First Advisor

Ellen Skinner

Term of Graduation

Summer 2008

Date of Publication


Document Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (Ph.D.) in Systems Science: Psychology


Systems Science: Psychology




Middle school students -- Longitudinal studies, Autonomy in adolescence -- Longitudinal studies, Motivation in education -- Longitudinal studies



Physical Description

1 online resource (vii, 439 pages)


Student responsibility has emerged as a key developmental task, particularly during the transition to middle school. A developmental and motivational perspective was taken for the present study that emphasized agency, ownership, and engagement as key parts of the development of student responsibility. Self-determination Theory (SDT) was selected as the overarching framework for the present investigation due to the theory's emphasis on autonomy, which refers to the experience of oneself as the authentic origin of one's own actions (Deci & Ryan, 1985). In SDT, the construct of autonomy is used to integrate views of intrinsic and extrinsic motivation and to differentiate multiple kinds of extrinsic motivation. Forms of extrinsic motivation, called external, introjected, identified, and integrated, can be arrayed from less to more self-determined. In this way, it is possible to conceive of a source of autonomous motivation for tasks that are not intrinsically enjoyable.

Data from 1370 students collected from a larger cohort sequential longitudinal study were used to track student trajectories of four autonomy types: intrinsic, identified, introjected, and external during late elementary school and over the transition to middle school. Motivational antecedents to the development of a sense of autonomy in school, including student perceptions of competence and relatedness and perceptions of teacher support, and the outcome of engagement were investigated.

Results indicated that on average, perceptions of autonomy declined from elementary to middle school, with different growth patterns for each autonomy type. A correlational simplex pattern (Deci & Ryan, 1985) among autonomy types was found, but evidence suggested shifts in the pattern with student grade level. In turning to predictors of autonomy types, both perceived competence and relatedness had unique effects on the four autonomy types. Teacher support was also a direct predictor of student perceptions of ownership over the middle school transition. Increases in reported engagement during late elementary school and decreases over the transition to middle school were partially attributed to student perceptions of external, identified, and intrinsic autonomy. Analyses of the moderating effects of grade level and latent growth curve analyses contributed to questions regarding developmental processes among the study constructs.


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