Headaches Linked to Reduced Psychological Need Satisfaction

woman on computer
woman on computer
Participants were asked to complete an online diary to record headache activity and needs satisfaction for a 3 week duration.

Reduced basic psychological need satisfaction, important factors for quality of life perception and encompassing autonomy, competence, and relatedness, was shown to be correlated with headache occurrence, according to a recent study published in the American Headache Society journal, Headache.

Daily online diary entries detailing headache occurrences and satisfaction of basic psychological needs were obtained from young adults (n=116) recruited during spring semester psychology courses for 3 weeks. Need satisfaction was compared between those who experienced headaches on that day and those who did not. As participants acted as their own control, participants who did not experience at least one headache during the 3-week timeframe were excluded from analysis.

Among participants, 12.1% met full diagnostic criteria for migraine, and 12.9% met full diagnostic criteria for tension-type headaches. Headache occurrence was associated with reduced satisfaction of competence and relatedness, but the association fell short of statistical significance for autonomy. Furthermore, as intensity of headache increased, the satisfaction of the basic needs decreased. Headache intensity was positively correlated with reduction in need satisfaction for competence, relatedness, and autonomy.

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The study investigators wrote, “Self-determination theory posits the satisfaction of the basic needs is essential to intrinsically driven goal pursuits and optimal psychological well-being, including higher quality of life.” They added, “These results further highlight the importance of self-efficacy and social support, analogous to the basic needs of competence and relatedness, respectively, as protective psychological factors in the experience of headache”.


Greene NR, Smith CV, Jewell DE, Smitherman TA. A diary study of basic psychological needs and daily headache experience [published online February, 7 2018]. Headache. doi: 10.1111/head.13273