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General Causality Orientations Scale (GCOS)

This scale is derived from Self-Determination Theory (Deci & Ryan, 1985). It is intended to assess the strength of three different motivational orientations within an individual. These orientations, labelled Autonomy, Controlled, and Impersonal, are understood as relatively enduring aspects of personality, and each is theorized to exist within each individual to a greater or lesser extent. There are three subscales to this measure, and a person gets a score on each.

The Autonomy Orientation assesses the extent to which a person is oriented toward aspects of the environment that stimulate intrinsic motivation, are optimally challenging, and provide informational feedback. A person high in autonomy orientation (relative to others) is likely to display greater self- initiation, seek jobs that are interesting and challenging, and take greater responsibility for his or her own behavior.

The Controlled Orientation assesses the extent to which a person is oriented toward being controlled by rewards, deadlines, structures, ego-involvements, and other people’s directives. People high on the controlled orientation are likely to be dependent on rewards or other controls, and may be more attuned to what others demand than to what they want for themselves. In the US, at least, a person high in the controlled orientation is likely to place extreme importance on pay, benefits, and other extrinsic aspects of work.

The Impersonal Orientation assesses the extent to which a person believes that attaining desired outcomes is beyond his or her control and that achievement is largely a matter of luck or fate. People high on this orientation are likely to be anxious and to feel very ineffective. They are likely to want things to be as they always were, because these people have no sense of being able to affect outcomes or cope with demands or changes.

The Scale

The GCOS (Deci & Ryan, 1985a) is available in two forms (12 and 17 vignettes) both of which are included in this packet below.

The original scale that is well validated and have been widely used consists of 12 vignettes and 36 items. Each vignette describes a typical social or achievement oriented situation (e.g., applying for a job or interacting with a friend) and is followed by three types of responses–an autonomous, a controlled, and an impersonal type. Respondents indicate, on 7-point Likert-type scales, the extent to which each response is typical for them. Higher scores indicate higher amounts of the particular orientation represented by the response. Thus, the scale has three subscales–the autonomy, the controlled, and the impersonal subscales–and subscale scores are generated by summing the individual’s 12 responses on items corresponding to each subscale.A description of the 12-vignette version of the scale construction appears in Deci and Ryan (1985) along with data that support the instrument’s reliability and validity. For example, the scale has been shown to be reliable, with Cronbach alphas of about 0.75 and a test- retest coefficient of 0.74 over two months, and to correlate as expected with a variety of theoretically related constructs.

There is also a 17-vignette version (with 51 items) of the scale. It has the original 12 vignettes and the original 36 items. However, 5 vignettes and 15 items (5 autonomy, 5 controlled, and 5 impersonal) have

been added. The new vignettes and items are all about social-interactions because the original vignettes were heavily oriented toward achievement situations. The new vignettes with their items are scattered throughout, so the order of items is not the same in the two versions of the GCOS. The 17-vignette version has been used successfully in various studies (e.g., Hodgins, Koestner, & Duncan, 1996).


Main Questionnaire


12-vignette version

(1985) Journal of Research in Personality

The general causality orientations scale: Self-determination in personality

Deci, E. L. Ryan, R. M.

17-vignette version

(1996) Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin

On the compatibility of autonomy and relatedness

Hodgins, H. S. Koestner, R. Duncan, N.

Validation Articles

(1987) Canadian Journal of Behavioral Science

L'echelle des Orientations Generales a la Causalite: Validation Canadienne Francaise du General Causality Orientations scale

Vallerand, R. J. Blais, M. R. Lacouture, Y. Deci, E. L.

(2015) Psychiatry Research

Assessing motivation orientations in schizophrenia: Scale development and validation

Cooper, S. Lavaysse, L. M. Gard, D. E.

(2001) Journal of Sports Sciences

The development and initial validation of the Exercise Causality Orientations Scale

Rose, E.A. Markland, D. A. Parfitt, G.

(2011) Personality and Individual Differences

General causality orientations are distinct from but related to dispositional traits

Olesen, M., H.

(2019) Asia-Pacific Psychiatry

Validation of the Chinese version General Causality Orientation Scale-Clinical Population and causality orientations assessing in major depressions

Lei, W. Liu, K. Li, N. Liang, X. Xiang, B. Huang, C. Zhang, J. Zheng, X. Chen, J.

Key Articles Using Questionnaires


Sport, physical activity, and physical education

Ryan, R. M. Deci, E. L.

(1989) Journal of Personality and Social Psychology

Perceived locus of causality and internalization: Examining reasons for acting in two domains

Ryan, R. M. Connell, J. P.

(1992) Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin

Self-regulation and consistency between attitudes, traits, and behaviors

Koestner, R. Bernieri, F. Zuckerman, M.