Introduction to Motivation

Defining Motivation

Motivation describes the wants or needs that direct behavior toward a goal.

Learning Objectives

Define motivation in terms of drives, motives, and intrinsic vs. extrinsic motivators

Key Takeaways

Key Points

  • Motivation is an urge to behave or act in a way that will satisfy certain conditions, such as wishes, desires, or goals.
  • Psychologists believe that motivation is rooted in a basic impulse to optimize well-being, minimize physical pain, and maximize pleasure.
  • Motivations are commonly separated into drives (which are primarily biological, like thirst or hunger) and motives (which are primarily driven by social and psychological mechanisms).
  • In addition to biological drives, motivations can be intrinsic (arising from internal factors) or extrinsic (arising from external factors).
  • In reality, our motivations are often a mix of both intrinsic and extrinsic factors, and the nature of the mix can change over time.

Key Terms

  • motivation: An incentive or reason for doing something.
  • psychosocial: Having both psychological and social aspects.
  • drive: Acts of motivation like thirst or hunger that have primarily biological purposes.

Motivation describes the wants or needs that direct behavior toward a goal. It is an urge to behave or act in a way that will satisfy certain conditions, such as wishes, desires, or goals. Older theories of motivation stated that rational thought and reason were the guiding factors in human motivation; however, psychologists now believe that motivation may be rooted in basic impulses to optimize well-being, minimize physical pain, and maximize pleasure.

Drives and Motives

Motivations are commonly separated into drives and motives. Drives are primarily biological, like thirst, hunger, sleepiness, and the need to reproduce—all of which lead us to seek out and take part in certain activities. Drives are believed to originate within a person and may not require external stimuli to encourage behavior. Motives, on the other hand, are primarily driven by social and psychological mechanisms, such as work, family, and relationships. They include factors like praise and approval.

Both drives and motives can be manipulated by stimulation and deprivation. Motivation can be stimulated by uncomfortable or aversive conditions or events (shocks, loud noise, or excessive heat or cold can motivate us to seek better conditions) or by attractions to positive or pleasurable conditions or events (such as food or sex). We also become motivated when we’re deprived of something that we want or need, like adequate nutrition or social contact.

Intrinsic and Extrinsic Motivation

Motivation can be intrinsic (arising from internal factors) or extrinsic (arising from external factors).

Intrinsically-motivated behaviors are generated by the sense of personal satisfaction that they bring. They are driven by an interest or enjoyment in the task itself that comes from the individual, not society. For example, if you are in college because you enjoy learning and want to make yourself a more well-rounded individual, you are intrinsically motivated. Intrinsic motivation is a critical element in cognitive, social, and physical development; those individuals who are intrinsically motivated are likely to perform better and improve their skills at a given task.

Extrinsically-motivated behaviors, in contrast, are performed in order to receive something from others. They do not come from within the individual, but from society—other people. For example, employees might do their work because they want the company to pay them, not because they love the work. Many athletes are driven by the goal of winning, beating the competition, and receiving praise from fans; they are not driven by the intrinsic satisfaction they get from playing the sport. Similarly, if you are in college because you want to make yourself more marketable for a high-paying career or to satisfy the demands of your parents, then your motivation is more extrinsic in nature.

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Intrinsic and Extrinsic Motivation: Intrinsic motivation comes from within the individual and results in a sense of autonomy, mastery, and purpose. Extrinsic motivation such as punishments, rewards, and other types of compensation, come from outside the individual.

In reality, our motivations are often a mix of both intrinsic and extrinsic factors, and the nature of the mix can change over time. For example, say cooking is one of your favorite hobbies: you love to cook for others whenever you get a chance, and you can easily spend hours in the kitchen. You are intrinsically motivated to cook. Then you decide to go to culinary school and eventually get a job working as a chef in a good restaurant. You are now getting extrinsic reinforcement (e.g., getting paid) for your work, and may over time become more extrinsically than intrinsically motivated. Sometimes, intrinsic motivation can diminish when extrinsic motivation is given—a process known as the overjustification effect. This can lead to extinguishing the intrinsic motivation and creating a dependence on extrinsic rewards for continued performance.

Motivation vs. Emotion

While motivation and emotion can be intricately linked, they are two fundamentally different things. Motivation describes the wants or needs that direct behavior toward a goal; in contrast, an emotion is a subjective state of being that we often describe as a feeling. Emotion and motivation are linked in several ways: both influence behavior and can lead us to take action, and emotion itself can act as a motivator. For example, the emotion of fear can motivate a person to leave a stressful situation, while the emotion of happiness can motivate a person to be more productive on a project that reinforces that emotion.