4.4 Agency, autonomy, motivation, appraisal

{Section under construction}

The concepts of agency, autonomy, motivation, appraisal (of the environment), and (basic) mind-states are all intimately connected and are best understood in context of each other. This section addresses the first four of these concepts concisely. The next section addresses the four basic states of mind.


Agency is the ability to be a source of self-selected and self-initiated activities (behavior). But to initiate an activity the agent must first to be motivated to do so. And to be motivated entails that the agent has somehow appraised the environment in terms of behaviors afforded or necessitated. And to select and execute these behaviors to realize the intended outcome, the agent needs facilitating mind-states that match real-world dynamics. This sequence entails that the concepts of agency, motivation, appraisal (of the environment), and mind-states are intimately connected.


In the context of agency, the term self-empowerment refers to all activities that give an agent more control over its own destiny, i.e., the autonomy in the sense of being free from external control and able to shape and co-create its environment. Self-empowerment therefore leads to a change of the both the perceived and the actual locus of causality from the environment (or agent therein) to the agent itself and from realizing small-scale intended outcomes to realizing large-scale intended outcomes.

Note that this is a richer definition of autonomy than is usual in Western societies. Erica Fox Brindley, who studies the intellectual and cultural history of early China (500 BC to 200 AD), wrote a book on individualism in early China (for a summary see [Brindley, 2011]), which provides a rich description of the roles of agency, autonomy, and authority as the right hemisphere might understand these. She writes for example [Brindley, 2010tl, p xxvii-xxviii] p xxvii-xxviii}:

Earlier Chinese forms of individualism do not generally focus on the radical autonomy of the individual, but rather on the holistic integration of the empowered individual with forces and authorities in his or her surroundings (family, society, and cosmos). For early Chinese thinkers, there is no such thing as unfettered autonomy or freedom of will, in line with Kantian notions of the self. While such concepts are considered problematic even in some Western traditions they nonetheless constitute a core strand of thought that continues to inform contemporary concepts of individualism. In contrast to such conceptualizations, there exists a relative and relational sort of autonomy in early Chinese contexts, a type of autonomy that grants individuals the freedom to make decisions for themselves and to shape the course of their own lives to the fullest degree that they can and should—all from within a complicated and rich system of interrelationships. This type of autonomy, in other words, grants authority to the individual to fulfill his or her potential as an “integrated individual”. The goal of such an individual is to achieve authoritativeness as a person while at the same time conforming to certain types of authority stemming from his or her larger environment.

Motivation researchers such as Ryan and Deci [1989] couple motivations directly to the perceived locus of causality (PLOC), which reflects the degree either the individual or some external authority or influence originates the behavior. It is a measure of autonomy and agency.

Motivation is simply the urge to do or to continue with something or the reasons to have this urge. The more autonomous the behavior, the more the urge is endorsed by the whole self and is experienced as action for which one is responsible [Deci, 1987]. This leads to a sequence of progressively more agentic motivations: ‘external’, ‘introjected’, ‘identified’, and ‘intrinsic’ reasons to act. According to Ryan {Ryan:1989hi} “external reasons were those where behavior is explained by reference to external authority, fear of punishment, or rule compliance”. Introjected reasons are framed in terms of “internal, esteem-based pressures to act, such as avoidance of guilt and shame or concerns about self and other-approval”. These are typically situation-enforced motivations with the aim to prevent a worse outcome associated with doing nothing. “Identifications were captured by reasons involving acting from one’s own values or goals, and typically took the form of ‘I want’." Through this identification the locus of causality shifts more and more to the agent. Intrinsic reasons for action occur whenever “the behavior is done ‘simply’ for its inherent enjoyment or for fun.”

More recently [Malhotra, 2008] ordered motivations in terms of intrinsic and extrinsic motivations that have an external or internal perceived locus of causality, and exogenous and endogenous motivation that reflect whether the behavior is driven either by external stimuli or by internal needs or drives. This resulted in four combinations of in-/extrinsic and exo-/endogenous motivations that dovetails very well with the four quadrants in Figure 3 (combining appraisal and core affect), the two modes of cognition in section 3.1, and the role of the two hemispheres described in section the two brain hemispheres. As such this allows us to combine many concepts addressed in this paper in a single framework, which is depicted in Table Mood, motivation, and mind-states.


  • Brindley, Erica. 2011. “Individualism in Classical Chinese Thought.” Internet Encyclopedia of Philosophy. http://www.iep.utm.edu/ind-chin/.

  • Brindley, Erica. 2010. “Individualism in Early China .” Search.Ebscohost.com. Honolulu: University of Hawai`i Press. http://search.ebscohost.com/login.aspx?direct=true&scope=site&db=nlebk&db=nlabk&AN=336258.

  • Ryan, Richard M, and James P Connell. 1989. “Perceived Locus of Causality and Internalization: Examining Reasons for Acting in Two Domains..” Journal of Personnel Psychology 57 (5): 749–761. doi:10.1037/0022–3514.57.5.749.

  • Deci, EL, and Richard M Ryan. 1987. “The Support of Autonomy and the Control of Behavior.” Journal of Personality and Social Psychology 53 (6) (January 1): 1024–1037.

  • Malhotra, Yogesh, Dennis F Galletta, and Laurie J Kirsch. 2008. “How Endogenous Motivations Influence User Intentions: Beyond the Dichotomy of Extrinsic and Intrinsic User Motivations.” Journal of Management Information Systems 25 (1): 267–300.