WHY WE DO WHAT WE DO: The Dynamics of Personal Autonomy by Edward L. with Richard Flaste Deci

WHY WE DO WHAT WE DO: The Dynamics of Personal Autonomy

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A persuasive if belabored dissent from the traditional theory that people are motivated to learn by reward and punishment. Deci (Psychology/Univ. of Rochester) and Flaste (former science and health editor of the New York Times; editor of The New York Times Book of Science Literacy, 1990) argue that what most motivates people to learn, complete a task, or change behavior is a strengthening of their sense of acting autonomously, i.e., due regard for their needs, perspectives, and working style. In developing this point, the authors make some important distinctions, arguing, for example, that encouraging autonomy must at times be carefully balanced with limit-setting and that autonomy is not the same as individualism. (Individualists, they maintain, easily can become narcissistic ""loners"" while truly autonomous individuals balance self-fulfillment and interpersonal concerns.) Unfortunately, the authors nearly beat their point to death through repetition and resort to generalizations. Rarely do they cite quantitative results from the many psychology studies to which they refer, and they inadequately distinguish among the needs and pressures of various educational, industrial/corporate, social, and other settings. Most frustratingly, their book is limited largely to theory; they only vaguely limn some possible methods for helping individuals draw on and develop intrinsic creative energy rather than submitting to internal compulsions or extrinsic demands. At times, this results in conclusions that seem self-evident, e.g., ""People who are more autonomy oriented have higher self-esteem and are more self-actualized."" Deci and Flaste thus develop a fairly good case for autonomy's key role in increasing motivation -- particularly in helping people persist despite frustrations in trying to reach a goal -- but their argument is blandly written, overstated, overgeneralized, and overlong.

Pub Date: June 14th, 1995
Page count: 224pp
Publisher: Grosset/Putnam