is characterized by the minimization of pressure, provision of choice, and support of individuals' initiative (Ryan & Deci, 2000).

In causality orientations subtheory the specialized focus is on individual differences in motivational tendency (Deci & Ryan, 1985). Per this theory, there are three types of causality orientation: autonomy, controlled, and impersonal. Each of these can influence individuals' interpretation of an event (Duriez, 2011), that is, individuals with an autonomy orientation tend to perceive an event as informational, individuals with a controlled orientation tend to construe an event as controlling, and individuals with an impersonal orientation emphasize their inclination to interpret an event as amotivating and this can lead to perceived helplessness (Deci & Ryan, 1985). This subtheory links to basic psychological needs because individual differences in causality orientation that influence individuals' interpretation of and interaction with an event, can result in differences in their psychological need satisfaction. In alignment with the nature of different causality orientations, we expected that autonomy orientation may exert a positive effect, and controlled and impersonal orientations may exert a negative effect on satisfaction of psychological needs (Deci & Ryan, 1985; Gagne, 2003).

We proposed a self-determination motivational process model in the context of PA, in which the SDT subtheories are integrated into a motivational sequence that links through from autonomy support and causality orientations to psychological need satisfaction to self-determined behavioral regulation to PA behavior (Ng et al., 2012; Ryan, Patrick, Deci, & Williams, 2008; Teixeira, Carraca, Markland, Silva, & Ryan, 2012). As, to our knowledge, no researcher has previously examined this motivational process, we tested the utility of the process model in the context of PA behavior, and proposed the following hypotheses:

Hypothesis 1: Autonomy support will positively predict psychological need satisfaction.

Hypothesis 2a: Autonomy orientation will positively predict psychological need satisfaction.

Hypothesis 2b: Controlled orientation will negatively predict psychological need satisfaction.

Hypothesis 2c: Impersonal orientation will negatively predict psychological need satisfaction.

Hypothesis 3: Psychological need satisfaction will positively predict self-determined behavioral regulation via relative autonomy index scores.

Hypothesis 4: Self-determined behavioral regulation via relative autonomy index scores will positively predict physical activity behavior.


Participants and Procedure

We used convenience sampling to recruit participants in Hong Kong. The inclusion criteria were people in the general Chinese population in Hong Kong, with an age range of from 18 to 64 years. We excluded people with major illnesses, diseases, or medical conditions that could interfere with their PA engagement, and also excluded athletes and students majoring in physical education/sport, and manual workers or individuals whose work requires a high PA level. This resulted in 431 participants, comprising 195 men and 232 women ([M.sub.age] = 42.08 years, SD = 13.81, range = 18-61; four participants did not specify their age and gender), who completed an online survey package.

Before we began the study, our research proposal was examined and approved by the Research Ethics Committee of Hong Kong Baptist University. Pamphlets in which people were invited to take part, with an introduction that included the study purpose; its anonymous, confidential, and voluntary nature; and a quick response (QR) code for an online survey, were distributed to university students in Hong Kong. We invited them and others aged from 18 to 64 years in their close environment (i.e., relatives and friends) to participate in the study after providing informed consent.


Autonomy support. To measure autonomy support, we used items from the short form of the Health Care Climate Questionnaire (Williams, Grow, Freedman, Ryan, & Deci, 1996), modified to fit the context of physical activity. Professional translation service providers conducted translation--back-translation of these items according to Brislin's (1970) procedure, to form the Chinese version.

The English version of the Physical Activity Motivation Climate Questionnaire (PAMCQ) was also translated into Chinese and used to assess perceived autonomy support provided by individuals' important others (i.e., family members, friends, and PA instructors) in the context of PA. Participants assess the six items on a 7-point Likert scale ranging from 1 (strongly disagree) to 7 (strongly agree). A sample item is "My important others try to understand how I see physical activity before offering a suggestion." Cronbach's alpha for the scale was .86.

Causality orientation. We developed the Causality Orientations Scale for Physical Activity (COS-PA) to measure causality orientation by adapting relevant causality orientations scales (Deci & Ryan, 1985; Halvari, Halvari, Williams, & Deci, 2017; Rose, Markland, & Parfitt, 2001), and also used input from interviews we conducted with 19 people (nine men and 10 women; [M.sub.age] = 36.68 years, SD = 14.13, range = 20-64). Selection criteria for the participants were the same as for the survey. We used the translation--back-translation method (Brislin, 1970) when we introduced items from the scales into the 15-item COS-PA, which consists of five scenarios, each comprising three item options that reflect autonomy orientation, controlled orientation, and impersonal orientation. A sample scenario and three item options are "If it is suggested you make a plan, you are likely to (a) decide your progress steps in your plan (autonomy), (b) rely on someone to make a plan for you (controlled), or (c) not make a plan because you are not able to carry it out (impersonal)." Participants assess the items on a 7-point Likert scale ranging from 1 (very unlikely) to 7 (very likely). Cronbach's alpha for the autonomy, controlled, and impersonal orientation items all exceeded .80 (see Table 2).

