The tripartite motivation model: new insights for education


A new study by Reeve et al. (2023), explores a new model within Self-Determination Theory (SDT), the tripartite motivation model. This model focuses on understanding the underlying causes of impaired functioning in students. The findings promise new insights into how educational environments can influence student motivation and engagement.

The tripartite motivation model

Self-determination theory, originally formulated by Ryan and Deci, has long attracted the attention of educational psychologists. Researchers Reeve et al. build on this idea by proposing a tripartite model. This model focuses on three different psychological motivational states: satisfaction, frustration, and a newly introduced 'dormant' state. This model attempts to better understand the complexity of student motivation and engagement.

3 Motivational states

The three motivational states described by Reeve et al. mean the following:

  1. Satisfied state: This state occurs when the basic psychological needs for autonomy, competence, and relatedness are met. In a satisfied state, individuals feel able to determine their own actions (autonomy), experience a sense of competence and effectiveness in their activities (competence), and feel connected and valued in their social relationships (relatedness). This state is energy mobilizing and contributes to positive outcomes such as engagement, well-being and effective learning.
  2. Frustrated state: This state arises when there is a deficiency or blockage in the satisfaction of basic needs. Frustration of autonomy happens when individuals feel controlled or coerced, frustration of competence occurs when people feel incompetent or ineffective at what they do, and frustration of belonging happens when one feels isolated, excluded, or rejected. This state is characterized by negative emotional experiences and can lead to ineffective functioning, such as resistance, antisocial behavior or negative feelings.
  3. Dormant state: This newly introduced state describes a scenario in which psychological needs are neither actively frustrated nor actively satisfied. In this state, individuals do not feel a strong connection to their needs for autonomy, competence, or relatedness during certain activities. This state is characterized by a lack of energy and motivation, which can result in passivity, disinterest, or a general sense of apathy. It is a state in which the inner sources of motivation are not effectively stimulated or supported by the environment.

The study by Reeve et al.

Reeve et al. conducted the following three studies:

  • Study 1: Development of the TSQ: In the first study, with 402 American high school students, researchers developed the Three States Questionnaire (TSQ). This instrument measures the three psychological states: dormant, satisfied and frustrated. The results of the exploratory factor analysis confirmed the suitability of the selected items for the respective scales, providing a solid foundation for further research.
  • Study 2: Validation of the TSQ: In the second study, the focus was on validating the TSQ. The results showed that the dormant state was significantly correlated with indicators of impaired functioning. This underlines the unique role this condition plays in explaining student engagement and disengagement in educational settings.
  • Study 3: Testing the Full Model: The third study tested the full tripartite model, which examines the relationship between environmental factors and the three psychological states. This showed that teachers' supportive styles were significantly correlated with a satisfied state, while both neglectful and low supportive styles predicted the dormant state.

The research shows that the tripartite motivation model of self-determination theory is a significant improvement in explaining student engagement and achievement. The dormant state in particular offers new insights into how students sometimes experience disengagement in the classroom.

Conclusions and implications

The study highlights the crucial role of the learning environment in stimulating student motivation and engagement. Teachers and educational policy makers need to be aware of the impact of their approaches on students' psychological states. This research underlines the importance of providing supportive and stimulating learning environments to unlock students' full potential. These findings raise important questions about our own educational practices. How can we design our environments to support the psychological needs of students? Some suggestions are:

  1. Autonomy support: Things you can do to support students' basic need for autonomy, such as taking their perspective seriously, offering them choices, encouraging their own initiative and trial-and-error, involving them in decisions where possible, giving them a clear reason (rationale) for any requests.
  2. Competence support: Things you can do to support students' basic need for competence, such as communicating clear expectations, providing optimal challenges, providing a clear structure and providing competence-supporting feedback (what is going well, what could be improved).
  3. Relatedness Support: To support the basic need for relatedness, teachers can build positive, caring, and respectful relationships with students, promote inclusivity and collaboration, demonstrate empathy, and create a safe, supportive learning environment where everyone feels accepted and valued.
  4. Encouraging agentic involvement: Teachers can promote agentic involvement by encouraging students to exercise self-initiative, active participation and self-expression in the learning process. This includes providing space for student input, encouraging self-directed learning, and being responsive to student ideas and suggestions.


Coert Visser said…
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► This research by Jang et al. (2023) focused on the interaction between teachers' autonomy support and students' initiative in secondary education. A total of 2,908 high school students who were taking physical education participated. They reported their agentic engagement (the proactive, constructive, and reciprocal action that students initiate to achieve their progress and create a more supportive learning environment for themselves) and how they experienced the autonomy support from their teachers.
These data were collected four times over a school year. Two 'reciprocal effects models' (REM) were tested, describing the relationship between students' perception of autonomy-supportive teaching and their personal initiative: a 'between-person cross-lag-panel model' (CLPM) and a 'within-person CLPM' with random intercept (RI-CLPM).

Both models confirmed the reciprocal relationship between perceived autonomy-supportive teaching and agentic engagement. Based on the students' observations, earlier shown agentic engagement led to more autonomy support from the teachers, and earlier perceived autonomy support led to more agentic engagement in the students.