In pretty much every country around the world, there is a road rule that compels drivers to pull over or move out of the way of an approaching emergency ambulance. There are, usually, very strict penalties for those who fail to comply. But these penalties are almost completely redundant. Why? Well, has this thought ever crossed your mind: ‘Ah, there’s an ambulance coming up behind me with its lights flashing. I’d better pull aside because I fear I might get a $400 fine.’ No. You have never had that thought. You’re not afraid of the penalty. You pull over and follow the road rule because it’s a good rule! You want to follow the rule, regardless of the potential fine. It’s a rule that makes sense. And so we act autonomously, of our own volition to follow the rule.
This sense of volition, of adhering to a regulation, norm, parameter, or rule voluntarily – even when we don’t control the rule itself – is one of the fundamental components of intrinsic human motivation.
Nearly 50 years of research into student motivation has identified that a sense of autonomy is a universal psychological need that has a powerful impact on learning and social outcomes. Importantly, autonomy is not about independence or freedom. In fact, the most effective classroom environments are those that are highly structured and highly autonomous. In other words, great teachers set up tight parameters, and clear values and behavioural expectations. And the students endorse these boundaries with their inherent, ‘natural’ behaviours. They follow the rules because they like them and because they make sense…just like the ambulance rule.
Is it predominantly fear or volition that motivates people in your environment to follow the rules?