Psychological need satisfaction. Psychological need satisfaction was evaluated with the Chinese version of the Basic Psychological Needs in Exercise Scale (Liu, Chung, & Duan, 2013). The scale comprises 11 items designed to measure participants' need satisfaction for autonomy (four items), competence (four items), and relatedness (three items). Participants assess the items on a 5-point Likert scale ranging from 1 (strongly disagree) to 5 (strongly agree). A sample item is "The way I do physical activity is in agreement with my choices and interests." We created individual need satisfaction scores by averaging the relevant items for each participant, and used the generated scores to assess overall psychological need satisfaction (Standage, Duda, & Ntoumanis, 2005). Cronbach's [alpha] was .80.

Behavioral regulation. We assessed behavioral regulation with the Chinese translation (Chung & Liu, 2012) of the Behavioural Regulation in Exercise Questionnaire-2 (BREQ-2; Markland & Tobin, 2004) which was developed by adding an amotivation subscale into the original BREQ. This measure does not include integrated regulation; thus, we did not include this in our study. The BREQ-2 is a widely used scale for behavioral regulation, whereas the BREQ-3, which includes an integrated regulation subscale, has not been widely used and validated. The 18-item BREQ-2 comprises five subscales: intrinsic motivation (four items), identified regulation (three items), introjected regulation (three items), external regulation (four items), and amotivation (four items). Participants assess the items on a 5-point Likert scale ranging from 1 (not true for me) to 5 (very true for me). A sample item is "I value the benefits of doing physical activity." We calculated the RAI (Ryan & Connell, 1989; Solberg, Halvari, & Ommundsen, 2013) in two steps: First, we created individual behavioral regulation subscale scores by averaging each participant's relevant item scores. Second, on the basis of the extent of self-determination of individual behavioral regulations, the average score of each behavioral regulation subscale was weighted and summed to produce the RAI.

Physical activity. Participants' PA behavior was assessed with the World Health Organization's Global Physical Activity Questionnaire (GPAQ; Armstrong & Bull, 2006), which has been translated into Chinese and successfully used with the Chinese population (Bull, Maslin, & Armstrong, 2009). The 19-item GPAQ is designed to measure moderate and vigorous physical activity across three domains (work, travel, and recreation) for at least 10 minutes per bout (Armstrong & Bull, 2006). The score is calculated by summing weekly time spent in moderate physical activity (a weight of 1) and vigorous physical activity (a weight of 2) across the domains in units of 1 minute (Powell, Paluch, & Blair, 2011).

Data Analysis

We conducted structural equation modeling (SEM) to test the SDT motivational process model. In SEM the complex relationships of multiple variables are taken into account and measurement errors in statistical analysis are considered. We followed Keith's (2014) recommendation of a two-step approach to SEM: First, we assessed the fit of the SEM measurement model and then, when it was considered acceptable, we tested the structural model based on the proposed SDT motivational process model.

Multiple indices were employed to assess model fit: chi square ([chi square])/degrees of freedom (df), comparative fit index (CFI), root mean square error of approximation (RMSEA) with a 90% confidence interval (CI), and standardized root mean square residual (SRMR). A [chi square]/df ratio under 3.00 is considered a reasonable model fit, .90 and .95 for CFI and the Tucker--Lewis index (TLI) show an acceptable fit, and .08 and .06 for RMSEA and SRMR show a good fit. All the model fit indices should be considered as a whole for assessment of model fitness (Hu & Bentler, 1999). We used a robust maximum likelihood method for SEM analysis via Mplus 7.


