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Conditions of university students’ motivation and study interest
(short version)1

Florian H. Müller
Department of Educational Science, University of the Bundeswehr Munich, Germany

Johann Louw
Department of Psychology, University of Cape Town, South Africa

Paper presented at the European Conference of Educational Research, University of Hamburg, Germany, 17-20 September 2003

ABSTRACT

The relationship between university students’ personality, their perception of their academic learning-environment, and students’ interest and motivation is investigated. As a theoretical framework the self-determination theory (SDT) (Deci & Ryan, 1985, 1994, 2002b) and the theory of interest (Renninger et al., 1998) are applied. It is proposed that perceived support of basic psychological needs (support of autonomy, support of competence, and social relatedness) as well as aspects of a constructivist learning environment (such as teachers’ interest, relevance of contents and quality of instruction) are associated with intrinsic motivation, self-determined forms of extrinsic motivation and with study interest. Beside the learning environment specific "Big Five" personality profiles should be associated with interest and motivation.

One of the main purposes of the study is the cross-cultural testing of the theoretical assumptions of the SDT and the theory of interest.

The data of a cross-disciplinary sample of undergraduate students of the University of Cape Town (UCT), South Africa (N=350) were analysed.

The results show that most of the students are motivated on an intrinsic and identified level, and that they are provided with medium individual study interest. Further results of a cluster analysis demonstrate that 35% of the students are regulating their learning processes simultaneously on an introjected, identified and intrinsic level; only 28% are more externally regulated.

Study interest, intrinsic motivation, and self-determined forms of extrinsic motivation are significantly associated with perceived support of autonomy and competence as well as with the relevance of the contents, the quality of instruction, and with the perceived transparency of the requirements. However, in comparison with other samples, the correlations are slightly lower.

The personality variables "conscientiousness" and "openness" are significant predictors for study interest. "Conscientiousness" also predicts intrinsic learning motivation.

This study seeks to make both a theoretical and practical contribution.

THEORY

Self-Determination Theory (SDT)

The SDT (Deci & Ryan, 2002b) is based on the assumption that people are naturally inclined to integrate their ongoing experiences. If external prompts are used by significant others or salient reference groups to encourage people to do an uninteresting activity, the individuals will tend to internalize the activity’s initially external regulation. That means, people will tend to take in the regulation and integrate it with their sense of self. This process will be fostered, if people are supported in their basic psychological needs for competence and autonomy. Accordingly, SDT proposes a taxonomy of types of regulation for extrinsic motivation that differ in the degree to which they represent autonomy (continuum of regulation from controlled to autonomous, from amotivated to intrinsically motivated, see figure 1). The approach of the SDT allows a finer analysis or motivational processes than traditional conceptions.

Motivational regulations (with item examples):

(see also Vallerand et al., 1992; Müller & Louw, 2004)

Amotivated (AM): No intention behind the behavior; Item: "I really feel I am wasting my time in university".

External Regulation (ER): Motivated only by external contingencies (rewards or the threat of punishment); Item: "Without pressure from outside I would do less"

Introjected Regulation (IJ): Introjection of demands that pressure students, for example, to avoid feelings of guilt; Item: "I have to give myself an inner push in order to continue learning in my studies"

Identified Regulation (ID): Identification with opportunities that are in accordance with the learners’ own goals (but are not intrinsically motivated); Item: "I am committed in my studies, because I want to realise the goals I set myself"

Intrinsic motivation (IM): No regulation by extrinsic rewards (curiosity, flow, fun…); Item: "I really enjoy learning and working here"

Figure. 1: Continuum of Self-determination (Deci & Ryan, 2002b, p. 16)

Theory of Interest

The theory of interest is defined as an educationally relevant motivational concept (e.g. Renninger et. al., 1998). The theory proposes a person-object approach to interest and differs from most other motivational concepts by its content-specificity (Krapp, 2002). The concept of interest can be interpreted theoretically and investigated empirically either at the level of current engagements (e.g. interest-triggered action) or at the level of dispositional structures (e.g., students’ relatively stable subject-matter interest).

Components of interest:

1. Emotional characteristics: optimal level of activation and arousal (pleasant tension); feeling of competence; empathic content-specific emotional experiences.

