Motivation and emotion/Book/2021/Cognitive evaluation theory and motivation

Cognitive evaluation theory and motivation:
What is CET and how can it be applied to improving motivation?

Overview edit

Cognitive evaluation theory (CET) is a sub-theory of self determination theory (SDT), see figure 1 (Deci & Ryan, 2008; Gagni & Deci, 2005). It is hypothesized by SDT that there are three universal needs for all humans; competence, autonomy, and relatedness (Deci & Ryan, 2008; Drylund & Wininger, 2006). CET focuses on two in particular, competence and autonomy. The three propositions of CET are (Mandigo & Holt, 2013):

  1. External events that promote internal locus of causality (attribution of events) promote autonomy and intrinsic motivation while external events that promote an external locus of causality have the opposite effect.
  2. External events that increase competence will raise intrinsic motivation and events that decrease competence undermine intrinsic motivation.
  3. Intrinsic and extrinsic motivation are affected by whether an event is controlling or informational.

These propositions assist individuals in determining if the external event will increase intrinsic motivation (enjoyment and desire to participate of their own accord) or decrease it. In order to increase intrinsic motivation external events should not be controlling and need to be informational, see How does CET relate to motivation? (Mandigo & Holt, 2013; Hagger & Chatzisarantis, 2009).

Figure 1. Cognitive evaluation theory as a sub theory to self-determination theory.

This theory was developed to explain and identify the factors involved in social contexts and the outcomes these factors produce on intrinsic motivation (Drylund & Wininger, 2006; Gagni & Deci, 2005). There are two main types of motivation, intrinsic and extrinsic; CET examines the effect of extrinsic rewards on intrinsic motivation. Intrinsically motivated individuals choose to do a task because they are interested in it, enjoy the task or enjoy the challenge it presents (Drylund & Wininger, 2006; Gagni & Deci, 2005). It is essential that the needs of an individual are supported and informed and not thwarted in order to increase intrinsic motivation (Bartholomew et al., 2011; Deci & Ryan, 2008; Gagne & Deci, 2005).

Focus questions:

  • What is cognitive evaluation theory?
  • Why is cognitive evaluation theory important in motivation study?
  • What is intrinsic motivation and what does it affect?

What is cognitive evaluation theory? edit

Cognitive evaluation theory (CET) was first examined by Deci and Ryan (1985) (Riley, 2016; Deco & Ryan, 2008; Drylund & Wininger, 2006), is a psychological theory designed to examine and explain the effects of external consequences on internal motivation (Drylund & Wininger, 2006; Gagni & Deci, 2005). It is a sub-theory of SDT, focused on competence and autonomy, examining how motivation is affected by external forces while investigating the social and environmental factors influencing intrinsic motivation (Chae et al., 2017; Riley., 2016; Deci & Ryan, 2008; Drylund & Wininger, 2006).

