The General Causality Orientations Scale (GCOS)

Purpose: To assess the strength of three different motivational orientations (autonomy, controlled, impersonal) within an individual.


Short description: 

This scale assesses the strength of three different motivational orientations within an individual. These orientations, labeled Autonomy, Controlled, and Impersonal, are understood as relatively enduring aspects of personality, and each orientation is theorized to exist within each individual to some degree. There are three subscales to the measure, and a person gets a score on each subscale:

  • 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 tends to display greater self-initiation, seek activities 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 the directives of others. A person high on the controlled orientation is 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 U.S., at least, a person high in the controlled orientation is likely to place extreme importance on wealth, fame, and other extrinsic factors.
  • 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 have no sense of being able to affect outcomes or cope with demands or changes. They tend to be motivated and to want things to be as they always were.

Two forms:

  • 12 vignettes with 3 responses each (36 items total)  
  • 17 vignettes with 3 responses each (51 items total)

Sample questions: Not available

Paid or free: Free? Must have an account to download.

Reliability/validity measures: “The original scale is well validated and has been widely used.”

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.

Setting: Open


  • Individuals
  • Instructors
  • Students
  • Coworkers
  • Supervisors

Type of measurement: Vignettes followed by 3 responses on a 7-point Likert scale

Possible uses: 

  • Personal growth
  • Goal setting
  • Educational
  • Workplace professional development

Ease of implementation: Easy to administer, time-consuming to answer because of the vignettes

Advantages: Available in French


  • Intended only for individuals 17+ years old
  • Two different forms
  • Self-report

Studies this has been used in: Deci, E. L., & Ryan, R. M. (1985). The general causality orientations scale: Self-determination in personality. Journal of Research in Personality, 19, 109-134.


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