Author ORCID Identifier

Date Available


Year of Publication


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)

Document Type

Doctoral Dissertation




Educational, School, and Counseling Psychology

First Advisor

Kenneth M. Tyler

Second Advisor

Peggy S. Keller


The early college years represent an adjustment period characterized by motivational destabilization and academic and career-related uncertainty for many STEM majors (Robinson et al., 2019). Although students who begin college less academically prepared than their peers are at greater risk of struggling in introductory STEM courses, many still struggle in these courses despite adequate academic preparation (Perez et al., 2014). Self-determination theory proposes that motivation, optimal functioning, and psychological well-being occur through the satisfaction, as opposed to the frustration, of three basic psychological needs for autonomy, competence, and relatedness (Ryan & Deci, 2020). Although many studies in educational settings demonstrate the positive outcomes associated with need satisfaction, little is known about need frustration and how it may be experienced simultaneously with need satisfaction within the same learning context. Therefore, this study aims to examine individual differences in basic psychological need satisfaction and frustration as possible mechanisms underlying variation in STEM student motivation, psychological adjustment, and intentions to persist.

Specifically, in these two studies, profiles are defined at both the beginning and end of the semester based on satisfaction and frustration of students’ needs for autonomy, competence, and relatedness while simultaneously examining their associations with students’ perceptions of the learning environment, motivation, psychological adjustment, and intentions to persist in STEM.

Three distinct profiles of students’ satisfaction and frustration of basic psychological needs were identified at each time point in the academic semester. Profile characteristics were similar at each time point yet varied in size. One profile was characterized by need frustration prevailing over need satisfaction. A second characterized by need satisfaction prevailing over need frustration. The third profile was characterized by moderate levels of both satisfaction and frustration. The moderately satisfied and frustrated profiles were the largest groups at both time points. Furthermore, perceptions of the learning environment predicted profile membership and need profile membership was associated with distinct motivational, psychological adjustment, and academic outcomes at each time point. Implications of these profiles in understanding variation in motivation, persistence, and student well-being for STEM students are discussed.

Digital Object Identifier (DOI)