Competence edit

  • Competence is the need to experience mastery (of skills, hobbies, techniques etc), and to produce desired outcomes. Essentially, our need is to be good at the things we are interested in (Wang, et al., 2019; Riley., 2016).
  • When an individual feels responsible for their success and improvement of a task their competence levels and intrinsic motivation increase (Gagne & Deci, 2005).
  • An element of competence is optimal challenge; optimal challenge is the alignment of an individual's skill level (competence) with the difficulty of the task (see figure 2). If a task is overly challenging, for example giving a Rubik's cube to a preschooler, it will result in frustration of needs instead of competence. A wooden puzzle with a few big, easy to connect pieces is still engaging for the child but the task set is more age appropriate, resulting in optimal challenge and high levels of competence (Riley; 2016; Bartholomew et al., 20011; Mandigo, et al., 2008; Gagne & Deci, 2005).
File:Optimal challenge flickr.jpg
Figure 2. Optimal challenge example
  • Competence is a reflection of an individual's beliefs about their abilities and it is negatively affected by perceived tension, pressure or control (Wang, et al., 2019; Riley., 2016; Bartholomew et al., 2011; Hagger & Chatzisarantis, 2009).
  • A study by Drylund and Wininger (2006) on exercise attendance found participant's[grammar?] attendance [where?] was most heavily influenced by perceived competence. Attendance levels were high when an individual perceived their abilities and competence as high (Bartholomew et al., 2011). This demonstrates that your level of competence influences how motivated you are to participate. We tend to enjoy things we are good at or find challenging and avoid things we perceive as overly difficult or things we are not skilled in.
  • Intrinsic motivation and perceived competence levels are enhanced when we receive constructive and informative feedback. Competence levels are more likely to rise when we are supported but also informed on ways we can improve. For example a coach saying "Good job!" or alternatively "You aren't scoring many goals today." is not informative. If instead a coach were to say "You aren't scoring many goals today, I can give you some practice drills to improve your aim and agility", the coach is providing the individual with some informative advice. Now the individual can go and work on these skills and improve their level of competence (Riley., 2016; Mandigo & Holt, 2013; Bartholomew et al., 2011).

Autonomy edit

  • Autonomy is the need to feel ownership over one's behaviours and choices. Autonomous behaviour occurs when our decisions are being guided by our own beliefs and interests as opposed to being pressured or influenced into a decision (Wang, et al., 2019; Drylund & Wininger, 2006).
  • If you have been taking ballet lessons, guitar lessons or swimming lessons since you were a child and your parents signed you up, are you taking them because you want to, or because you feel you have to? Autonomy affects your enjoyment and motivation to do well in an activity; low levels of autonomy occur when you are pressured to participate. If you yourself chose to start ballet lessons or to learn an instrument you were exercising high levels of autonomy, and chances are you enjoy this activity much more than the one your parents or peers pushed you towards (Bartholomew et al., 2011; Drylund & Wininger, 2006).
Figure 3. Anxiety cloud ~ a list of emotions that can be caused by controlling motivating styles
  • Reflective endorsement, constraints and demand can influence autonomy but one can still be behaving with full autonomy if influenced. For example you stop at red lights; you are being externally influenced to do this but when reflecting on the importance of these traffic laws you can consent to this constraint and will therefore not lose autonomy (Ryan & Deci, 2006).
  • There are two types of autonomy motivating styles:
    1. Autonomy supportive
    2. Controlling
  • Autonomy supportive motivating styles result in greater engagement, higher achievements and learning, more self-regulation and improved well-being (Reeve, et al. 2013; Bartholomew et al., 2011).
  • Controlling motivating styles result in frustration of autonomy and negative emotions (anger and anxiety) (Reeve, et al. 2013; Bartholomew et al., 2011; Hagger & Chatzisarantis, 2009).
  • When an individual is behaving autonomously, they will be more deeply engaged and productive because they are intrinsically motivated (Riley., 2016; Ryan & Deci, 2006).
  • Learning, autonomy and self-motivation all decrease if an individual is offered a reward to participate; their sense of autonomy is taken away. Providing a sense of choice, and promoting autonomy by acknowledging and listening to thoughts, questions or ideas will boost intrinsic motivation and encourage an individual to strive to do well (Riley., 2016).

How does CET relate to motivation? edit

CET is essentially about discovering the effects that extrinsic rewards or events can have on an individual's intrinsic motivation. Can external influences alter our internal thought and behaviour process in regards to motivation? There are two main forms of motivation; intrinsic and extrinsic and they can be thought of as internal motivators (intrinsic) and external motivators (extrinsic). This section explains the difference between the two and the effects each can have on motivation.