2. Value-related characteristics: the individual assigns positive value-related valences.

The Study Interest Questionnaire (SIQ): 18 items (Schiefele et al., 1993); item examples:

- "I’m certain that studying my major has a positive influence on my personality"
- "Being involved with my major puts me in a good mood".
- "After a long weekend or vacation I look forward to getting back to my studies".

Educational relevance of the SDT and the theory of interest

Educational-psychological research has highlighted repeatedly the qualitative differences between intrinsically motivated and interested learners and extrinsically motivated learners regarding the learning process, as well as learning results. The advantages of intrinsically and interest-motivated learning appear in improved cognitive, emotional and personal outcomes as well as in the learners' identification with certain content areas of their studies (e.g. Deci, Vallerand, Pelletier, & Ryan, 1991; Koestner & Losier, 2002; Müller & Louw. 2004; Reeve, 2002; Schiefele, 1996; Schiefele, Krapp, & Winteler, 1992). It therefore is obviously beneficial to design learning environments that promote intrinsically motivated, or interested learning. Unfortunately, we still do not know enough about which environmental conditions are connected with motivation. We know rather more about how motivation and interest can be undermined (Deci, Ryan, & Koestner, 1999). Most longitudinal studies in educational settings demonstrate that intrinsic motivation and interest decrease over the time.

From a theoretical point of view the psychological basic needs (see Deci & Ryan, 2002a, 2002b) as well as aspects of resent constructivist instructional approaches to learning (see e.g. Prenzel, 1996) should be associated with self-determined forms of motivation and with study interest (see figure 2).

We also assume that relatively stable personality variables ("general personality") are important pre-conditions of self-determined motivation and study interest. Therefore we take the correlation between personality ("Big Five" personality inventory: Goldberg, 1999), motivation and interest into account. Figure 2 gives an overview of the variables used in the study.

Personal interest in this model (figure 2) can be both a result of motivational processes and a precondition of (intrinsic) motivation and also of environmental perception. The relationship between interest and intrinsic motivation may therefore be recursive (Schiefele, 1996). In other words, a persistent appearance of intrinsic motivation at university is an important precondition for the development of a relatively stable personal interest in the field of study. It is also probable that students with a certain personal interest are learning in a more intrinsically motivated way than students with lower study interest.

SAMPLE:

The data of a cross-disciplinary sample of 350 undergraduate students (first and second year of study) of the University of Cape Town (UCT), South Africa were analysed.

The students have a mean age of 19.9 years, and 25% were male and 75% female

The students study in the following fields:

Law: 7.6%; Engineering: 5.8%; Psychology: 36.4%; Organisational Psychology: 11.1%; Social Work or Social Sciences: 9.9%; other Humanities: 8.1%; Science/Mathematics/Statistics: 5.8%; Finance/Economics: 7.0%

RESULTS AND DISCUSSION:

UCT students are highly motivated in their learning process regarding the dimensions identified and intrinsic motivation (figure 3). This kind of quality of motivation should be a positive pre-condition for high quality learning.

The data demonstrate that the students’ study interest (as a relatively stable disposition) is lower than their self-determined motivation (as a more situational concept): study interest: mean: 1.95 (SD: 0.46); scale: 0=disagree, 4=agree interested.

Cluster analysis of motivation variables

Only 28% of the learners belong to the more "extrinsic motivated" (ER) and relatively high amotivated (AM) cluster 1 (means for AM =2.79 and ER=3.28).

The majority of the students (n=128) can be assigned to cluster 2. They can be described as students with high intrinsic learning motivation: mean=3.87) and identified motivation mean=4.22).

From a theoretical viewpoint it is interesting that these 35% of the students (cluster 3) are simultaneously motivated on an intrinsic (mean=3.85), identified (mean=4.60) and introjected (mean=4.20) level of motivation. In other words, these learners from cluster 3 are interested in their subjects, perceive themselves as eager learners, enjoy learning, and identify with the goals of their studies. On the other hand, however, they learn, because of a "bad conscience" and because this is "what one expects from a good student" (IJ). These students put themselves under pressure to fulfil their own self-expectations (ID) and also to fulfil external (social) expectations, which they have only partially internalised (IJ).

