Qualitative motivation with sets and relations

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In self-determination theory (SDT), multiple conceptual regulations of motivation are posited. These forms of motivation are especially qualitatively viewed by SDT researchers, and there are situations in which combinations of these regulations occur. In this article, instead of the commonly used numerical approach, this is modeled more versatilely by sets and relations. We discuss discrete mathematical models from the theory of knowledge spaces for the combinatorial conceptualization of motivation. Thereby, we constructively add insight into a dispute of opinions on the unidimensionality vs. multidimensionality of motivation in SDT literature. The motivation order derived in our example, albeit doubly branched, was approximately a chain, and we could quantify the combinatorial details of that approximation. Essentially, two combinatorial dimensions reducible to one were observed, which could be studied in other more popular scales as well. This approach allows us to define the distinct, including even equally informative, gradations of any regulation type. Thus, we may identify specific forms of motivation that may otherwise be difficult to measure or not be separable empirically. This could help to dissolve possible inconsistencies that may arise in applications of the theory in distinguishing the different regulation types. How to obtain the motivation structures in practice is demonstrated by relational data mining. The technique applied is an inductive item tree analysis, an established method of Boolean analysis of questionnaires. For a data set on learning motivation, the motivation spaces and co-occurrence relations for the gradations of the basic regulation types are extracted, thus, enumerating their potential subforms. In that empirical application, the underlying models were computed within each of the intrinsic, identified, introjected, and external regulations, in autonomous and controlled motivations, and the entire motivation domain. In future studies, the approach of this article could be employed to develop adaptive assessment and training procedures in SDT contexts and for dynamical extensions of the theory, if motivational behavior can go in time.

Original languageEnglish
Article number993660
JournalFrontiers in Psychology
StatePublished - 25 Jan 2023


  • dimensionality
  • inductive item tree analysis
  • knowledge space theory
  • motivation
  • motivational implication
  • relation
  • self-determination theory
  • set


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