Date Approved


Date Posted


Degree Type

Open Access Dissertation

Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)

Department or School


Committee Member

Alissa Huth-Bocks, Ph.D.

Committee Member

Karen Saules, Ph.D., Chair

Committee Member

Denise Marie Tanguay, Ph.D.

Committee Member

Amy Young, Ph.D.


The concept of autonomy, as conceptualized by SDT researchers, in relationship to the development of psychopathology has received little empirical attention. According to Selfdetermination theory (SDT; Ryan, Deci, & Grolnick, 1995), if parents facilitate, rather than undermine, the critical parenting dimensions of autonomy support, involvement, and structure, then children will develop as psychologically healthy adults. In addition, SDT would also predict that based on these critical parenting dimensions, children will develop differential inner motivational orientations (i.e., autonomy, control, and impersonal) representing varying degrees of autonomy (i.e., self determined behavior), which in turn should predict psychological distress or health. To test these theoretical relationships, this study, in a sample of college students (n= 261), investigated the direct effects of parental autonomy support and involvement and the mediating effects of autonomy, control, and impersonal orientations on psychological distress. Overall, parental autonomy support and involvement was found to have a direct (positive) effect on an autonomous orientation and direct (negative) effects on control and impersonal orientations. In addition, an impersonal orientation mediated the relationship to psychological distress. Results suggest that understanding how motivational orientations contribute to psychological distress may provide an opportunity for SDT-guided interventions to be developed to assist individuals to adhere to treatment and increase motivation for treatment.