Table 1: Cluster analysis for the motivation variables

 

Cluster 1

(N=96)

Cluster 2

(N=128)

Cluster 3

(N=117)

Anova

MOTIVATION

Mean

Mean

Mean

df

F

p

Amotivation

2.79a

1.50b

1.62b

2/338

119.31

.000

Extrinsic

3.28a

1.82b

2.18c

2/338

113.89

.000

Introjected

3.61a

2.40b

4.20c

2/338

218.89

.000

Identified

3.56a

4.22b

4.60c

2/338

96.57

.000

Intrinsic

2.76a

3.87b

3.85b

2/338

99.02

.000

Cluster 1: More extrinsically motivated, with quite high scores on identification.
Cluster 2: Identified and intrinsically motivated.
Cluster 3: Intrinsically motivated, highly identified and introjected at the same time (!)
Superscripts a, b, c: different letter in one line = significant group difference (Anova analysis); same letter = no significant group differences.

Other studies have provided similar evidence for mixed extrinsic and intrinsic motivation (Hwang, Echols, Wood, & Vrongistinos, 2001; Lin, McKeachie, & Yung, 2003; Wang, Chatzisarantis, Spray, & Biddle, 2002). Nevertheless, we have not been able to find a combination of high IJ, ID and IM in a degree comparable to Cluster 3 of these South African students. Indeed, Fazey and Fazey (1998) point out that, according to SDT, university students hardly show high values simultaneously on ID and IJ. In the study of Fazey & Fazey the students show similar scores of ER and IJ.

Learning environment

The results show high scores on perceived environment (basic needs, aspects of a constructive learning environment) (figure 4). Only one field of inquiry produced ambivalent results: at first year level, there appears to be only a limited integration of most of the African students. We believe this fits in with a general picture at historically-white South African universities, that African students in particular experience difficulty with how they "fit in" (see the differences in "social relatedness", "over-load", and achievement concerning the native language: table 2).

Compared to students whose home language is either English or Afrikaans, students who speak an African language at home indicated that they struggled more with their studies. They perceived themselves as more "overloaded" in their studies than other students did. This becomes evident when we look at the differences in the self-reported first year academic performance (see Table 2 last line). Furthermore, compared to other students, the African group felt less socially integrated into their fellow students' environment and the lecturers' environment. In other words, black African students find it more difficult to achieve a satisfactory social and academic integration into the university culture. Indeed, in the open-ended section of the questionnaire, half of this group reported that they had to work harder in their studies, that they were cognitively overtaxed (see also variable "over load" in table 2), and that they generally experienced problems of social integration into the academic world. Often these problems were linked to the issue of inadequate financial resources.

Table 2: Significant "language"1 differences for the descriptive statistics of the basic variables

Variables

Overall

African language

Non-African language

t-test

 

Mean

SD

Mean

SD

Mean

SD

p

t

df

Perceived environment2:

                 

Social Relatedness (whole scale)

3.22

.80

2.62

.74

3.35

.75

<.01

5.95

312

Social Relatedness (Student – Student)

3.81

.91

3.33

.97

4.00

.86

<.01

4.21

319

Social Relatedness (Student – Lecturers)

3.00

.91

2.39

.79

3.21

.87

<.01

5.53

314

Over load

2.48

.92

3.08

1.01

2.32

.85

<.01

-5.82

318

Achievement (in %)

63.0

9.5

57.4

10.7

65.1

8.8

<.001

3.94

294

1: Item: "What language do you mostly speak at home?"
2. Scale: 1= disagree, 5= agree.

Tinto (1975) maintained that successful academic and social integration into a university system depends on pre-university schooling. For the black African students, the university environment could be more "foreign" than for their fellow students, and could account for the lower social integration into the university system (see also Fourie & Strydom, 2000; Van Heerden, 1995). Although the proportion of African students in the South African higher education system has risen dramatically from only 20% in 1984 to more than 50% in 1998 (Cooper & Subotzky, 2001), it would seem that many African students come from families where they are the first generation at university (see Cloete & Bunting, 2000). Despite a finding of less social integration, this group of students is nevertheless just as highly motivated and interested as the rest, which may well have a compensatory effect.