Intrinsic motivation edit

  • Intrinsic motivation is enhanced by participating in activities or tasks that an individual has an interest in, has control over (autonomy), and helps them achieve their personal goals and skill improvements (competence). Alternatively if an individual feels they are being controlled by external factors or pressures, their intrinsic motivation will decrease (Riley., 2016; Mandigo & Holt, 2013; Hagger & Chatzisarantis, 2009).
  • Intrinsic motivation is the most autonomous form of motivation because it is completely determined by an individual's interests, beliefs and preferences (Chae et al., 2017; Drylund & Wininger, 2006).
  • In order to satisfy an individual's psychological needs for competence and autonomy, they will engage in an activity that is intrinsically motivated (Drylund & Wininger, 2006).
  • Associated with pleasure, interest or enjoyment (Wang, et al., 2019; Riley., 2016; Gagni & Deci, 2005)[grammar?].
  • Associated with the idea of "free-will", linking back to autonomy although these free-will theories are still highly debated topics in psychology (Ryan & Deci, 2006)[grammar?].
  • Using autonomy-supportive methods of motivation such as a teacher involving the class in the decision making process of what they will do in class today or minimising the pressure put on grades can positively impact intrinsic motivation (Mandigo, et al., 2008).
  • Enjoyment levels affect intrinsic motivation; the more enjoyment an individual gets from an activity, the higher their desire to participate in the activity again (Riley., 2016; Mandigo, et al., 2008; Gagni & Deci, 2005).
Figure 4. The boy on the left is playing to win (extrinsic motivation), the boy on the right is playing for fun (intrinsic motivation)

Extrinsic motivation edit

  • There are four types of extrinsic motivation (Drylund & Wininger, 2006):
    1. External regulation: most controlling and least autonomous form of motivation, behaviour is controlled with punishments and external rewards.
    2. Introjected regulation: governed by internal pressures such as avoiding guilt or attaining pride.
    3. Identified regulation: identifies with the importance of a task and takes on regulation of the task.
    4. Integrated regulation: driven by values associated with an outcome, these are behaviours that are fully incorporated into one's self.
  • Extrinsic motivation is the least autonomous form of motivation because it is completely controlled by external factors, other people, pressure and environmental or social influences (Drylund & Wininger, 2006; Gagni & Deci, 2005).
  • Extrinsic motivation is often seen as a controlling motivation style as opposed to a supportive one; for example in a school setting with a very distinct hierarchy of authority, competitive nature, frequent and highly weighted tests, detentions and other forms of punishment or threats of punishment is a very controlling and extrinsic setting. This type of environment is more harmful to motivation and does not allow an individual to grow or become autonomous (Chae et al., 2017; Reeve, et al., 2013).
  • Extrinsic incentives such as rewards (bonus pay checks, higher grades, special treats for good behaviour) can be used to motivate individuals (Reeve, et al., 2013; Mandigo & Holt, 2013).

Effects of extrinsic rewards on intrinsic motivation edit

  • Rewards are generally associated with extrinsic motivation; however some rewards can enhance intrinsic motivation as opposed to decreasing it. Rewards like praise and feedback can enhance intrinsic motivation and feelings of competence (Mandigo & Holt, 2013; Gagni & Deci, 2005).
  • If an external task/stimuli can offer the individual some form of choice, autonomy levels will increase, prompting enhanced task engagement and a shift from external to internal locus of control, in turn increasing intrinsic motivation (Gagni & Deci, 2005).
  • If a reward is supporting an individuals[grammar?] choices and informing their feelings of competence then intrinsic motivation will remain unaffected and in some cases could improve, however, if a reward is seemingly controlling then intrinsic motivation will plummet (Riley., 2016; Gagni & Deci, 2005).
  • Controlling rewards such as scholarships or money decreases intrinsic motivation (Riley., 2016; Mandigo & Holt, 2013; Gagni & Deci, 2005). For example, if you were volunteering by choice because you enjoy the feeling of helping others and are not paid or physically rewarded in any way you are intrinsically motivated; the higher your level of enjoyment and optimal challenge, the higher your intrinsic motivation. On the other hand, if you go to work everyday and are being paid (an extrinsic controlling reward) your level of intrinsic motivation will decrease[factual?].
  • Monetary rewards reduce intrinsic behaviour (Gagni & Deci, 2005; Boal & Cummings, 1981).
  • In order to shape behaviour; many social settings will undermine intrinsic behaviour using rewards and punishments such as grades, detentions, or humiliating public praise (Riley., 2016; Ryan & Deci, 2006; Gagni & Deci, 2005).
  • Pressure and extrinsic control can be damaging to an individual as it reduces intrinsic motivation. This can prevent the individual from forming an interest or gaining any enjoyment so they will be less likely to succeed or retry the activity (Mandigo, et al., 2008).

