Autonomy and competence in German and U.S. University students: A comparative study based on self-determination theory


According to Self-Determination Theory (SDT; Ryan & Deci, 2000), supports for autonomy and competence are essential for growth and well being in any learning environment. Educational contexts across cultures might differ in their relative support for these needs. We examined the meaning and functional significance of autonomy and competence in both German and U.S. university settings, as they were predicted to be different in terms of their relative emphasis on competence versus autonomy. U.S. students are typically faced with more requirements, evaluative pressures, and teacher-directed tasks than German students. In contrast, German students' learning is typically more self-directed. Consequently, we hypothesized that German students would feel more autonomous toward school but also less competent than U.S students. We surveyed 1289 College students from 2 German and 2 American Universities. MACS analyses supported the construct comparability of the measures and demonstrated that German students felt significantly more autonomous and less competent than U.S. students. In addition, perceived pressures and informational feedback were modeled as antecedents of autonomy and competence, and well-being was examined as a consequence of need satisfaction. A more autonomy supportive school environment was associated with greater need satisfaction. In turn need satisfaction was associated with greater well being. This process model was supported across samples. Although the mean levels for autonomy and competence were different across cultures, the relationships between need satisfaction and motivational antecedents and outcomes were found to be equivalent across cultures, which supported Self-Determination Theory.



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Conference Proceeding



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Journal of Educational Psychology