Correlations

The pattern of correlations between the types of regulation of motivation (table 3) reveals that the contingencies scales (from AM to IM) correlated with each other following a so called simplex structure of the types of regulation can be demonstrated for the South African sample. In other words, following Crocker, et al. (in press): "As a simplex structure would predict, subscales adjacent to each other on the continuum [of self determination] are highly correlated, and the magnitude of the correlations among subscales decrease as the contingencies become more distant from each other".

Study interest, intrinsic motivation (IM), and self-determined forms of extrinsic motivation (ID) are significantly associated with the three basic psychological needs perceived support of autonomy, competence and with social relatedness (correlations from .18 to .32, p<0.01). The relevance of the contents, the quality of instruction, and the perceived transparency of the requirements are also relevant aspects correlated with identified regulation (ID), intrinsic motivation (IM) and interest.

Amotivated and extrinsic motivated students are more overtaxed by their perceived learning environment than their fellow students (.16 / .19, p<0.01).

The perceived lecturers’ interest in the courses is not correlated with intrinsic motivation and study interest (see table 3). Instead perceived lecturers’ interest for their subject is connected with two types of extrinsic motivation: IJ and ID (Correlations: .13, p<0.05 and .21, p<0.01).

Table 3. Correlations for the motivation and environment variables (N=343)

 

1

2

3

4

5

6

Motivation/Interest:

           

1. Amotivation (AM)

-

         

2. Extrernal (ER)

.37**

-

       

3. Introjected (IJ)

.21**

.28**

-

     

4. Identified (ID)

-.40**

-.39**

.14*

-

   

5. Intrinsic (IM)

-.51**

-.36**

-.05

.50**

-

 

6. Study Interest

-.62**

-.43**

-.10

.54**

.55**

-

Environment:

           

7. Support of autonomy

-.14**

-.11*

.11*

.32**

.18**

.20**

8. Support of competence

-.28**

-.15**

.03

.32**

.29**

.30**

9. Social relatedness

-.21**

-.15**

.04

.28**

.25**

.22**

10. Lecturers’ interest

-.04

-.06

.13*

.21**

.08

.09

11. Relevance of contents

-.25**

-.27**

-.13*

.21**

.13*

.31**

12. Quality of instruction

-.12*

-.11*

.07

.24**

.24**

.22**

13. Transparency of requirements

-.29**

-.20**

-.11*

.16**

.22**

.22**

14. Over-load

.16**

.19**

.26**

-.03

-.10

-.11*

* p <0.05; ** p < 0.01

However, in comparison with other samples, the correlations between variables of the learning environment and the motivational regulations as well as study interest are slightly lower than in other samples (Prenzel, 1996, Müller, 2001). A short interpretation of these results will be given in the last paragraph.

Regression analysis

In a stepwise multiple regression analysis (dependent variable "study interest" and "intrinsic motivation) we used the described environment variables as well as scores of a "Big Five" personality inventory (see Goldberg, 1999). We go on the assumption that basic personality variables – beside the learning environment – are important conditions for learning motivation. Whether a combination of the environment variables and the basic personality could predict motivation and interest is tested with the regression analysis.

Significant predictors for the dependent variable study interest are aspects of the learning environment like "relevance of the contents" and "over-load" (-) as well as the personality variables "conscientiousness" and "openness" (R2=185***) (see table 4). Perceived relevance of the contents is the most important aspect to foster interest in a field of study (Beta: .306). That means, if students perceive any personal value in the subject matter the chance for increasing study interest will be much higher.

Table 4: Multiple stepwise regression, dependent variable: Study interest1 (N=341)

Model

Beta

T

Sign. (p)

1

(Constant)

 

9.218

.000

 

Relevance of contents

.306

5.362

.000

2

(Constant)

 

3.391

.001

 

Relevance of contents

.285

5.158

.000

 

IPIP2: Conscientiousness

.251

4.547

.000

3

(Constant)

 

1.291

.198

 

Relevance of contents

.271

4.969

.000

 

IPIP: Conscientiousness

.251

4.617

.000

 

IPIP: Openness

.168

3.092

.002

4

(Constant)

 

2.146

.033

 

Relevance of contents

.257

4.705

.000

 

IPIP: Conscientiousness

.254

4.690

.000

 

IPIP: Openness

.134

2.365

.019

 

Over-load

-.119

-2.089

.038

1: Dependent variable: Study interest; adjusted R2 for model 4 = .185***; R=.400***
2: IPIP: Big Five Personality Inventory (Goldberg, 1999).

