The Effects of Personal, Contextual, and Situational Factors on the Facilitation of Intrinsic Motivation: The Case of Chinese/Canadians

By Walker, Gordon J. | Journal of Leisure Research, Winter 2010 | Go to article overview

The Effects of Personal, Contextual, and Situational Factors on the Facilitation of Intrinsic Motivation: The Case of Chinese/Canadians


Walker, Gordon J., Journal of Leisure Research


North America's socio-demographic composition is changing. In the United States 4% of the population was Asian or Pacific Islander in 2000, with this percentage expected to double by 2025 (Cheeseman Day, 2007). According to 2002 Census figures Chinese were the largest Asian group (Barnes & Bennett, 2002) and greater China (i.e., Taiwan, Hong Kong, and the People's Republic of China) was the second largest region of birth of the U.S. foreign-born population after Mexico (Malone, Baluia, Costanzo, & Davis, 2003). In Canada, while British/Canadians remain the majority the visible minority population exceeded 13% in 2000 (Statistics Canada, 2003). Although this figure is much greater than the 5% reported in 1981 it is much lower than that projected for 2017, when around 20% of Canada's population is expected to be visible minority group members (Statistics Canada, 2005). Chinese are the largest and fastest growing visible minority group in Canada (Statistics Canada, 2003; 2005).

As the number of Chinese North Americans has increased so too has the number of studies that have examined this group's leisure. Recent research, for example, has found that intrinsic motivation (i.e., doing an activity because it is interesting, enjoyable, and for its own sake; Ryan & Deci, 2000) was a major reason why Chinese/Canadian (Walker & Deng, 2003), as well as Hong Kong and Mainland Chinese (Tsai & Coleman, 2007; Walker & Wang, 2008, respectively), people participated in leisure.

Because intrinsic motivation is "essential to cognitive and social development" and it "represents a principal source of enjoyment and vitality throughout life" (Ryan & Deci, 2000, p. 70), considerable research has focused on its facilitation and frustration. According to self-determination theory (SDT) (Deci & Ryan, 2000), intrinsic motivation is fostered when three innate needs--autonomy, competence, and relatedness--are satisfied and undermined when these needs are thwarted. Understanding this process is clearly important for leisure researchers given intrinsic motivation's eminence in our field (cf. Iso-Ahola, 1999; Kelly, 1978; Neulinger, 1981); but as Mannell and Kleiber (1997) recognized, it is equally important for leisure service providers if they want to afford their clients with environments that promote "extremely meaningful and psychologically powerful activities and experiences." (p. 145).

Unfortunately, although SDT acknowledges that autonomy, competence, and relatedness can vary across contexts (Ryan, 1995; Vallerand, 2000) and, consequently, so too can their facilitative effect on intrinsic motivation (Ryan & Deci, 2000), little is known about how this process may be influenced by ethnicity. After reviewing research in cross-cultural psychology Walker, Deng, and Dieser (2005) proposed that autonomy and competence may facilitate intrinsic motivation more for certain ethnic groups (e.g., British/Canadians) during their leisure, whereas relatedness and three non-SDT variables (e.g., effort) may facilitate intrinsic motivation more for certain other ethnic groups (e.g., Chinese/Canadians) during their leisure. Walker (2008) empirically tested these propositions by asking British/Canadian and Chinese/Canadian people how they perceived six facilitators would affect their intrinsic motivation during leisure with a close friend. Findings generally supported the facilitative effects of the SDT rather than non-SDT variables. Walker (2008) recommended that future researchers consider: (a) comparing potential differences in intrinsic motivation facilitation across contexts, (b) examining the potential effects of person-level factors on intrinsic motivation facilitation, and (c) employing everyday experience methods (Reis & Gable, 2000) to ameliorate problems inherent in scenario-based research.

Thus, the purpose of this study is to extend Walker (2008) and colleagues' (Walker et al., 2005) work by using an experience sampling method (Csikszentmihalyi, Larson, & Prescott, 1977) to: (a) confirm that the situational variables of autonomy and competence do facilitate Chinese/Canadians' intrinsic motivation, (b) investigate whether these facilitative effects differ between two contexts: self-identified leisure and non-leisure, and (c) examine if, depending upon the importance a person ascribes to different types of self-construal (Markus & Kitayama, 1991; Triandis, 1995), autonomy and competence facilitate, inhibit, or have no effect on intrinsic motivation. …

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