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Ib Ravn

A two-by-two model that finds shared features of need frustrations in Basic Psychological Needs Theory

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If the three psychological needs are rooted in the same evolved human nature, wouldn’t we expect the ways in which they are frustrated to share common features? Shouldn’t they be graspable by the same conceptual model?

The need for autonomy is found to be frustrated by controllingness and identity confusion, the need for competence by (e.g.) rote learning and unguided trial-and-error, and the need for relatedness by contingent regard and neglect. These frustrations share a pattern. They can be mapped by a model that combines two prominent aspects of human flourishing: the two dimensions of stability and flexibility pertaining to the norms, rules and institutions that structure human existence. When such structures are both stable and flexible, they support needs and enable flourishing, and when they’re not, they don’t.

Thus, as captured by cell 2, high stability combined with low flexibility equals rigidity, which in the three need-frustration cases takes the form of controllingness, rote learning and contingent regard. Conversely, as captured by cell 3, low stability combined with high flexibility equals chaos, which shows up as need frustrations such as identity confusion, unguided trial-and-error and neglect.

Further, the need satisfactions may be captured by cell 4. It combines high stability with high flexibility (which may be expressed as “flexstability”). Here we find authenticity, structure and involvement.

Cell 1: The null case (Low stability, low flexibility)

Cell 2: Rigidity (High stability, low flexibility)
Re autonomy: Controllingness
Re competence: Rote learning
Re relatedness: Contingent regard

Cell 3: Chaos (Low stability, high flexibility)
Re autonomy: Identity confusion
Re competence: Unguided trials
Re relatedness: Neglect

Cell 4: Flexstability (High stability, high flexibility)
Re autonomy: Authenticity
Re competence: Structure
Re relatedness: Involvement

This flexstability model maps a number of issues addressed by the SDT community.

For example, the three causality orientations: Controlled (= cell 2 rigidity), impersonal (cell 3 chaos) and autonomous (cell 4 flexstability).

Some parenting types are authoritarianism (cell 2 rigidity), permissiveness (cell 3 chaos) and gentle guidance (cell 4 flexstability).

Extrinsic factors (Deci and Ryan, 1985 book, p. 64) come in three flavors: Controlling (rigidity), amotivational (chaos) and informational (flexstability). Examples are legion.

The model points to the unitary nature of the needs. Are they really just different ways of saying that the structures and forms that guide human action need to be stable and flexible at the same time to facilitate need satisfaction and eudaimonia? Further (radical) implications for the very concept of need will be discussed.
Original languageEnglish
Publication year21 May 2019
Publication statusPublished - 21 May 2019
Event7th International Self-Determination Theory Conference - Hotel Zuiderduin Egmond aan Zee Zeeweg 52, 1931 VL Egmond aan Zee, The Netherlands P:+31 (o) 72 750 2000, Egmond aan Zee, Netherlands
Duration: 21 May 201924 May 2019
Conference number: 7


Conference7th International Self-Determination Theory Conference
LocationHotel Zuiderduin Egmond aan Zee Zeeweg 52, 1931 VL Egmond aan Zee, The Netherlands P:+31 (o) 72 750 2000
CityEgmond aan Zee
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