A Mixed-Methods Study of Perceived Academic Autonomy in Japanese Students and Its Relations to Their Motivation

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Numerous studies link intrinsic motivation to positive outcomes such as increased cognitive engagement, task persistence, achievement, and creativity (Ryan & Deci, 2000a). In Self-Determination Theory (SDT), Ryan and Deci (2002) propose that high autonomy, or perceiving that one is the origin of one's own behavior, is a necessary component of high intrinsic motivation. Significantly, in SDT, this relation is claimed to be universal. Studies in Western cultures show that when teachers support students' autonomy, the students show higher intrinsic motivation and achievement (Reeve, 2002). This study investigated academic autonomy in Japanese children, as little work has been done in different cultures to test the claim that autonomy is universal. Some research contradicts the universality notion by suggesting that in Japan autonomy may not be an important factor in students' motivation (e.g., Markus & Kitayama, 1991). The current study uses a mixed-methods design to address this issue.

Initially, interviews were conducted with 30 5th and 6th grade Japanese students to address the validity of the Self-Regulation Questionnaire-Academic Domain (SRQ-A; Ryan & Connell, 1989), a frequently used measure of perceived autonomy that asks students why they do academic activities. Japanese students mentioned several reasons that were not on the SRQ-A. Therefore, new items were developed to create the Japanese SRQ-A (J-SRQ-A). Next, 179 Japanese 5th and 6th grade students completed the SRQ-A and 208 completed the J-SRQ-A. Exploratory factor analyses showed that the degree of autonomy associated with reasons for certain academic behaviors may be different for Japanese than western students, raising questions about the universality of autonomy. Confirmatory factor analyses showed that a respecified model using the J-SRQ-A provided the best model fit when compared to models using the original SRQ-A, providing further evidence that the structure of autonomy is not universal. Correlations among scales representing differing levels of autonomy were similar to those found in previous research. Positive correlations between autonomy and intrinsic motivation were similar in strength to those in previous research, indicating some support for the SDT claim that autonomy's benefits are universal.