Quiz edit


1 Is the following individual intrinsically motivated or extrinsically motivated? Joe was asked to clean the kitchen before his mum returned from work, if he had it clean by 5pm he would receive $5 pocket money.


2 Is the following individual intrinsically motivated or extrinsically motivated? Susie is going into Year 11 in high school and needs to pick her school electives; Susie's friends are picking biology and begging Susie to do the same so they can all be in the same class. Susie doesn't really like science but is eager to please her friends and so she picks biology over her preferred option.


3 Is the following individual intrinsically motivated or extrinsically motivated? Rupert has always wanted to travel to Italy but since the COVID pandemic he has been unable to travel. Rupert decides to join an online Italian cooking class to follow along with the recipes as this is as close to Italy as he will get for now.


How can CET be applied to improve motivation? edit

CET can be transferred into practical use to help improve motivation, by looking at external effects on intrinsic motivation to facilitate growth. When intrinsic motivation is high, psychological needs (autonomy and competence) are being met (Wang, et al., 2019). To improve intrinsic motivation external events or stimuli must be supportive of individual choice and should not be seen as a controlling measure, [grammar?] they should also inform competence in an individual and help them work towards mastery or improvement of skills (Riley., 2016; Hagger & Chatzisarantis, 2009).

A meta-analysis of 128 laboratory studies linked positive feedback to increased intrinsic motivation and tangible rewards to significantly reduced intrinsic motivation. However, it was found that unexpected tangible rewards or rewards independent of a task such as salaries did not affect intrinsic motivation; this study demonstrates that rewards can still be used to improve intrinsic motivation as long as they are autonomy and competence supporting (Gagne & Deci, 2005).

A study by Mandigo and Holt (2013) has suggested the following ways to improve intrinsic motivation:

  • Optimise choice and control (increase opportunities for autonomy)
  • Minimise controlling external factors and influences
  • Find your level of optimal challenge
  • Enhance levels of perceived competence
  • Focus on personal improvement

Applying intrinsic motivation boosters to real life situations:

  1. Try attempting things you wouldn't normally try on your own. Make a decision about something independently; take up a new hobby, follow your interests, join a club or group that shares your passions.
  2. Cut controlling people or influences out that are negatively affecting your health; for example fitness influencers. If their posts make you feel bad about your body or push you to prescribe to certain norms about the "ideal body" for your age or gender etc they are externally influencing you and undermining your intrinsic motivation. Exercise because you love doing it not because you feel pressured to.
  3. Optimally challenge yourself; you can push yourself too far and this will only result in frustration. If you are starting a new hobby or anything you haven't attempted before it will take time to find the optimal level of difficulty; don't try knitting an advanced blanket if you don't know how to knit.
  4. Ask for feedback on your skills to increase your competence and improve.
  5. Try goal setting by writing them down as a list or marking your progress on a continuum so you can see your personal improvements.

Case study edit

Case study 1: Student-teacher relationships and motivation to defend against bullying

A study by Jungert et al., (2016) investigated the relationship between student-teacher interactions and type of motivation associated with the willingness to defend against bullying. The participants were 405 Italian students who completed a survey in the classroom. Results demonstrated that if students had a warm relationship with their teachers they demonstrated autonomous intrinsic motivation to defend victims of bullying. Alternatively, if the relationship was conflicting between student and teacher the motivation to step up was extrinsic and there was a stronger correlation in this group with passive by-standing.

