Hunger | Sexuality | Optimal Environment and Characteristics for Motivation | Theories and Types of Motivation
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Motivation is what allows us to make the everyday decisions required for survival. Without some sort of motivation, we as humans would simply stop functioning. There is still a great deal of speculation concerning why we do what we do. Several theories of motivation and emotion attempt to address said speculation, but much still remains shrouded in mystery. Motivation is neither completely psychological or biological, but rather, a mixture of the two. There are countless, varying reasons why we do what we do, further adding to the complexity of motivation.

As defined by David G. Myers' Psychology Eighth Edition, motivation is “a need or desire that energizes and directions behaviors.” Throughout history multiple theories for the reason behind motivation have been formed. Drive Reduction Theory, Arousal Theory, Incentive Theory, and Abraham Maslow's Hierarchy of Needs are all well-known explanations for the phenomenon of motivation.

Abraham Maslow
Abraham Maslow (April 1, 1908 - June 8, 1970) began the humanistic branch of psychology. Affiliated with Cornell University, Brooklyn College, and Brandeis University, Maslow is famous for his theory about humans' hierarchy of needs. He states that all needs are not at the same level of importance. The Pyramid (as referenced by diagram below) states different levels of need, and, according to Maslow, first we need to fulfill the needs from the bottom of the pyramid up. This means humans will act first to fill our needs of hunger, thirst, and sex. For example, Maslow would state that a typical York student will eat lunch when famished instead of studying for a test. Once a human's physical needs are met, the urge to seek security and safety will arise. In other words, once immediate survival is guaranteed, humans are driven to plan for the short-term future. After humans feel secure, we experience the urge to fit in with society and gain social acceptance. Maslow states that, as social creatures, humans yearn to become important, respected figures to their peers. Maslow’s final need is one few achieve. Self-actualization, which occurs when a human reaches his or her unique potential, is the highest goal any human can have. (diagram). This theory accounts for the continued work of very successful people. World-class athletes like Tom Brady go to practice every day not because they necessarily need the work, but because they feel a need to become the best player they can be.

Maslow’s theories do appear to have some flaws, however. For example, his hierarchy of needs cannot explain the student who held his ground against the oncoming tank at Tienanmen Square, even though the student put his own safety and survival into extreme danger. Many extreme cases like this cannot be explained through a simplistic theory such as Maslow’s.

Drive Reduction Theory
Clark Hull formulated the drive reduction theory. Hull states that humans are naturally in a state of equilibrium, and that changes to this equilibrium create an internal tension in humans. Hull calls this internal tension a “drive.” For example, when Rolf doesn’t get enough to eat, he feels hungry. This hunger is a drive to restore a food equilibrium, which can only be done by eating more food. This theory assumes that we are motivated primarily by natural and biological causes. According to Hull, we will act in any way necessary to fulfill needs such as those for water, safety, food, and shelter. This theory encompasses smaller subsets of motivation as well. Our “primary drive” acts to motivate humans to get what we need to for survival. However, humans also have secondary drives; drives acquired over time which help us achieve our physiological needs. The theory also states that when an action is taken to resolve a drive, the action becomes reinforced. In other words, if a dog is hungry and finds food in a dog bowl, then it will most likely search for food in the same dog bowl the next time it is
Photo Credit: David Barker1@Flickr

hungry. This is very similar to operant conditioning, which we read about in Opening Skinner's Box, where rats learned to apply pressure to levers to obtain food.

Unfortunately the drive theory does not explain all human behaviors. For example, the activities of skiing, snowboarding, mountain biking, and tubing are all popular, common, outdoor activities. But the drive reduction theory does not explain the motivation for humans to participate in such sports, as they merely present an extreme risk to the bodies of said humans. The thrill of speed is apparently an incentive great enough for humans to unnecessarily endanger themselves, and that cannot be explained by the drive reduction theory.

