Autonomy is equally important across East and West: Testing the cross-cultural universality of self-determination theory

Ma Jenina Nalipay NALIPAY, Ronnel Bornasal KING, Yuyang CAI

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle


Introduction: Self-determination theory (SDT) posits the importance of three basic psychological needs (i.e., relatedness, autonomy, and competence) in promoting achievement. However, some cross-cultural researchers have cast doubt on the generalizability of the theory to non-Western cultures. The primary aim of the study was to test whether provision of support for relatedness, autonomy, and competence would be associated with achievement across both Western and Eastern cultures.

Method: We drew on a subsample of students from the Program for International Student Assessment (PISA) (n = 92,325 students from Australia, Canada, New Zealand, UK, and USA (Western societies); and Hong Kong SAR, Japan, Macau SAR, Shanghai, South Korea, and Taipei (Eastern societies); 46,006 were females and 46,319 were males, with a mean age of 15.77 (SD = 0.29) years). We used multi-group confirmatory factor analysis (MG-CFA) and multi-group structural equation modeling (MG-SEM) to analyze the data.

Results: Provision of the three basic needs correlated positively with achievement across cultures, providing broad support for the cross-cultural universality of SDT. MG-SEM indicated that relatedness and autonomy support were equally important for student achievement in both Western and Eastern cultures, whereas competence support was found to be more important to students in the West than in the East.

Conclusion: Findings support the cross-cultural relevance of SDT while at the same time highlighting important cultural variations such as greater importance of competence support in the West, suggesting the need to be cognizant of both cross-cultural universality and variability in motivational theorizing. Copyright © 2019 Published by Elsevier Ltd on behalf of The Foundation for Professionals in Services for Adolescents.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)67-72
JournalJournal of Adolescence
Early online dateDec 2019
Publication statusPublished - Jan 2020


Personal Autonomy
Mental Competency
Republic of Korea
Hong Kong
New Zealand
Statistical Factor Analysis
Research Personnel


Nalipay, M. J. N., King, R. B., & Cai, Y. (2020). Autonomy is equally important across East and West: Testing the cross-cultural universality of self-determination theory. Journal of Adolescence, 78, 67-72. doi: 10.1016/j.adolescence.2019.12.009


  • Self-determination theory
  • Cross-cultural
  • Achievement