Attachment and Motivational Strategies in Adolescence: Exploring Links

Article excerpt


Within the scope of motivational theory, psychological needs are fundamental for understanding human development. The needs for relatedness, for competence, and for autonomy are critical to understanding development and action, namely in challenging and threatening situations (Connell, 1990; Connell & Wellborn, 1991; Skinner & Wellborn, 1994). The idea that individuals play a central role in shaping their behavior by selecting and interpreting events and reacting to them, is related to an individual's beliefs about one's interactions with the environment, are more specifically, beliefs associated with the three basic needs: emotional security, perceived competence, and perceived autonomy. Contextual conditions also influence individuals' behavior. Contents may allow (or impose) the satisfaction of these three needs depending on, respectively, the terms of involvement (versus neglect), structure (versus chaos), and autonomy (versus coercion) (Skinner & Wellborn, 1994). Internal working models of attachment, perceived control, and autonomy are viewed as self-system processes associated with these three needs. During development, these three self-system processes are built on the basis of individuals' interactions. Through early interactions with a supportive and sensitive attachment figure and through successful independent attempts, the child will develop a representation of the self as worthy of love, competent, and autonomous, as will it represent the world as responsive, predictable, and allowing freedom. However, these three basic needs may be challenged by such contextual factors as unavailability of the attachment figure, or chaotic and coercive situations. This may result in insecure representations of the self and of the world as well as negative expectations.

While there is extensive agreement about the importance of these three basic needs for behavioral development, the relations among them are still mostly unknown. Although some theoretical hypotheses have been advanced (e.g., Wellborn, 1995), only a few studies (e.g., Maslin-Cole & Spieker, 1990) have empirically explored the dynamics among these needs.

A Goal Approach to Motivation and Action

In the context of the present investigation, needs are viewed as key motivational constructs, which give purpose and meaning to behavior and whose influence is not only direct, but mainly mediated by goals. In this sense, we explore the role of behavior finality through analysis of individuals' motivational goals. Goals are conceived of as a cognitive elaboration of needs. Whereas the need concept is vague, generic, and hardly open to empirical examination, goals are specific, concrete, subjective, and susceptible to being more directly evaluated. Our perspective emphasizes the role of goals in determining action (Lemos, 1993).

Generally, needs are related to self-system processes which are reflected in individuals' beliefs. Beliefs related to the needs for competence are control beliefs (expectations about the extent to which one can obtain desired outcomes), and for autonomy are agency beliefs (expectations about the extent to which one has access to the means that produce desired outcomes).

According to organismic perspectives (Ryan, Deci, & Grolnick, 1995; Wellborn, 1992), the need for competence and autonomy is universal and basic to development. The need for competence is evidenced in behaviors such as exploration, curiosity, mastery, and a general attempt at dealing with the environment in a competent way (Harter, 1981; Hatter & Connel, 1984; White, 1959). The need for autonomy or for self-determination has been studied in the context of the intrinsic motivation paradigm (deCharms, 1984; Ryan, Deci, & Grolnick, 1995; Harter, 1981) and refers to the wish of experiencing the self as responsible, as the author of one's own actions. Self-determination allows for the organization of personal development according to one's own talents and capacities. …