Costs and Benefits of Autonomy When Learning a Task: An Experimental Approach

Etty G A Wielenga-Meijer, Toon W. Taris, Daniël H J Wigboldus, Michiel A J Kompier

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleAcademicpeer-review


Previous findings suggested that the positive relationship between autonomy and learning outcomes (such as improved task performance) only holds up until a certain optimum level of autonomy has been reached. This assumption was investigated in an experimental study where 95 participants had to learn a computer task. During the learning phase, we manipulated autonomy, distinguishing among no, moderate, and full autonomy. The results revealed that, when learning a task, having autonomy is preferred to having no autonomy. However, increases in autonomy beyond a certain level (i.e., full versus moderate autonomy) will not yield additional advantages regarding the motivation to learn and learning outcomes, and may have disadvantages in terms of learning efficiency.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)292-313
Number of pages22
JournalJournal of Social Psychology
Issue number3
Publication statusPublished - 1 May 2011


  • autonomy
  • exploration
  • learning
  • motivation
  • task performance


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