General motivations, basic psychological needs, and problem gambling: applying the framework of Self-Determination Theory

Devin J. Mills, Wen Li Anthony, Lia Nower

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

15 Scopus citations


Background: Research into problem gambling has established that the addiction results from a complex array of bio-psycho-social factors. The range of factors, however, has yet to be comprehensively identified. Applications of Self-Determination Theory (SDT) have shown that specific characteristics are associated with problem gambling, including users’ susceptibility to external pressures and a general lack volition in their actions. Additionally, SDT research has found that the frustration of basic psychological needs (i.e. competence, autonomy, and relatedness) is associated with behavioral addictions (e.g. video gaming, exercise dependence). A primary proposal of SDT is that individual characteristics will contribute to maladaptive outcomes through an increased frustration of these needs. This specific proposal has not yet been examined in the context of problem gambling. Purpose: The present study assesses an SDT-derived model of problem gambling. Methods: An online sample of gamblers from Amazon’s Mechanical Turk (N = 887; 58.9% female, M = 33.871 years; SD = 9.770) completed a battery of assessments. Results: Results from a structural equation model largely supported the underlying assumptions of SDT. Specifically, increased susceptibility to external pressures and perceptions of lower control over choice were associated with greater frustration of basic needs, which, in turn, contributed to problem gambling and subsequently to psychological distress. Notably, gamblers were particularly vulnerable to problem gambling if they perceived little to no choice in governing their actions. Conclusions: The implications for theory and practice as well as future directions for research are discussed.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)175-182
Number of pages8
JournalAddiction Research and Theory
Issue number2
StatePublished - 2021


  • Gambling
  • Self-Determination Theory
  • basic psychological needs
  • mental health
  • motivation
  • problem gambling


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