Psychological Needs and Psychological Connection to Sport Objects
Webster, Nikolas R. (author)
James, Jeffrey D. (Jeffrey Dalton) (professor directing dissertation)
Perrewe, Pamela L. (university representative)
Du, James (committee member)
Kim, Amy C. H. (Amy Chan Hyung) (committee member)
Florida State University (degree granting institution)
College of Education (degree granting college)
Department of Sport Management (degree granting department)
Over the last several decades, sport management and sport marketing scholars have studied individuals' psychological connection to sport objects. One of the prominent theories emerging from these efforts is the Psychological Continuum Model (Funk & James, 2001; 2006). The Psychological Continuum Model (PCM) has been used to help sport management scholars and industry professionals understand sport consumers' thoughts, attitudes, and behaviors; to provide a framework for understanding the formation of an individual's attachment to a sport object (e.g., team, athlete, brand, etc.). The PCM is divided into four stages of strengthening psychological connection along a continuum: Awareness, Attraction, Attachment, and Allegiance. However, scholars have not demonstrated the transitions between the stages of the PCM, or put another way, what drives movement along the PCM continuum. Scholars have not addressed how and why individuals internalize the sport object. I aimed to address this question in this dissertation. Self-Determination Theory (Deci & Ryan, 1985; Ryan & Deci, 2017) is a theory of internalization that is based on the assumption that humans possess innate, basic psychological needs (autonomy, competence, and relatedness). To the degree that extrinsic and intrinsic factors allow, humans strive to fulfill these innate needs through interaction with their environment. Self-Determination Theory (SDT) posits that humans integrate, or internalize, values and regulations to the degree that their psychological needs are fulfilled. In this dissertation, I aimed to incorporate SDT within the PCM to offer a new conceptualization of psychological connection that is based in innate, psychological needs. Qualitative inquiry is often used when generating new theory. Given the complexity of the present study, I conducted semi-structured interviews with sport consumers to explore whether attachment to sport objects is an outcome of the fulfillment of their innate psychological needs. Specifically, I discussed with participants their experiences with supporting and following sport objects (e.g., a sports team) and whether those experiences are driven and fulfilled by their intrinsic psychological needs of autonomy, competence, and relatedness. In conducting this research, I remained aware of my involvement with the research process; how my research goals (i.e., understanding how need fulfillment drives internalization within the context of sport consumption) may influence what is learned from participants' lived experiences. After analyzing interview transcripts, several themes emerged regarding autonomy fulfillment, relatedness fulfillment, and competence fulfillment within the context of spectator sport. Five themes emerged regarding autonomy fulfillment: (1) Live events and Stages of Life, (2) Access to Sport Objects, (3) Choosing Activities that Fulfill Psychological Needs, (4) Playing and Spectating Sport: The Relationship Between Felt Autonomy and Competence Fulfillment, and (5) Predictability, Consistency, and Search for Permanence. The first two themes (Life Events and Stages of Life & Access to Sport Objects) capture external factors and environmental conditions that influence an individual's felt volition. The three remaining themes (Choosing Activities that Fulfill Psychological Needs, Playing and Spectating Sports: The Relationship between Felt Autonomy and Competence, & Predictability, Consistency, and Search for Permanence) capture individuals' natural, innate drive to feel volition. From transcription analyses, five themes emerged regarding relatedness fulfillment: (1) Relatedness Fulfillment Creates Psychological Connections with Sport Objects, (2) Relatedness Fulfillment Strengthens Psychological Connections with Sport Objects, (3) Relatedness Fulfillment Maintains Psychological Connections with Sport Objects, (4) Fulfilling Volition and Belonging: The Underdog Narrative, and (5) Fulfilling the Need to Belong and the Need for Effectance: Relatedness and Competence. The first three themes demonstrate the notion that relatedness fulfillment creates, strengthens, and maintains psychological connections. The remaining two themes demonstrate the relationship between relatedness fulfillment and autonomy fulfillment as well as the relationship between relatedness fulfillment and competence fulfillment. The results section concludes by including results from the transcription analyses regarding competence fulfillment. Two themes emerged from participant interviews regarding competence fulfillment: (1) The Learning Process: Understanding Strategy, Skill, Tactics, and Other Elements of Sport Objects and (2) Sport Objects Providing Competence Fulfillment by Producing Feelings of Effectance. Findings within this study align with a central tenant of SDT, that autonomy fulfillment occurs prior to the fulfillment of relatedness and competence. In other words, in order for individuals to feel a sense of belonging or experience feelings of effectance, they must first feel volition. Within the context of the PCM, autonomy fulfillment, relatedness fulfillment, and competence fulfillment collectively contribute to an individual's progression from Awareness to Allegiance. Individuals become aware of sport objects due to socialization (relatedness) and become attracted to sport objects through developing a preference for a sport object (autonomy), significant others (relatedness), and/or learning about a sport object (competence). Individuals progress into higher stages of connection (Attachment and Allegiance) through continued psychological need fulfillment, such as bonding with others (relatedness) and experiencing feelings of effectance (competence). Concerning SDT and the PCM, the notion of cognitive complexity is addressed in the final chapter of this dissertation. Specifically, cognitive complexity has been previously discussed within higher forms of connection (Allegiance), however, findings from this study suggest that the phenomenon occurs despite the presence of sport objects. Further, past research on psychological connection has delineated resistance to change in terms of competence fulfillment. However, findings from this research suggest that both autonomy and relatedness fulfillment influence an individual's resistance to change his or her psychological connection with a sport object. This research advances our understanding of psychological connection; one that considers how both biological and psychological factors as well as cultural and social conditions can contribute to the fulfillment of psychological needs, influencing the internalization process. This research should be of interest to those who are concerned with areas in sport such as consumer behavior, fandom, and loyalty development. However, there are several limitations of this study, including the cross-sectional nature of the research, issues surrounding the PCM staging mechanism, and the lack of generalizability of the findings. Future research stemming from this work should focus on developing quantitative measures that capture the concepts outlined in this study, specifically regarding psychological need fulfillment within the context of spectator sport. Additionally, based on findings from this study, scholars should continue to research the role of involvement within the PCM, specifically how both involvement and psychological need fulfillment contribute to one's psychological connection with a sport object. Finally, future research should explore the intersection of autonomy fulfillment and sport as a form of escape. The purpose of this research was to explore whether psychological need fulfillment influences one's psychological connection with a sport object. Based on the findings from this study, autonomy fulfillment, relatedness fulfillment, and competence fulfillment contribute to the strengthening of an individual's psychological connection with a sport object.
consumer behavior, internalization, psychological connection, Psychological Continuum Model, psychological needs, Self-Determination Theory
July 1, 2021.
A Dissertation submitted to the Department of Sport Management in partial fulfillment of the requirements for the degree of Doctor of Philosophy.
Includes bibliographical references.
Jeffrey D. James, Professor Directing Dissertation; Pamela L. Perrewé, University Representative; W. James Du, Committee Member; Amy C. H. Kim, Committee Member.
Florida State University