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Why We Do What We Do: Understanding Self-Motivation Paperback – August 1, 1996

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Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

Univ. of Rochester psychology professor Deci and Flaste, former science and health editor for the New York Times, here compile decades of experimentation and research on human motivation conducted by Deci and his colleagues. The product is an insightful and provocative meditation on how people can become more genuinely engaged and successful in pursuing their goals?in school, the workplace and relationships. Concerned with what makes people want to succeed, Deci conducted extensive studies demonstrating that when subjects are encouraged to pursue a task for its own sake, they do it better and enjoy it more than those told to do it for a reward or informed that they will be punished if they don't do it correctly. These results lead to his conclusion?amply illustrated through anecdotal and scholarly evidence?that authoritarian motivational strategies such as the reward/punishment systems commonly used in American schools and businesses alienate people from their work, make them less productive and leave them less fulfilled. Deci calls for "autonomy-supportive" behavior from those in positions of authority to encourage motivation emanating from within.
Copyright 1995 Reed Business Information, Inc. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

About the Author

Edward L. Deci, Ph.D., professor of pyschology at the University of Rochester, is director of its human motivation program.
Richard Flaste, former Science and Health Editor of The New York Times, led the team that won the Pulitzer Prize for national reporting in 1987.

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Product Details

  • Paperback: 240 pages
  • Publisher: Penguin Books; Reprint edition (August 1, 1996)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0140255265
  • ISBN-13: 978-0140255263
  • Product Dimensions: 5 x 0.4 x 7.7 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 5.6 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.4 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (50 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #31,263 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

163 of 175 people found the following review helpful By Boris Bangemann on June 1, 2003
Format: Paperback
Few things are harder to understand than why we do what we do. In fact, most psychologists would agree that it is virtually impossible for a person to understand his or her own motivation - and consequently that it is not possible to understand the full scope of motivation of another person. Therefore it would be asking too much from this book to give an answer to the question why we do what we do.
What the book does is summarize findings in the psychology of self-determination and intrinsic motivation, the main fields of research of the author, who has published two books on this subject previously.
Deci starts from the position that individuals have something that can be called a "true self," and that people wish to act in accord with this "true self." They wish to be autonomous (authentic) rather than controlled. If they act autonomously (authentically), they are self-motivated. If they act autonomously, they also respect others because the "true self" wishes to be related to others (a point on which Aristoteles would have agreed, and Thomas Hobbes would have strongly disagreed). Deci assumes that human beings are cooperative by nature, rather than competitive.
The "true self," of course, is an artificial construct, a theory. And even if we assume that there is such a "true self," it is conceivable that there are people whose "true self" is competitive as well as people whose "true self" is cooperative. Some people may simply enjoy open confrontations whereas other people may abhor disharmony and clashes. Deci's book is mostly silent about such issues of personality, and his assumption that the "true self" is expressive of human connectedness is just that - a very general assumption.
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45 of 49 people found the following review helpful By A Customer on December 29, 1998
Format: Paperback
This book will be a great addition to any teachers, managers, or parents bookshelves. It explores the psychology of intrinsic (vs. extrinsic) motivation and shows how supervisors, and other people in "one-up" positions, can be more than managers, but true leaders who foster autonomous, authentic growth and responsible decision-making in their subordinates. A must read for anyone who recognizes the lack of responsiblity and accountability in people today and would like to foster positive change in our schools, our companies, and our society.
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16 of 18 people found the following review helpful By John Chancellor TOP 500 REVIEWERVINE VOICE on August 31, 2006
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
If you are a teacher, parent or manager this book has extremely valuable information that will help you make improvements in the manner you relate to your students, children or employees.

The book is well written, easy to read, with examples of case studies a layman can easily understand. It was written by a professional but specifically written for the average reader. I found that refreshing. So many professionals write to satisfy their peers that they lose the average reader.

Deci advances some ideas that are contrary to the conventional wisdom of getting the most from employees. However his ideas are very compelling and sound.

For example, our system of rewards tries to control a person's behavior. The results of one of the case studies showed that when the rewards were offered with an intent of controlling behavior it sabotaged the desired results.

The only motivation that actually works long term is intrinsic motivation. Deci points out ways that we can foster intrinsic motivation. Unfortunately most of our efforts foster extrinsic motivation using either rewards or threats. Remove the rewards or the threats and the motivation disappears.

While it is well written and contains many valuable lessons, for most readers it will be a new way of thinking and will require periodic reinforcement.
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12 of 13 people found the following review helpful By Passionate Therapist on October 20, 2012
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
Deci very eloquently and thoroughly makes his main point, which is that humans thrive when they make their own decisions without any pressure, coaxing, or reward. Creativity and satisfaction in life requires autonomy. Reward, punishment, and pressure destroy creativity and breeds defiance, open or covert. In addiction studies this basic truth is incorporated into the technique of motivational interviewing. Deci is well backed by myriad studies, some of his own design, that demonstrate just that. Clearly, the nagging or helicopter styles of parenting (or social welfare work) backfires. Anyone who does not already believe so should read this work. There are suggestions for work groups as well.

However, this occurs on the highest or most surface level of motivation. From the title, I expected a deeper, more complex work examining the many layers of motivation, internal and external, conscious and unconscious, biological and psychological. This book is not so much a psychological study as a sociological or philosophical one. The author seems to work backwards from a strong stance of egalitarianism (which in psychology is called humanism), finding an area of social psychology research that affirms that stance strongly. That is, he talks both about how he thinks things should be, and how they are. he mixes an aspirational point of view with an empirical one. Humanism tends to simplistically insist on sameness as a condition of justice. Where he does find evidence of difference, such as gender differences (in one study women were discernibly more demotivated by ambiguous praise than men) rather than get enormously curious and study the difference, he goes on to modify experimental conditions so that this difference disappears! Is that true science or is that politics? Influence over others is treated as intrinsically bad (rather than just risky for misuse) The topic of leadership, authority, legitimate inducement have no natural take off point from his thesis.
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