The path taken: Consequences of attaining intrinsic and extrinsic aspirations in post-college life

Christopher P. Niemiec, Richard M. Ryan, Edward L. Deci

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

300 Scopus citations


Life goals, or aspirations, organize and direct behavior over extended periods of time. The current study, guided by self-determination theory, examined the consequences of pursuing and attaining aspirations over a 1-year period in a post-college sample. Results indicated that placing importance on either intrinsic or extrinsic aspirations related positively to attainment of those goals. Yet, whereas attainment of intrinsic aspirations related positively to psychological health, attainment of extrinsic aspirations did not; indeed, attainment of extrinsic aspirations related positively to indicators of ill-being. Also as predicted, the association between change in attainment of intrinsic aspirations and change in psychological health was mediated by change in the satisfaction of the basic psychological needs for autonomy, competence, and relatedness. Discussion focuses on the idea that not all goal attainment is beneficial; rather, attainment of aspirations with different contents relates differentially to psychological health.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)291-306
Number of pages16
JournalJournal of Research in Personality
Issue number3
StatePublished - Jun 2009

Bibliographical note

Funding Information:
This research was supported in part by a grant from the National Institute of Mental Health (MH-53385), for which the second author was the PI.


  • Goal attainment
  • Intrinsic and extrinsic aspirations
  • Need satisfaction
  • Psychological health
  • Self-determination theory


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