The Motivational Benefits and Limits of Choice

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This investigation explored the conditions that minimize the negative effects of lacking choice and maximize the positive effects of having choice. Four experimental studies were conducted with college students as participants. Four aspects of this issue were addressed: (a) whether the saliency of not having a choice moderates the detrimental effects of lacking choice, (b) whether having choice is more beneficial when the type of choice is less costly in terms of self-regulatory effort, (c) whether the effect of choice on motivation is influenced by the number of choices an individual must make, and (d) whether perceived competence mediates of the relationships between choice, motivation and performance. Overall, this investigation failed to provide substantial support for the hypotheses regarding factors that might moderate the effects of choice on motivation. Null results are proposed to be largely attributable to the strength of the choice manipulations, the nature of the tasks used, and characteristics of participants. The results of two studies provided partial support for hypotheses showing that participants in no-choice conditions experienced a decrease in perceived competence or intrinsic motivation for the task, while participants who received a choice experienced no such decrease. This in conjunction with evidence showing that the participants found the task to be more difficult than expected suggested that choice may serve a protective function for difficult tasks. Further, exploratory analyses revealed that that the effect of choice may be more beneficial for individuals with low perceived or actual competence and that restricting choice may be more detrimental to individuals with high perceived or actual competence. Ways in which future studies may address the limitations of the present investigation and build on exploratory findings are discussed.





Patall, Erika Alisha (2009). The Motivational Benefits and Limits of Choice. Dissertation, Duke University. Retrieved from


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