Self-determination theory (SDT) posits that experiences of autonomy lead people to be more prosocial, whereas experiences of control lead to antisocial actions. In this meta-analysis, we tested the links between autonomy and prosociality and control and antisociality, across 139 reports (167 studies) with 1,189 effect sizes (N = 75,546 participants). We used two-stage structural equation modeling including both correlational and longitudinal study designs. We found support for the hypothesized direct links between autonomy and prosociality and between control and antisociality, with cross-paths between these constructs being weaker. In line with SDT’s claims that the salutary effects of autonomy are universal, results also showed that the hypothesized links were consistent across cultures, genders, and age categories. We also reviewed emerging experimental research on the effect of autonomy-priming interventions on prosociality. To conclude, we discuss the theoretical and practical implications of these findings and lay out an agenda for future research.
- Self-determination theory