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Needs for autonomy, competence and relatedness shape people’s relationship with AI

Published on 10.8.2023
Tampere University
Nine small images with schematic representations of differently shaped neural networks, a human hand making a different gesture is placed behind each network.Image: Alexa Steinbrück / Better Images of AI / Explainable AI / CC-BY 4.0.
Basic psychological needs are linked to attitudes towards artificial intelligence. Based on a new study, people’s relationship with technology is determined by the extent to which they experience autonomy, competence and relatedness when using such technologies. Attitudes to AI were analysed in two studies in the field of social psychology conducted at Tampere University in Finland.

The researchers conducted two surveys on human-technology interactions, one of which was had two parts. Study 1 comprised some 8,800 18–75-year-old respondents in six European countries: Finland, France, Germany, Ireland, Italy and Poland.

In Study 1, both positive and negative relationships with artificial intelligence were associated with the fulfilment of basic psychological needs by technologies. Especially a sense of competence and relatedness shaped people’s positive relationship with AI. Among the Finnish respondents, autonomy in technology use was also an important factor explaining their positive attitudes.

Study 2 was a longitudinal two-wave study that examined the relationship of 18–80-year-old Finns (N=827) with artificial intelligence. The researchers found that an increase in autonomy and relatedness was associated with an increase in AI positivity and a decrease in AI negativity. The study also used several social and psychological background variables that influence attitudes over time.

“Through the longitudinal setting with two measurement times, we were able to examine changes in perceived autonomy and competence. This means that people who experience more fulfilment of these psychological needs also experience more positivity and less negativity towards AI,” says Jenna Bergdahl, the first author of the research article.

Knowledge about attitudes can guide us to use technology better

Social psychological research posits that when basic psychological needs are met, they affect an individual's intrinsic motivation, satisfaction, and well-being. A modern classical theory of social psychology – self-determination theory – gave Tampere University’s researchers a framework that has explanatory power over technology attitudes.

There is no previous longitudinal and comparative research on attitudes to AI and basic psychological needs, making this study the first to delve directly into the association of basic psychological needs with people’s attitudes towards artificial intelligence.

Because of the current AI boom, the need for research on people’s attitudes and perceptions of AI is considerable.

“People have both hopes and fears about artificial intelligence. Understanding different attitudes to AI can lead to a more versatile and efficient use and utilisation of these technologies,” Bergdahl continues.

The principal investigator of the study, Professor of Social Psychology Atte Oksanen, emphasises that the country differences found in the study may open opportunities in the AI revolution.

“Even though the main results on basic psychological needs were rather similar in all six European countries, the Finnish respondents had more positive attitudes to AI than the other Europeans in the study. In the middle of the AI revolution, Finns may benefit from their more positive attitude towards artificial intelligence,” Oksanen points out.

The study was conducted as part of the Urban utopias and dystopias: artificial intelligence in art and society (UrbanAI) project. The researchers also used data collected in the Self & Technology project. Professor Oksanen leads both.

UrbanAI is funded by the Kone Foundation in the period of 2021–2024. UrbanAI combines the experimental traditions of social psychology and visual arts to envision urban utopias and dystopias. The researchers investigate the needs, hopes and fears people have about intelligent technologies and future scenarios. Self & Technology is Professor Oksanen’s project that involves six EU countries and concentrates on the ways emerging technologies affect the perceptions people have of themselves and their identities.

The research results were reported in:

Bergdahl, J., Latikka, R., Celuch, M., Savolainen, I., Soares Mantere, E., Savela, N., & Oksanen, A. (2023). Self-determination and attitudes toward artificial intelligence: Cross-national and longitudinal perspectives. Telematics & Informatics, Volume 82 (August), 102013,

Further information:

Professor Atte Oksanen
atte.oksanen [at]
+358 50 318 7279

Researcher Jenna Bergdahl
jenna.bergdahl [at]