This study demonstrates a strong, significant relationship between teaching (and relationship) style and motivation type. Intrinsic motivation is correlated with warm and healthy student-teacher relationships where the teaching style is supportive and informational. Extrinsic motivation on the other hand was linked to conflicting relationships where autonomy was not necessarily supported. This is reflective of the CET studies and the importance of autonomy and competence support.

A note should be made on some limitations of this study:

  • Self report measures were used leaving room for error and inaccurate answers.
  • The study could potentially be generalized due to the limited study sample[say what?].

Further research should be done to support the findings of this study[vague].

Case study 2: Self-determination theory and health contexts

The meta-analysis of 184 data sets by Johan et al. (2012) provided evidence supportive of the three propositions of CET (see overview). The research analysed the relationships between practitioner support for patient autonomy and the psychological needs of the patients.

Results found strong positive relationships between the psychological need satisfaction of patients and their autonomous motivation. The analysis realised the potential benefits of these autonomy supportive approaches for several areas including health promotion, intervention and care, education and study, parenting and employment, see table 1. By introducing the principles of supporting autonomy and competence and avoiding controlling and extrinsic measures, health and well-being can be increased and the quality of life improved.

Table 1

Johan et al., (2012) table of SDT health behaviour change

  • Autonomy supportive vs controlling health care climate
  • Differences in personality (autonomy levels)
  • Intrinsic vs extrinsic life aspirations
Need satisfaction:
  • Autonomy
  • Competence
  • Relatedness
Physical health behaviours:
  • Increased exercise
  • Weight loss
  • Healthier diet
  • Improved dental health
  • Not smoking
Mental health effects:
  • Reduced depression
  • Reduced anxiety
  • Improved quality of life

Note. Supporting these psychological needs (autonomy, competence and relatedness) leads to their satisfaction; this [which?] meta-analysis has linked this [what?] need satisfaction to improved motivation for maintaining health behaviours long term, furthermore the need satisfaction results in improved psychological well-being.

Quiz edit

1 Complete the quiz on the focus questions from this article.

What is cognitive evaluation theory (CET)?
CET is a sub theory of

. This sub theory was created to investigate the effects

events have on



What is intrinsic motivation?
Intrinsic motivation is associated with the psychological

of competence and autonomy. Interest and enjoyment are



Why is CET important in motivation studies?
CET is important in motivation studies to explore how

can be improved using the psychological needs of



Need some extra help? The following words are used as answers throughout the quiz.

  • autonomy
  • motivation
  • Self-determination theory
  • competence
  • intrinsic
  • external

Conclusion edit

CET is a sub-theory of SDT (Drylund & Wininger, 2006). CET examines the effects external events and influences (extrinsic motivators) on intrinsic motivation. Intrinsic motivation is guided by a person's own choices, [grammar?] they are not receiving a reward for participating in this behaviour they are simply doing it for fun (Mandigo, et al., 2008).

Competence is the need for mastery of skills and the production of desired outcomes (Wang, et al., 2019). Competence levels can be increased using informative feedback (Mandigo & Holt, 2013). Autonomy is the psychological need for self-determination, control and ownership over our actions, [grammar?] this is achieved when our decisions are guided by our own beliefs, preferences and values (Wang, et al., 2019; Reeve, et al. 2013; Drylund & Wininger, 2006).

CET can be applied to improve motivation using the following techniques: increasing opportunity for autonomy, minimising controlling external factors, finding levels of optimal challenge, enhancing levels of perceived competence and focusing on personal development (Bartholomew et al., 2011). In order to increase intrinsic motivation external events should not be controlling and need to be informational so the individual feels as though by participating they are improving their level of competence and are choosing to do so without feeling pressured or commanded (Ryan., 2016; Mandigo & Holt, 2013; Hagger & Chatzisarantis, 2009; Gagne & Deci, 2005).

