Conscious and nonconscious processes: Implications for self-determination theory


According to Bargh's Auto-Motive model (Bargh, 1990, 1997a, 1997b; Bargh & Chartrand, 1999), automatic motivational processes are those that are consistently and frequently engaged when environmental cues and contexts similar to that of the past arise. For example, achievement and affiliation have been primed and have been shown to affect behaviour and perceptions in ways similar to conscious activation (e.g., Lakin & Chartrand, 2003). Emerging evidence now suggest that motivational processes related to self-determination theory (Deci & Ryan, 2000), such as intrinsic and extrinsic motivation can be nonconsciously primed and then influence perceptions and behaviours (e.g.. Burton, Lydon, D'Alessandro, & Koestner, 2006; Levesque & Pelletier, 2003; Ratelle, Baldwin, & Vallerand, 2005). These nonconscious effects are shown to parallel the conscious effects of motivational processes. These findings challenge researchers interested in SDT and other humanistic theories to think about whether all behaviours and forms of regulation can be nonconsciously determined. In the present paper, the authors argue that automatic nonconscious processes are not always maladaptive and that autonomous (self-determined) as well as controlled forms of motivation can be automatically and nonconsciously activated. However, the authors also argue that conscious processes are essential to our daily experiences and necessary to modulate the manifestation and expression of nonconscious processes that are negative or detrimental to growth or well-being.



Document Type

Conference Proceeding




Conscious and nonconscious processes, Human motivation, Self-determination theory

Publication Date


Journal Title

Canadian Psychology