Self-Determination Theory (SDT) posits that as humans we constantly seek mastery and growth within our lives, and that this can only be achieved by the fulfilment of certain psychological needs which entail relatedness, autonomy and competence (Deci & Ryan, 2000). Our personality has oft been suspected to impact these results, with particular focus as to whether certain ‘personality types’ have more or less influence in their psychological wellbeing than others. The generally accepted system of classifying personality types is The Big Five Trait Taxonomy, which organises all possible descriptive language which denotes personality into five main, overarching facets: openness to experience or intellect, extraversion, agreeableness, conscientiousness and neuroticism or emotional stability (John & Srivastava, 1999). The present study aimed to assess if there were any meaningful relationships between several of the Big Five personality domains (extraversion, neuroticism and conscientiousness) and the presence of the fundamental psychological needs. 923 participants completed two self-report surveys assessing their perceived levels of basic needs as well as personality traits, and their results were analysed. We found moderate correlations between neuroticism and autonomy; r(923)= -.44, p= .001, and conscientiousness and competence; r(923)= .42, p= .001, in accordance with some of the literature. We garnered only a small correlation between extraversion and relatedness; r(923)= .30, p=.001, a surprising find, however explicable by the relevant literature. The study may have future implications for research to continue in this area of interest as correlations between personality traits and basic psychological needs, although do not establish a cause and effect relationship, may provide useful information for practicing clinicians in the field of mental health.
Self Determination Theory (SDT) is a psychological construct which explores the fundamental and universal ‘needs’ humans require to achieve autonomous motivation, mental wellbeing and self-efficacy. The three needs are competence (the ability to master tasks and various challenges), relatedness (feeling a sense of connection and intimacy with others) and autonomy, which is feeling that one’s own actions are the result of one’s own choices and volition (Sheldon & Hilpert, 2012). SDT is believed to be involved in personality development and the regulation of our actions (Deci & Ryan, 2008; Koole et al., 2018). It is understood that each person’s individual personality, is constituted by various ‘personality traits’, which define the very nature of each person. Perhaps the mode widely used personality taxonomy for researchers and clinicians are the Big Five Traits. These aforementioned traits are generally used when the research is trying to establish or measure a broad set of personality characteristics amongst participants (Anglim & O’Connor, 2018).
Personality traits such as those of the Big Five have also been vastly utilised by researchers to predict many life outcomes such as job satisfaction and performance, mortality, divorce and even academic performance (Anglim & O’Connor, 2018). Researching SDT and its potential connection to personality traits may be a vital area of investigation as it could underline and highlight mental wellbeing and one’s trajectory in life in the context of someone’s personality, which may aid in the development of mental illness prevention and understanding. Some literature has drawn tentative correlations between personality types and aspects of the SDT, generally in occupational and educational environments. Takase et al. (2017) suggest that from a cross-sectional study, nurses who embodied traits of conscientiousness were generally more competent at their job. In addition to this, research has pointed to conscientious people as more likely to successfully overcome challenging demands and thus create better engagement with their work, alluding to better competence levels (Sulea et al., 2013). With regards to co-occurrence with neuroticism and autonomy, the results from Powers et al. (2015) displayed a positive association with one’s goal progression and the autonomy support they received, and conversely the ‘under-experiencing’ of autonomous assistance led to higher reports on the scale of Neuroticism and inferior mental wellbeing in general. There seems to be somewhat more literature speaking to the relationships between extraversion and relatedness, perhaps because they may be easier linked or occur naturally together more often. Various studies (Sulea et al., 2013, Swickert et al., 2001) suggest a positive relationship between extraversion and relatedness amongst other people, most notably pointing to the notion that extraverts are generally more likely to surround themselves with more people, thus having a larger support network, however, there are other results from studies which suggest a lesser degree of strength between extraversion and relatedness. Many of these studies however are solely based upon self-reports from participants and do not explicitly state any kind of statistical relationship between personality types and the SDT.
The current study aims to underline and identify any correlations between three of the Big Five personality traits and the components of SDT (extraversion and relatedness, neuroticism and autonomy and conscientiousness and competence), as we expect these traits to have particular correlations with the Basic Needs based on the current literature. It was hypothesised that there would be small weak correlation between conscientiousness and competence, operationalised as a small number of participants who scored highly on conscientiousness also scoring relatively high on competence. It was also hypothesised that there would exist a strong positive correlation between extraversion and relatedness, this being operationalised as participants with a high level of self-reported extraversion also responding positively with the relatedness scale. Lastly, it was hypothesised that neuroticism and autonomy would share a moderate negative relationship, operationalised as self-reported accounts of neuroticism would be paired with relatively low levels of autonomy.
