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Nature And Autonomy: An Organizational View Of Social And Neurobiological Aspects Of Self-regulation In Behavior And Development

RICHARD M. RYAN, JULIUS KUHL, EDWARD L. DECI

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The concepts of self-regulation and autonomy are examined within an organizational framework. We begin by retracing the historical origins of the organizational viewpoint in early debates within the field of biology between vitalists and reductionists, from which the construct of self-regulation emerged. We then consider human autonomy as an evolved behavioral, developmental, and experiential phenomenon that operates at both neurobiological and psychological levels and requires very specific supports within higher order social organizations. We contrast autonomy or true self-regulation with controlling regulation (a nonautonomous form of intentional behavior) in phenomenological and functional terms, and we relate the forms of regulation to the developmental processes of intrinsic motivation and internalization. Subsequently, we describe how self-regulation versus control may be characterized by distinct neurobiological underpinnings, and we speculate about some of the adaptive advantages that may underlie the evolution of autonomy. Throughout, we argue that disturbances of autonomy, which have both biological and psychological etiologies, are central to many forms of psychopathology and social alienation.