Descriptive statistics and bivariate correlation analysis results are displayed in Table 1. Autonomy support had a positive relationship with psychological need satisfaction. As expected, autonomy orientation was positively correlated and impersonal orientation was negatively correlated, with psychological need satisfaction. Although we observed a negative connection between controlled orientation and psychological need satisfaction, the magnitude was small. A positive relationship between psychological need satisfaction and self-determined behavioral regulation via the RAI was identified, and self-determined behavioral regulation via the RAI was positively correlated with PA behavior. Regarding the SEM result, the measurement model had an adequate goodness of fit to the data, [chi square](227) = 445.29, p < .001, [chi square]/df = 1.96, CFI = .94, TLI = .92, RMSEA = .047, 90% CI [0.041, 0.054], SRMR = .061. All the standardized factor loadings in the SEM measurement model were significant at p < .001 (see Table 2). When the measurement model was established, the SEM structural model exhibited an adequate fit to the data, [chi square](274) = 618.17, p < .001, [chi square]/df = 2.26, CFI = .91, TLI = .89, RMSEA = .054, 90% CI [0.048, 0.060], SRMR = .068.

SEM results are displayed in Figure 1. Regarding hypothesis test results for the SDT motivational process model, autonomy support, as expected, significantly and positively predicted psychological need satisfaction. Hypothesis 1 was, thus, supported. Autonomy orientation significantly and positively affected psychological need satisfaction. Thus, Hypothesis 2a was supported. Likewise, as expected, impersonal orientation significantly and negatively affected psychological need satisfaction. Hypothesis 2c was, therefore, supported. However, as no significant effect of controlled orientation on psychological need satisfaction was detected, Hypothesis 2b was not supported. There was a significant positive effect of psychological need satisfaction on self-determined behavioral regulation via the RAI, supporting Hypothesis

3, and self-determined behavior regulation via the RAI had a significant positive effect on PA behavior, supporting Hypothesis 4.


We empirically examined the STD motivational process model in the context of PA. To our knowledge, we are the first to integrate the SDT subtheories (organismic integration, basic psychological needs, and causality orientations) to predict PA behavior from a collective viewpoint. Our findings contribute to a more complete understanding of PA behavior from a motivational perspective (Hagger & Chatzisarantis, 2008).

Our finding that autonomy support was a significant predictor of psychological needs satisfaction, which is crucial for optimal functioning and growth (Vansteenkiste & Ryan, 2013), is consistent with our hypothesis and with previous research results (Edmunds, Ntoumanis, & Duda, 2008). Therefore, it is essential to foster an autonomy-supportive climate in the context of PA.

Regarding the effect of the causality orientations on psychological need satisfaction, autonomy orientation positively predicted psychological need satisfaction, whereas impersonal orientation negatively predicted psychological need satisfaction. These results are consistent with previous findings (Taylor, Ntoumanis, & Standage, 2008) and scholars who have emphasized that psychological need satisfaction is essential for individuals' subjective well-being (Vansteenkiste & Ryan, 2013). Therefore, our study findings show that individuals with a predominantly impersonal orientation may have a low (vs. high) level of subjective well-being, owing to receiving less satisfaction of their psychological needs. The fostering of autonomy support is essential to protect individuals with a lack of subjective well-being, as having autonomy support can facilitate psychological need satisfaction and, in turn, foster subjective well-being. It is equally important that individuals are aware of the detrimental effect of an impersonal causality orientation on their subjective well-being. In future intervention research designs, people can be informed of the downside of such a causality orientation. Having a controlled orientation, however, contrary to our hypothesis, did not have a significant negative effect on psychological need satisfaction. A possible explanation for this result is that a controlled orientation may be more salient in exhibiting its effect on need frustration (vs. need satisfaction). Absence of need satisfaction is not synonymous with need frustration, which is characterized by the perceived thwarting of one's psychological needs (Bartholomew, Ntoumanis, Ryan, & Thogersen-Ntoumani, 2011).

We observed a significant positive effect of our participants' psychological need satisfaction on their self-determined behavioral regulation via the RAI, which supported our hypothesis and the position taken in SDT that psychological need satisfaction nurtures self-determination (Vansteenkiste & Ryan, 2013). There was also a significant positive effect of self-determined behavioral regulation via the RAI on PA behavior, which is consistent with previous results (Hurkmans et al., 2010). Therefore, as self-determined behavioral regulation in PA interventions should be facilitated, PA intervention designers and practitioners should target autonomy support as a modifiable variable and incorporate it into their intervention practices, because autonomy support can facilitate people's psychological need satisfaction and, in turn, their self-determined behavioral regulation for PA behavior. Ways that autonomy support can be implemented include acknowledging individuals' perspectives and feelings, providing relevant information and rationales, giving opportunities for choice, being supportive of individuals' initiative-taking, praising improvement and progress, and minimizing demands and pressures (Edmunds, Ntoumanis & Duda, 2009).

