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What is Motivation?

  • Motivation refers to a need or desire that energizes a direct behavior.  
  • Motivated behaviors are caused by a combination of nature and nurture.
  • There are four perspectives to explain motivated behavior 
    • Instinct theory 
    • Drive-reduction theory 
    • Arousal theory 
    • Hierarchy of needs

“Growth needs do not stem from a lack of something, but rather from a desire to grow as a person. Once these growth needs have been reasonably satisfied, one may be able to reach the highest level called self-actualization” (McLeod, 2020) 

What is evolutionary psychology? 

  • Charles Darwin’s evolutionary theory popularized the use of “instinct” to name behaviors, rather than explain them. 
  • “According to evolutionary psychology, individuals are motivated to engage in behaviors that maximize their genetic fitness” (Lumen, 2021).
  • An instinct is a complex behavior that is unlearned and rigidly patterned throughout a species. 
  • Although instinct theory failed to explain human behavior it opened the door for understanding a species behavior with genetic predispositions for motivation. 
  • Now the theory is replaced by the evolutionary perspective. 
  • Recognizing how our instinct affects motivation is crucial to understanding why we intrinsically perform certain behaviors, such as how babies are born knowing how to root/suck to obtain food. 

What are drives and incentives?

  • The original instinct theory was replaced by the drive-reduction theory: the idea that a physiological need creates an aroused tension state that motivates an organism to satisfy the need. 
  • Goal of drive reduction: homeostasis 
    • A balanced or constant internal state due to regulation of any aspect of body chemistry
  • We can also be pulled by incentives: a positive or negative environmental stimulus that motivates behavior. 
    • Impacted by our learning 
  • Physiological need + external incentive = strong drive 

What is optimum arousal? 

  • Some motivated behaviors increase arousal 
    • Ex: In absence of need based drive, curiosity drives baby to explore environment
  • Human motivation seeks to find optimal arousal level once biological needs are met
    • Temperament affect motivation
      • Bored→ increase stimulation/arousal 
      • Stressed→ decrease arousal 

What is the hierarchy of motives?

  • Abraham Maslow’s hierarchy of needs is a pyramid of human needs, beginning at the base with physiological needs that must first be satisfied before higher-level safety needs, and then psychological needs become active. 
    • Self-transcendence needs 
    • Self-actualization needs 
    • Esteem needs 
    • Belongingness and love needs
    • Safety needs 
    • Physiological needs 
  • Once people realize their own potential, they can look for meaning and purpose that is transpersonal.
  • Now, the model includes cognitive, aesthetic, and transcendence needs (McLeod, 2020).
  • The order of such needs is not universal.
    • Ex: self esteem matters more in individualist nations 
  • Overall, the hierarchy provides a foundation of understanding that some motives are more important for others. 

Why is motivation important? 

  • Motivation is necessary in all areas of life.
    • Study and get good grades in school 
    • Working a job to get a promotion 
    • Practice sports for recruitment 
  • To set and accomplish greater goals, we require motivation to persevere through challenges. 
    • Ex: Diet, exercise, and finance goals 


Psychology Textbook, 10th Edition, David G. Myers

Theories of Motivation

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