One interesting concept that comes up in many social science issues is that of self-determination. In the political process, the ideals of self-determination were popularized during the Enlightenment Period as a way to actualize the individual against repressive governments. From a sociological perspective, even famous novels like Mary Shelley's Frankenstein posit that the nature of humanity surrounds the idea of being able to make appropriate decisions in ways that benefit our self-interests. In fact, by nature, humans maintain a set of cognitive presumptions that hold that motivational and egoistic view of the self are based on a system of justice for ourselves and the social groups to which we belong. In some ways, this may be summed up as a utilitarian perspective that tells us that self-determination is what is the greatest good for the greatest number who can make appropriate levels of decisions about themselves, as well as through the connection of self-determination being tied to virtue, actualization, and the pursuit of human happiness (Sandel, 2010).
From a psychological point-of-view, though, self-determination theory (SDT) is an umbrella theory of both human personality and motivation that says that people have certain psychosocial needs. These needs are focused on the choices we make as humans without any overt influence (or at least overt that we recognize). SDT thus asks to what degree are the ways we act toward others and society based on our own individual needs, behaviors, and desires -- what is self-motivated and what is self-determined (Deci, E., et al., eds., 2002). Understanding this is difficult at times, however, because we do not live in a society that has any sense of a vacuum -- humans have constant stimulation from advertisements, the noise of media, the hubbub of modern life, other people, messages and more. This, of course, complicates the idea of motivation regarding SDT because researchers are often rife for actually finding and understanding filtering mechanisms (Cohen & Spacapan, 1994).
SDT theory is based on the belief that humans show certain features that are universal. These features help us grow, learn, cognate, and create. In general, there are three basic needs that we want innately, so that we can achieve optimal functioning and personal growth:
Competence -- or the ability to seek and control the outcome of our experiences within the universe.
Relatedness or the wish to react, converse, empathize and be connected to others, and:
Autonomy, or the notion that we have the right to be the basic causal effect upon our own lives, to act in harmony with ourselves, our desires, our personality, and rather than being independent of others, more of the nature of being interdependent -- separate by our individual decisions, but together as a human need (Chirikov, V., et al., 2003).
Of course, this applies that humans are inherently proactive with their own potential and wish to master their inner forces and emotions. Humans thus have the tendency towards growth and actualization and that over time, through cultural and societal changes, humans move towards new and innovative thinking that emphasize potential and growth. From a Western perspective, this seems to be inherently true if we look at cultural and historical change, which has manifested in technological improvements, psychosocial improvements over time (e.g. Civil Rights, Enlightenment, etc.). Of course, without the basic needs being met, there are negative consequences to SDT because there is a lack of social nurturing from one's environment (e.g. without food and shelter, why care about actualization and mental stimulation).
The theory of SDT is indicative of a natural approach to motivation by defining what form of motivation the individual uses at any given time through the definition of two basic types of behavior: intrinsic and extrinsic motivation. Intrinsic motivation is more natural, inherent, and genetic as a drive to find challenges and new possibilities at which the individual can excel. Within this, the environment is usually seen as a way to aid the actualization of motivation through rewards that lead to a better self-feeling, more self-confidence, positive feedback from others, and the idea of having a great deal of personal control that mediates other critiques. Usually, intrinsic motivation must be more immediate -- if I do this I feel good because of x, y or z; but still requires support from peers or at the very…