Be Kind!

Extrinsic and intrinsic goals and parenting

Using data collected from mothers and their children over a fourteen-year period, researchers (Kasser, Ryan et al) found that

  • eighteen-year-olds who placed undue weight on extrinsic aspirations such as wealth had had the following when they were young:
  1. ­   mothers who had been controlling (rather than autonomy supportive), and
  2. ­   mothers who were cold (rather than nurturing).
  • eighteen-year-olds who grew up to desire more intrinsic life outcomes had had the following when they were young:
  1. ­   mothers who had been autonomy supportive, and
  2. ­   mothers who were warm and involved

The research confirmed that failing to be autonomy supportive and involved with your children can promote a more extrinsic orientation, as well as more introjection and a more contingent sense of self.


This extrinsic orientation and the attendant sense of contingent worth results from the children not being able to satisfy their fundamental intrinsic needs for autonomy, competence, and relatedness, and it is accordingly linked to poorer mental health.

The research helps to verify that competence, autonomy, and relatedness are indeed fundamental human needs. In contrast, what are often called needs, for example, for money and fame, are not psychological needs at all. They may be extremely powerful organisers of our life activities, but they are not basic needs.

The integration of extrinsic values - that is, the balance between extrinsic and intrinsic values - is to a considerable extent influenced by parenting styles, as the research indicated.

Society, however, has just as big a role to play with its overwhelming emphasis on materialism crowding out a balance in the values of both children and adults making parents’ – and teachers’ – lives more difficult.

Drawn from Why We Do What We Do by Edward L Deci pp130-133.  Main researchers Ryan and Kasser, University of Rochester.

John Corrigan is an expert in helping individuals to bring their whole of mind to their daily life and increase their effectiveness and the effectiveness of those around them. This expertise scales from the individual to the team to the organisation. At the core of this work is the practice of encounter.

John Corrigan