There are several limitations in this study. The cross-sectional research design excludes the possibility of unraveling the temporal relationships in the motivational process model. Future researchers could use a longitudinal study design to clarify the directions of the relationships. In addition, we adopted a self-report PA measure, which may be affected by biases, including recall bias (Sallis & Saelens, 2000). Therefore, future researchers could consider using objective measurements (e.g., accelerometer).

The SEM results of our test of the SDT motivational process model in the context of PA indicate that environmental characteristics (autonomy support) and individual differences (causality orientations) can independently affect individuals' psychological need satisfaction, self-determined behavioral regulation, and, in turn, their PA behavior. Thus, from a theoretical perspective, our findings contribute to the literature by providing empirical support for the utility of the motivational model in the PA context and insight into the underlying motivational mechanism of people's PA behavior. From a practical perspective, our findings may help inform the design of more effective PA interventions. Future researchers should consider autonomy support provision as an integral part of future interventions that are aimed at enhancing PA engagement.


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Tao Zhong (1), Hui Wang (2)

(1) College of Sport and Health, Henan Normal University, and Department of Sport and Physical Education, Faculty of Social Sciences, Hong Kong Baptist University, People's Republic of China

(2) College of Sport and Health, Zhejiang Sci-Tech University, People's Republic of China

CORRESPONDENCE Tao Zhong, College of Sport and Health, Henan Normal University, No. 46, Jianshe East Road, Muye District, Xinxiang City, Henan Province 453007, People's Republic of China. Email:
Table 1. Descriptive Statistics and Bivariate Correlations for Study

                           M       SD      1          2

1. Autonomy orientation      5.09    0.91  -
2. Controlled orientation    3.52    1.12  -.15 (**)
3. Impersonal orientation    4.12    1.16  -.14 (**)   .54 (**)
4. Autonomy support          4.97    0.93   .53 (**)   .03
5. Need satisfaction         3.62    0.63   .58 (**)  -.14 (**)
6. RAI                      -2.25    4.51   .43 (**)  -.47 (**)
7. PA behavior             184.68  169.19   .18 (**)  -.06

                           3          4         5         6

1. Autonomy orientation
2. Controlled orientation
3. Impersonal orientation
4. Autonomy support        -.10 (*)
5. Need satisfaction       -.28 (**)  .53 (**)
6. RAI                     -.34 (**)  .23 (**)  .37 (**)
7. PA behavior             -.12 (**)  .08       .19 (**)  .22 (**)

Note. N = 431. RAI = relative autonomy index, PA = physical activity.

(*) p < .05, (**) p < .01.

Table 2. Structural Equation Modeling Results for the Study Measures

Scale/Item              M      SD     FL    SE     [alpha]

Autonomy support                                   .860
 Item 1                 5.012  1.207  .722  0.032
 Item 2                 5.016  1.066  .668  0.037
 Item 3                 4.923  1.160  .701  0.034
 Item 4                 5.067  1.262  .748  0.029
 Item 5                 4.963  1.308  .748  0.029
 Item 6                 4.849  1.225  .682  0.037
Autonomy orientation                               .802
 Item 1                 4.977  1.320  .620  0.043
 Item 2                 5.039  1.226  .675  0.038
 Item 3                 5.443  1.117  .619  0.043
 Item 4                 4.998  1.154  .684  0.040
 Item 5                 5.009  1.270  .699  0.048
Controlled orientation                             .811
 Item 1                 3.139  1.485  .597  0.042
 Item 2                 3.598  1.562  .749  0.031
 Item 3                 3.814  1.363  .535  0.049
 Item 4                 3.401  1.458  .826  0.029
 Item 5                 3.657  1.541  .660  0.038
Impersonal orientation                             .831
 Item 1                 4.726  1.492  .619  0.039
 Item 2                 3.629  1.516  .715  0.029
 Item 3                 4.102  1.401  .715  0.032
 Item 4                 4.415  1.490  .731  0.030
 Item 5                 3.859  1.601  .711  0.034
Need satisfaction                                  .797
 Autonomy               3.766   .695  .851  0.029
 Competence             3.389   .776  .799  0.025
 Relatedness            3.744   .737  .621  0.036

Note. N = 431. FL = factor loading, SE = standard error.
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Author:Zhong, Tao; Wang, Hui
Publication:Social Behavior and Personality: An International Journal
Geographic Code:9CHIN
Date:Dec 1, 2019
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