Measuring Basic Need Satisfaction in University Students


There are over three decades of research suggesting that Self-Determination Theory is highly relevant for conceptualising wellbeing, particularly in university students (Ryan & Deci, 2017). Self-Determination Theory proposes that three basic psychological needs (i.e., needs for autonomy, competence and relatedness) must be satisfied for wellbeing and academic achievement to ensue. However, scales measuring need satisfaction and need frustration in a university setting are still being developed. This study aimed to investigate the psychometric properties of the Need Satisfaction and Need Frustration scale (Longo et al., 2016), and investigate the relationship between need satisfaction and frustration with other measures of wellbeing, illbeing and academic achievement.

Research Questions / Hypotheses

Our research questions were:

  1. Are the psychometric properties of basic need scales similar to those reported in studies with different contexts?
  2. How well do scores on basic need scales moderate the relationship between student wellbeing and university academic achievement?
  3. What is the relationship between need satisfaction at university and need satisfaction in general?


Participants were 341 first-year psychology students who were eighteen years old or older from the University of Melbourne. Most participants identified with one gender, which was female (77.7%) or male (21.7%), and two participants (0.6%) preferred not to say. No participants responded with alternative gender or genders. The mean age for participants was 19.90 years (SD = 4.46 years; range = 18 to 60 years). Most participants were studying full-time (94.4%; part-time = 5.6%) and in their first year of studies (83%). Forty two percent were international students and 58 percent were domestic students.


Participants completed an anonymous, 20 minute, online survey in their own time. Participants were asked to respond to demographic questions, to provide their weighted average mark (WAM) and to rate the effort they have expended on their studies so far. Participants then rated two measures of basic needs (one for a university setting and one for daily life), and four other measures of wellbeing, as well as measures on negative affect and psychological exhaustion. Measures used were: the Need Satisfaction and Frustration Scale (Longo et al., 2016) the Balanced Measure of Psychological Needs scales (Sheldon & Hilpert, 2012) the Warwick Edinburgh Mental Well- Being Scale (Clarke et al., 2011) the Scale of Positive and Negative Experience (Diener et al., 2010); the Vigour subscale from the Utrecht Work Engagement Scale for students (Schaufeli et al., 2002) the Exhaustion subscale from the Maslach Burnout Inventory- Student Survey (Schaufeli et al., 2002) the intrinsic motivation subscale of the Motivation at Work Scale (Gagne ́ et al. 2010) adapted for university students.


The results were consistent with previous research of student need satisfaction from other countries. The results showed that the Need Satisfaction and Need Frustration scale was a valid and reliable measure with this student cohort from the University of Melbourne, and need satisfaction positively correlated with wellbeing whereas need frustration positively correlated with illbeing. The results also showed need satisfaction/frustration at university was moderately correlated with need satisfaction/need frustration in daily life, which further supported the validity of the Need Satisfaction and Need Frustration scale. Lastly, the results showed that Relatedness Frustration and Competence Satisfaction positively predicted WAMs and effort expenditure, suggesting these needs were particularly important for this cohort in relation to academic achievement.


These results suggested that the Need Satisfaction and Need Frustration scale is a useful scale for measuring basic needs in university students, and by extension, for measuring university student wellbeing. Implications included using this scale to assess and monitor university student wellbeing and course engagement. While these results were limited to undergraduate psychology students, it extended on research conducted in other countries with undergraduates and high school students. Students from different faculties may demonstrate that other basic needs are important for academic success, but it appeared that competence and relatedness were import for this psychology student cohort. It is anticipated that these results will be published in an academic journal in 2022.