References edit

Bartholomew, K. J., Ntoumanis, N., Ryan, R. M., Bosch, J. A., & Thøgersen-Ntoumani, C. (2011). Self-Determination Theory and Diminished Functioning. Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin, 37(11), 1459–1473.

Boal, K. B., & Cummings, L. L. (1981). Cognitive evaluation theory: An experimental test of processes and outcomes. Organizational Behavior and Human Performance, 28(3), 289–310.

Chae, S., Choi, T. Y., & Hur, D. (2017). Buyer Power and Supplier Relationship Commitment: A Cognitive Evaluation Theory Perspective. Journal of Supply Chain Management, 53(2), 39–60.

Deci, E. L., & Ryan, R. M. (2008). Self-determination theory: A macrotheory of human motivation, development, and health. Canadian Psychology/Psychologie Canadienne, 49(3), 182–185.

Dyrlund, A. K., & Wininger, S. R. (2006). An Evaluation of Barrier Efficacy and Cognitive Evaluation Theory as Predictors of Exercise Attendance. Journal of Applied Biobehavioral Research, 11(3-4), 133–146.

Gagné, M., & Deci, E. L. (2005). Self-determination theory and work motivation. Journal of Organizational Behavior, 26(4), 331–362.

Hagger, M. S., & Chatzisarantis, N. L. D. (2009). Integrating the theory of planned behaviour and self-determination theory in health behaviour: A meta-analysis. British Journal of Health Psychology, 14(2), 275–302.

Ng, J. Y. Y., Ntoumanis, N., Thøgersen-Ntoumani, C., Deci, E. L., Ryan, R. M., Duda, J. L., & Williams, G. C. (2012). Self-Determination Theory Applied to Health Contexts. Perspectives on Psychological Science, 7(4), 325–340.

Jungert, T., Piroddi, B., & Thornberg, R. (2016). Early adolescents’ motivations to defend victims in school bullying and their perceptions of student–teacher relationships: A self-determination theory approach. Journal of Adolescence, 53, 75–90. Mandigo, J. L., Holt, N. L. (2013). Putting theory into practice: How cognitive evaluation theory can help us motivate children in physical activity environments. Journal of Physical Education, Recreation & Dance, 71(1), 44-49.

Mandigo, J., Holt, N., Anderson, A., & Sheppard, J. (2008). Children’s motivational experiences following autonomy-supportive games lessons. European Physical Education Review, 14(3), 407–425.

Ntoumanis, N., & Standage, M. (2009). Motivation in physical education classes. School Field, 7(2), 194–202.

Reeve, J., Vansteenkiste, M., Assor, A., Ahmad, I., Cheon, S. H., Jang, H., Kaplan, H., Moss, J. D., Olaussen, B. S., & Wang, C. K. J. (2013). The beliefs that underlie autonomy-supportive and controlling teaching: A multinational investigation. Motivation and Emotion, 38(1), 93–110.

Riley, G. (2016). The role of self-determination theory and cognitive evaluation theory in home education. Cogent education: Abingdon, 3(1), 1-7.

Ryan, R. M., Deci, E. L. (2006). Self-regulation and the problem of human autonomy: Does psychology need choice, self-determination, and will? Journal of Personality, 74(6), 1557-1586.

Wang, C. K. J., Liu, W. C., Kee, Y. H., Chian, L. K. (2019). Competence, autonomy, and relatedness in the classroom: understanding students' motivational processes using the self-determination theory. Heliyon, 5(7), 1-6.

External links edit

[Use alphabetical order. Add bullet points]

Extrinsic vs intrinsic motivation (Sprouts, YouTube)

Cognitive-evaluation theory (Oxford Reference)

Cognitive evaluation theory simplified (iEdu Note)

How to stay motivated (Healthdirect)