The term autonomy literally means “self-governing” and thus connotes regulation by the self (auto). Its opposite, heteronomy, refers to regulation by “otherness” (heteron) and thus by forces “other than,” or alien to, the self. In short, autonomy concerns the extent to which a person's acts are self-determined instead of being coerced or compelled.

Within the field of psychology, the concept of autonomy is both central and controversial. Autonomy is central in that developmental (child), personality, and clinical psychologists have long considered autonomy to be a hallmark of maturation and healthy or optimal functioning. It is controversial in that the concept of autonomy is often confused with concepts such as independence, separateness, and free will, generating debates concerning its relevance and import across periods of development, gender, ...

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