During one week in the semester, the participants completed a survey in their normal subject tutorial program which consisted of a Balanced Measure of Psychological Needs (BMPN) scale on a computer to assess their individual self-reported measures of relatedness, competence and autonomy. Immediately after, they then completed a Big Five Inventory-2 (BFI-2) scale which assessed their self-reported measures of Big Five personality traits. During the BMPN scale, even items were worded as negative statements (e.g. I felt unappreciated by one or more important people), and these items were reverse-scored as such. Again, in the BFI-2 some items in the questionnaire were worded negatively so that higher rating levels of these statements indicated lower levels of this particular trait. For example, ‘feels little sympathy for others’ (domain scale 17R), denotes lower levels of agreeableness. Each student for both tests rated themselves for every statement on a scale of 1-5, (1= disagree strongly, 2= disagree a little, 3= neutral or no response, 4= agree a little and 5= agree strongly). The students were all briefed on the nature and objective of this study and were given opportune moment for withdrawal or queries. After the participants had all completed their questionnaires, the data were collected, and the amalgam of each basic psychological need were averaged using the sub-scale items relevant to the specific need and were computed for the statistics software program SPSS for analysation. The same steps were repeated for the BFI-2 scale, all Big Five trait responses were averaged and computed for statistical analysis.
This study investigated the potential correlation between several of the Big Five personality traits and the three fundamental psychological needs of Self-Determination Theory. Our hypothesis between neuroticism and autonomy was the only one to be somewhat supported by the data, but other predictions between conscientiousness and competence, and extraversion and relatedness were found to be not supported by the correlation analyses. A correlation of .283 is considered to be small, and thus not sufficient to warrant any meaningful relationship between extraversion and relatedness, however, we had expected this to be somewhat higher given the previously mentioned literature which supported viable relationships between extraversion and relatedness. Surprisingly, we achieved a moderate correlation of .422 between conscientiousness and competence, one we did not expect to be so high.
As conscientiousness and competence seem to be relevant factors in achievement and success in life, Trautwein et al (2009) deemed conscientiousness and competence occurring together as good predictors of academic achievement and effort in students, in addition to this, it seems job seekers are viewed more positively by their prospective employers if the employer believes they are conscientious and competent people (Sears & Rowe, 2003). These studies may help explain our current results of competence and conscientiousness seemingly occurring together more frequently than we had expected.
In terms of our moderate effect finding for neuroticism and autonomy, some literature supports this notion, as it has been posed that within an occupational environment, higher levels of neuroticism positively correlate with low self-reported autonomous feelings, negative affect and emotional exhaustion (Tai & Liu, 2007). Additionally, the need for autonomy manifests in our drive to accomplish goals, and the trait and neuroticism may be an obstacle in realising these goals as neurotic people may use ‘maladaptive coping mechanisms’ when confronted with adversity in life (Ionescu & Iacob, 2019).
The small correlation between extraversion and relatedness was surprising, however some literature supports the notion that extraverts do not always experience relatedness more intensely or more often than non-extraverts. Swickert et al (2000), found that although extraverts tend to have larger support networks and consult their peers for guidance more regularly than introverts, they are not necessarily more emotionally close to their peers than introverts are, and thus although they may have a more ‘outgoing’ or ‘sociable’ personality type, this doesn’t actually equate to always feeling more connected to others.
The current study’s limitations may be that the utilisation of a self-report survey may not be the most accurate method in gaining correct information, as participants may not be rating themselves accurately, or not understand the nature of the statements therefore answering falsely. This is an issue many of the previously mentioned research reports also have, in that when measuring personality and one’s psychological state, it is often most convenient to use self-report methodology. For future study it may be essential to incorporate new ways to research the Big Five personality traits with the Basic Needs. Also, unfortunately, a Pearson correlation between two variables does not establish causality, so we cannot endeavour to ascribe a cause or reason as to why any personality traits may be correlated with psychological needs, however it may be an important area for future research. It is imperative that research continues to investigate the Basic Psychological Needs with regards to personality factors as they are an essential precursor to mental wellbeing and mental health in general (Roberts et al, 2007) and may assist in how we handle people’s pursuit of autonomy, relatedness and competence in light of their personalities.
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