Edward Deci and Richard Ryan; who are they?
Edward L. Deci is a professor of psychology and social sciences at the University of Rochester (New York) in the United States, and the director of his research programmes on human motivation. He is well known in psychology for his theories on intrinsic and extrinsic motivation, the nature and development of self-determination and the fundamental psychological needs. Deci is also the director of Monhegan Museum in Monhegan, Maine.
As for Richard M. Ryan, he is a professor at the Institute for Psychology and Education at the Australian Catholic University and a research professor at the University of Rochester, too. Ryan is a clinical psychologist and one of the main theorists on human motivation, ranking among the top 1% of most important researchers in the field. Reflecting his international and interdisciplinary influence, he is recognised as one of the leading psychologists and researchers of the modern era, and also features as one of the top scientists referenced in the bestseller, Scientists Making a Difference. Ryan is also the author of Glued to Games, a book explaining the way in which video games motivate players in great detail.
Deci and Ryan are some of the most frequently cited researchers in psychology and social sciences in the world, having both written numerous articles in the fields of psychological well-being, motivation and the human personality; notably, they are co-authors of the book Intrinsic motivation and self-determination in human behavior.
Theory of self-determination
In 1977, Edward Deci and Richard Ryan, then young psychologists at the University of Rochester, met and had a conversation that would change their lives. Thus, Richard Ryan, a clinical PhD student at the time, and Edward Deci, also a PhD student, whose early research was already causing a stir in the field, realised that even if they initially seemed to have very different ways of thinking, they ultimately had a lot in common.
That is how one of the greatest collaborations in contemporary psychology began. Over the course of the following decades, Deci and Ryan developed the self-determination theory (SDT), which has overturned the popular belief that the best way to motivate human beings to accomplish tasks is to give them rewards.
In fact, the self-determination theory handles motivation acting behind the choices that human beings make without any external influence or interference, by distinguishing between intrinsic motivation, a feeling of happiness and accomplishment, and extrinsic motivation, which is characterised by the tangible rewards of gamification such as badges, points, etc.
This theory is also based on three fundamental psychological needs: autonomy, competence and relatedness.
So, autonomy signifies an individual’s capacity to control their own behaviour, according to their own rules. In other words, it is a question of our capacity to function in an independent manner, without being controlled by external forces or input from external sources.
Competence is defined as an individual’s ability to perform a role or complete a task. According to Deci, competence is a need which refers to a sense of efficiency in their environment and which nurtures curiosity in individuals and the desire to take on challenges.
Finally, the third fundamental need which completes the self-determination theory is the feeling of social relatedness. The latter not only allows individuals to feel connected to people who are important to them but in return, it encourages those people to feel important as well.
In 2017, Ryan and Deci studied four decades of research on motivation in Self-determination theory: Basic psychological needs in motivation, development and wellness, a book which examines in detail the conceptual basis and empirical evidence of the self-determination of motivation. The chapters also cover the applications of self-determination in fields such as politics, education, healthcare, psychotherapy, sport, and even the workplace.
Edward Deci and Richard Ryan now lecture all around the world on their research, on the self-determination theory and the factors which promote motivation and healthy psychological function.