For the dependent variable "intrinsic motivation" (table 5) the predictors are "conscientiousness", "support of competence", "over-load" (-), and "quality of instruction" (R2=200***). "Conscientiousness" is obviously an important pre-condition for intrinsic learning motivation and for study interest (as a personal disposition).

Table 5: Multiple stepwise regression, dependent variable: Intrinsic motivation1 (N=341)

Model

Beta

T

Sign. (p)

1

(Constant)

 

7.695

.000

IPIP2: Conscientiousness

.302

5.327

.000

2

(Constant)

 

3.804

.000

IPIP: Conscientiousness

.257

4.565

.000

Support of competence

.238

4.229

.000

3

(Constant)

 

4.879

.000

IPIP: Conscientiousness

.259

4.704

.000

Support of competence

.233

4.239

.000

Over load

-.193

-3.575

.000

4

(Constant)

 

3.991

.000

IPIP: Conscientiousness

.256

4.703

.000

Support of competence

.167

2.758

.006

Over-load

-.213

-3.944

.000

Quality of Instruction

.152

2.531

.012

1: Dependent variable: Intrinsic Motivation; adjusted R2 for model 4 = .200***; R=.450***
2: IPIP: Big Five Personality Inventory (Goldberg, 1999).

Summary and short interpretation:

Only these mentioned environmental variables of the theoretical model are relevant for the prediction of motivation and study interest. The very positive scores for perceived learning environment in the first and second year of study could be one reason, why the association between learning environment and motivation is slightly low. Plausibly, motivation might be considered to be relatively independent of the higher education environment in the first and second year of study. This independence could be intensified by the privilege of having the possibility to study and by a strong desire to reach a higher social status in the South African society. Therefore the perceived learning environment seems to be less important.

Beside the perceived learning environment relatively stable aspects of the personality of the learners seem to be relevant for motivation and interest, too. Students with high scores on "conscientiousness" and students who are more open-mined ("openness") have better chances to be intrinsically motivated or to learn with interest.

Further research:

Further research should focus on different personal and HE environmental variables as predictors for motivation and study interest. The necessity of ecological experiments and longitudinal studies is obvious. Especially for the South African situation we should look for further socio-political and cultural aspects, which are associated with learning motivation and study interest. More research should be carried out in testing the assumptions of the SDT in different (non western) cultural systems.2

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Cooper, D., & Subotzky, G. (2001). The skewed revolution. Trends in South African higher education: 1988-1998. Bellville: Education Policy Unit, University of the Western Cape.

Crocker, J., Luhtanen, R. K., Cooper, M. L., & Bouvrette, A. (in press). Contingencies of self-worth in college students: Theory and measurement. Journal of Personality and social Psychology.

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Deci, E. L., & Ryan, R. M. (2002a). The paradox of achievement: The harder you push, the worse it gets. In J. Aronson (Eds.) Improving academic achievement: Impact of psychological factors on education. New York: Academic Press.

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Deci, E. L., Ryan, R. M., & Koestner, R. (1999). A meta-analytic review of experiments examination the effects of extrinsic rewards on intrinsic motivation. Psychological Bulletin, 125, 627-668.

Deci, E. L., Vallerand, R. J., Pelletier, L. G., & Ryan, R. M. (1991). Motivation in education: The self-determination perspective. Educational Psychologist, 26, 325-346.

Fazey, D., & Fazey, J. (1998). Perspectives on motivation: The implications for effective learning in higher education. In S. Brown, S. Armstrong, & G. Thompson (Eds.), Motivating students (pp. 59-72). Kogan Page: Staff and Educational Development Association.

Fourie, M., & Strydom, K. (2000). Relationship among higher education research, policy and practice in South Africa. In S. Schwarz & U. Teichler (Eds.), The institutional basis of higher education research. Experiences and perspectives (pp. 181-191). London: Kluwer Academic Publishers.

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Hwang, Y.-S., Echols, C., Wood, R., & Vrongistinos, K. (2001, April). African American college students' motivation in education. Paper presented at the Annual Meeting of the American Educational research Association, Seattle, WA.