The Yerkes-Dodson Law and Arousal Theory
Another theory of motivation is the Yerkes-Dodson Law, an early step towards the development of the Arousal Theory. The Law, developed by a 1908 study, states that there is a relationship between arousal levels and performance levels. As arousal levels increase, performance increases, but only to a certain extent. If arousal levels become too high, stress sets in, and it becomes more difficult to perform at optimal levels. On the flipside, low arousal levels can lead to boredom and a lack of focus.

The high-arousal dropoff in performance only applies, however, to difficult tasks. (Yerkes & Dodson, 1908) For simple tasks, the higher the arousal gets, the better the performance, according to Yerkes and Dodson. It is only for complicated tasks requiring high levels of cognitive function that the drop off occurs. This is due to the fact that stress can cause difficulty focusing, and this focus deficiency can undermine productivity.

Arousal can be generated from a variety of places. In noted psychologists Robert Yerkes’ and John Dodson’s original experiment, mice were aroused via electric shocks through the feet. (Yerkes & Dodson) In real life, such arousal could come from the perception of danger, importance of tasks, or even from an upcoming deadline for an English essay. In summary, the Yerkes - Dodson Law outlines how arousal levels affect our ability to perform.

A boring explanation of the Yerkes-Dodson law, but an explanation nonetheless: Thinking about Yerkes-Dodson and Preparing for a Game:

Incentive Theory

The incentive theory is another well-known explanation for human motivation. It states that people do not always act out of what we need, but also out of what we want. Incentives are simply external rewards for things humans can do. We learn that different actions will bring pleasing rewards, so humans will act in a way that will achieve those incentives. One example is when York students learn that if they get better grades, then they have a higher chance of being accepted by a better college. Or, on a more simplistic level, a child learns that if she practices a sport, then she will get better at it. The incentive theory is also similar to the behavioral association and reinforcement theories suggested by the research of behaviorists B.F Skinner and John Watson.

On another note, a great slide show regarding motivation:


Image Credit: comer.nick@Flickr

Sources on Motivation

Huitt, William, P.H.d., (2001). Motivation to Learn: An Overview. Retrived October 1, 2009, from Valdosa State University Website, William Huitt is the head professor at the Department of Psychology and Counseling at Valdosta State University. In the article he defines motivation, the importance of motivation, and explores the relationships and theories involved in motivation while providing multiple diagrams and references for support.

Lintern, Sue, (2002). What is Motivation? Retrieved October 5, 2009, from the University of South Australia host website, Sue Lintern is the coordinator of the 'UniSA Volunteer Mentor' project, which mentors Australian graduates about teaching in schools around the world. She works in the divisions of education and social sciences, as well as specializing in the field of the science behind motivation at the University South Australia.

Attribution Theory. Science Daily. Retrieved September 28, 2009, from, Science Daily is a reputable internet news source that provides a wide range of information and articles on different categories in science. This article discusses the Attribution theory. The Attribution theory was conceived by Fritz Heider, Harold Kelley, and Edward E., and it discusses how people link causes to events, which subsequently has an effect on their motivation.

Myers, G. David (2007). Psychology. Worth Publishers. David Myers is a well respected psychological researcher who's articles have appeared in 48 magazines and 70 books. His research is supported through grants by the National Science Foundation. The Psychology textbook provided me with extensive information in Chapter 12 on Motivation at Work.

Yerkes, Robert M., and John D. Dodson. "The Relation of Strength of Stimulus to Rapidity of Habit-Formation." Classics in the History of Psychology. York University, 1908. Web. 24 Sept. 2013.
This study is by Robert Yerkes, a Psychology Ph.D from Harvard, and John Dodson, who earned both a Master's degree in Psychology from Harvard as well as Ph.D in Psychology from Minnesota University. The paper outlines the data suggesting the Yerkes-Dodson Law. It is valuable in terms of its insight into how arousal levels affect performance, which could be useful in explaining extreme athletic drive.

This page was created by Xander Kahle and Scott Pirkle