The "Balanced Measure of Psychological Needs" scale: a helpful contribution to self-determination and wellbeing assessment
Last updated on 13th February 2017
I'm a big fan of Self-Determination Theory (S-DT). For me it's one of the best ways into understanding flourishing and wellbeing. I use the ideas all the time in my work and in my life. The fine S-DT website at Rochester University in the States gives vast amounts more information. I've mentioned S-DT many times in this blog - see for example the post "Self determination theory" from five years ago that gives links to the slides of a lecture I gave on S-DT and a whole bunch of relevant handouts.
S-DT proposes that wellbeing is strongly determined by how well we satisfy key psychological needs for Autonomy, Competence & Relatedness. The Rochester University website provides links to many relevant questionnaires but there doesn't seem to have been a particularly good general scale assessing how well these basic needs are being satisfied in our lives. I've missed this and would definitely find a good, relevant questionnaire useful both personally and in my work as a psychotherapist.
Happily Sheldon & Hilpert have just published the article "The balanced measure of psychological needs (BMPN) scale: An alternative domain general measure of need satisfaction". The abstract reads "Psychological need constructs have received increased attention within self-determination theory research. Unfortunately, the most widely used need-satisfaction measure, the Basic Psychological Needs Scale (BPNS; Gagné in Motiv Emot 27:199–223, 2003), has been found to be problematic (Johnston and Finney in Contemp Educ Psychol 35:280–296, 2010). In the current study, we formally describe an alternate measure, the Balanced Measure of Psychological Needs (BMPN). We explore the factor structure of student responses to both the BPNS and the BMPN, followed by an empirical comparison of the BPNS to the BMPN as predictors of relevant outcomes. For both scales, we tested a model specifying three latent need factors (autonomy, competence, and relatedness) and two latent method factors (satisfaction and dissatisfaction). By specifying and comparing a series of nested confirmatory factor analytic models, we examine the theoretical structure of the need satisfaction variables and produce evidence for convergent and discriminant validity of the posited constructs. The results of our examination suggest that the three need variables should not be combined into one general need factor and may have separate satisfaction and dissatisfaction dimensions. Our model comparisons also suggest the BMPN may be an improved instrument for SDT researchers."
Great ... and what makes it even better is that the full 18-item scale is given in the research article. Try it out. How do you score? Despite reading extensively around this area, I haven't found good data on typical scores yet. Students seem to do well on Relatedness and less well on Autonomy and Competence. Flourishing involves high aggregate satisfaction scores for all three of these needs, and this has huge implications for making good life choices.
For more background, see Sheldon & Gunz's 2009 article "Psychological needs as basic motives, not just experiential requirements" with its abstract reading "Self-determination theory (SDT) posits 3 evolved psychological needs, for autonomy, competence, and relatedness. Considerable research has established that all 3 experiences are important for well-being. However, no SDT research has examined whether unmet needs have motivational force, an important criterion for establishing that certain experiences are indeed basic needs and motives (R. F. Baumeister & M. R. Leary, 1995). Three studies, using cross-sectional, experimental, and longitudinal methodologies, supply evidence that felt deficits in autonomy, competence, and relatedness arouse corresponding desires to acquire the missing experiences. However, a positive surfeit of felt-need satisfaction did not predict reduced desires for the corresponding needs. Implications for homeostatic, evolutionary, and humanistic perspectives upon basic psychological needs are discussed"; and also Sheldon et al's 2012 study "Persistent pursuit of need-satisfying goals leads to increased happiness: A 6-month experimental longitudinal study" with its abstract "University-based community members (N=181) participated in a four-wave, 6-month longitudinal experiment designed to increase treatment participants' happiness levels. Participants were randomly assigned to set goals either to improve their life circumstances (comparison condition) or to increase their feelings of autonomy, competence, or relatedness in life (treatment conditions). We hypothesized that sustained gains in happiness would be observed only in the three treatment conditions, and that even these gains would last only when there was continuing goal engagement. Results supported these predictions and the sustainable happiness model on which they were based (Lyubomirsky et al. in Rev Gen Psychol 9:111-131, 2005). Furthermore, participants with initial positive attitudes regarding happiness change obtained larger benefits. We conclude that maintained happiness gains are possible, but that they require both "a will and a proper way" (Lyubomirsky et al. in Becoming happier takes both a will and a proper way: two experimental longitudinal interventions to boost well-being, 2009)."