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Krapp, A. (2002). An educational-psychological theory of interest and its relation to SDT. In E. L. Deci & R. M. Ryan (Eds.), Handbook on self-determination research (p. 405-427). Rochester: University of Rochester Press.

Lin, Y. G., McKeachie, W. J., & Yung, C. K. (2003). College students' intrinsic and/or extrinsic motivation and learning. Learning and Individual Differences, 13, 251-258.

Müller, F. H. (2001). Studium und Interesse. Eine empirische Untersuchung bei Studierenden. [Higher education and interest. An empirical research on university students] Muenster, New York, Munich, Berlin: Waxmann.

Müller, F. H. & Louw, J. (2004, in press). Learning environment, motivation and interest: perspectives on self-determination theory. South African Journal of Psychology, 35 (1).

Palekcic, M. & Müller, F. H. (2004, submitted). Uvjeti i efekti interesa i motiva za izbor studija kod hrvatskih i njemaèkih studenata [Conditions and effects of study interest and the significance of study motives of Croatian and German university students]. Pedagogijska istra˛ivanja [Croatian Journal of educational research], 1 (2).

Prenzel, M. (1996). Bedingungen für selbstbestimmt motiviertes und interessiertes Lernen im Studium. [Conditions for self-determined and interest-based learning in higher education]. In J. Lompscher & H. Mandl (Eds.), Lehr- und Lernprobleme im Studium [Problems of teaching and learning in higher education] (pp. 11–22). Bern: H. Huber.

Renninger, K. A., Hidi, S., & Krapp, A. (Eds.). (1992). The role of interest in learning and development. Hillsdale, N.J.: Erlbaum.

Renninger, K. A., Hoffmann, L., & Krapp, A. (1998). Interest and gender: Issues of development and learning. In L. Hoffmann et al. (Eds.), Interest and learning. Proceedings of the Seeon Conferance on interest and learning (p. 9-21). Kiel: IPN 164.

Reeve, J. (2002). Self-determination theory applied to educational settings. In E. L. Deci & R. M. Ryan (Eds.), Handbook of self-determination research (pp. 184-203). Rochester: University of Rochester Press.

Schiefele, U. (1996). Motivation und Lernen mit Texten [Motivation and learning with texts]. Göttingen: Hogrefe.

Schiefele, U., Krapp, A., Wild, K-P., & Winteler, A. (1993). Eine neue Version des Fragebogens zum Studieninteresse (FSI). Untersuchungen zur Reliabilität und Validität [A new version of the Study Interest Questionnaire (SIQ)]. Diagnostica, 39, 335 – 351.

Schiefele, U., Krapp, A., & Winteler, A. (1992). Interest as predictor of academic achievement: A meta-analysis of research. In K.A. Renninger, S. Hidi, & A. Krapp (Eds.), The role of interest in learning and development (pp. 183-212). Hillsdale, N.J.: Erlbaum.

Tinto, V. (1975). Dropout in higher education: A theoretical synthesis of recent research. Review of Educational Research, 45, 89–125.

Van Heerden, H. (1995). Black University students in South Africa: The influence of sociocultural factors on study and performance. Anthropology & Educational Quarterly, 26, 50-80.

Vallerand, R. J., Pelletier, L. G., Blais, M. R., Briere, N. M., Senecal, C., & Vallieres, E. F. (1992). The Academic Motivation scale. A measurement of intrinsic, extrinsic and amotivation in education. Educational and Psychological Measurement, 52, 1003-1017.

Wang, J. C. K., Chatzisarantis, N. L. D., Spray, C. M., & Biddle, S. J. H. (2002). Achievement goal profiles in school physical education: Differences in self-determination, sport ability beliefs, and physics activity. British Journal of Educational Psychology, 72, 433-445.

For further information please contact:

Dr. Florian H. Müller, email: Florian.Mueller@unibw-muenchen.de or Prof. Johann Louw, email: Louw@psipsy.uct.ac.za

Notes:

  1. See also: Müller, F. H. & Louw, J. (2004, in press). Learning environment, motivation and interest: Perspectives on self-determination theory. South African Journal of Psychology, 35.
  2. Data of a Croatian educational setting will be published in September 2004 (Palekcic & Müller, 2004 submitted).

This document was added to the Education-line database on 20 May 2004