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Autonomous and controlled motivational regulations for multiple health-related behaviors: between- and within-participants analyses


Self-determination theory has been applied to the prediction of a number of health-related behaviors with self-determined or autonomous forms of motivation generally more effective in predicting health behavior than non-self-determined or controlled forms. Research has been confined to examining the motivational predictors in single health behaviors rather than comparing effects across multiple behaviors. The present study addressed this gap in the literature by testing the relative contribution of autonomous and controlling motivation to the prediction of a large number of health-related behaviors, and examining individual differences in self-determined motivation as a moderator of the effects of autonomous and controlling motivation on health behavior. Participants were undergraduate students (N = 140) who completed measures of autonomous and controlled motivational regulations and behavioral intention for 20 health-related behaviors at an initial occasion with follow-up behavioral measures taken four weeks later. Path analysis was used to test a process model for each behavior in which motivational regulations predicted behavior mediated by intentions. Some minor idiosyncratic findings aside, between-participants analyses revealed significant effects for autonomous motivational regulations on intentions and behavior across the 20 behaviors. Effects for controlled motivation on intentions and behavior were relatively modest by comparison. Intentions mediated the effect of autonomous motivation on behavior. Within-participants analyses were used to segregate the sample into individuals who based their intentions on autonomous motivation (autonomy-oriented) and controlled motivation (control-oriented). Replicating the between-participants path analyses for the process model in the autonomy- and control-oriented samples did not alter the relative effects of the motivational orientations on intention and behavior. Results provide evidence for consistent effects of autonomous motivation on intentions and behavior across multiple health-related behaviors with little evidence of moderation by individual differences. Findings have implications for the generalizability of proposed effects in self-determination theory and intentions as a mediator of distal motivational factors on health-related behavior.

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