views updated May 11 2018


I. The ConceptLawrence I. O’Kelly


II. Human MotivationRobert C. Birney



The concept of motivation has had a comparatively short formal history in experimental psychology, figuring hardly at all in the systematic presentations of such forebears and founders as the English associationists Wundt, James, and Titchener. While space does not permit here adequate development of background or supporting documentation, it is probable that motivation became a central variable in behavior theories coincidentally with the change from viewing mind as “structure” to viewing mind as “function.” This was the period of the emergence of the functionalism of Dewey and Angell, Freud’s psychoanalysis, and McDougall’s “hormic,” or purposive, psychology. The notion that mind or behavior has directional and energetic components could only have occurred to students who regarded organisms as going and achieving, as desiring and searching, or as solving problems and adapting.

Philosophical antecedents

The philosophical heritage of experimental psychology was of little help in telling the functional psychologists how to think about these problems in dynamics. Philosophy had thought much about human values, but there seemed little possibility of generalizing ethical systems across the broad range of species and phyla that seemed to have motivational components in their behavior. Nor, except as a kind of confused background, do the nonhumans have much to contribute to the chronic debate over hedonism. The principles of “association,” as contributions to theories of learning and memory, have had a long philosophical history, of course, but they never gave rise to concepts that could be called “motivational.”

Biological contributions

A good deal more was available from the biologist, particularly concepts of instinct and physiological regulation and a knowledge of neurophysiological bases of behavior.

Instinct. Through many revisions, the concept of instinct as a directive force had achieved general acceptance among naturalists and was at hand for the now familiar uses in behavior theory to which it was put by McDougall and by Freud. Evolution, as Darwin saw it, made instinctive behavior clearly adaptive for either the individual or his species. Through the years, this concept of instinct has had an eventful career, being rejected out of hand by the radically empirical behaviorists and being dramatically revived into a new and fruitful usefulness by the zoological ethologists.

In the study of motivation the concept of instinct becomes useful when it is made to represent rather uniform, genotypically shaped behavior patterns operating in the context of self-maintenance or species maintenance. This, then, enables some of the fundamental characteristics of the motivational concept to be easily discerned. An animal’s responses are triggered by some internal physiological change, usually acting conjointly with distinctive external stimulus patterns. The responses are selectively oriented to one or another aspect of the environment and show a flexibly shaped succession that is usually relevant to some adaptive end. There then ensues, if the animal is “successful,” achievement of some state of affairs that ends the sequence.

Physiological regulation. Another related set of facts and concepts from biology anticipated the psychologist’s concern with motivation and gave him the framework of a model that has had long viability, not only within experimental psychology proper but also, as an inspiration for analogous models, within the social sciences generally. We refer to the facts of physiological regulation. Claude Bernard may properly be said to be their discoverer. In the middle of the last century he was demonstrating that the effective functioning of vertebrate organisms depends on maintenance of the physical and chemical state of body fluids within rather narrow zones of constancy. His maxim that “constancy of the internal environment is the condition of a free life” is among the most celebrated truths of modern physiology. While physiologists usually remained concerned with analysis of the internal mechanisms that ensured constancy, it was obvious that in many, if not all, instances the complete story would involve the behavioral capabilities of the animal.

To a working, machinelike body, the most usual and frequent threats to constancy come from the metabolic processes that make work possible, including those that labor themselves to maintain constancy. For example, body temperature may be controlled by using water for evaporative cooling or by using glycogen for warming through shivering. In these instances, stores of water and glucose are depleted. The only replacement sources are in the external world, and the animal must manifest behavior as it searches the environment to locate and to consume the needed substances. This whole cycle, which goes on endlessly throughout the animal’s lifetime, provides a blueprint for theorizing about behavior which is basically and primarily motivational. Also, because animals depend for their very existence on the adequacy of both internal and external aspects of regulation, the structures mediating these functions are subjected to powerful selective biases in their evolution.

Neurophysiological bases. In recent years the neurophysiologist and physiological psychologist have been increasingly successful in identifying the neural and endocrine bases for such important motivational conditions as hunger, thirst, and sex; but even before this actual demonstration the functional theories of behavior were assuming that motivation was firmly anchored in the organic needs of the body. This is clearly illustrated in the following quotation from Dashiell’s influential textbook of 1928:

The primary drives to persistent forms of animal and human conduct are tissue-conditions within the organism giving rise to stimulations exciting the organism to overt activity. A man’s interests and desires may become ever so elaborate, refined, socialized, sublimated, idealistic; but the raw basis from which they are developed is found in the phenomena of living matter. (1928, pp. 233–234)

Social motives

The second sentence of the above quotation reflects one of the major problems of the contemporary motivational theorist: the nature and derivation of those human motives that do not seem to be connected in any obvious manner to the waxing and waning of organic needs. All possible positions are represented in the writings of psychologists, ranging from Dashiell’s view that social motives simply grow out of physiological strivings to the assertion that social motives may be completely unrelated to biological needs in either their development or their full-fledged operation.

Experimental psychologists have been interested in the study of motivation for its own sake and because of the important role that motivational constructs have come to play in theories of learning and performance. Current developments in the psychology of motivation are taking place in a number of areas without a great deal of apparent interaction. Since the purpose of this article is to present an introductory overview of the field, some of the major fields of interest in motivation will be described, followed by a brief attempt at synthesis.

Physiological mechanisms in motivation

While the earliest and still most basic interest of the psychologist concerned with the physiological mechanisms in motivation is the nature of behavior resulting from alterations in internal physiological states, his study of underlying mechanisms has drawn him into an active partnership with the physiologist interested in regulatory processes and the neurophysiologist. The application of the Horsley–Clark stereotaxis technique for precise subcortical brain exploration has led to a vast number of discoveries of the importance of the hypothalamus and brain stem for regulation of the internal constancy of the body. It has further been demonstrated that these structures participate in the more external aspects of such regulation, as in the initiation and termination of eating and drinking. The underlying mechanisms of drive turn out to be complexly interrelated combinations of physical and chemical changes in cell membranes, endocrine secretion, and neural integration. As the sequence of operations underlying the various regulatory cycles becomes more clearly understood, a generalized schema is beginning to emerge—a pattern of processes not unlike the patterns psychologists and engineers are accustomed to deal with in the analysis of any type of behavior system. This schema is illustrated in Figure 1, a much simplified representation of the regulatory model of motivated behavior. When the physical or chemical constancies of the body are altered, correctional mechanisms are brought into play by either completely internal homeostatic adjustments or regulation that involves arousal of the animal to discriminatory awareness and to selective orientation with respect to corrective aspects of the environment. When system variables are restored to something approaching optimal levels, signals of restoration act to inhibit the behavioral and physiological processes of correction. Thus the familiar negative feedback principle of control can be applied to guidance of the organic system [seeCybernetics].

While regulation frequently is quite automatic and does not require any observable behavioral effort, such is not always the case. As was mentioned earlier, when restoration of system variables to an optimal range consumes substances which must be replaced from sources exterior to the animal or when the environment itself poses local conditions of stress, the animal must make discriminative responses in that environment. That this is so has been recognized for a long time, as the quotation from Dashiell would indicate. What is essentially new is the identification of the mechanisms underlying the processes of the model. It is almost invariably true that significant variations from the optimum of any physiological system variable are signaled by changes in the physical or chemical characteristics of the extracellular body fluids. For example, oxygen lack is signaled by an increase in the carbon dioxide content of the plasma, dehydration is accompanied by an increase in extracellular osmotic pressure, etc. Either these changes or some of their secondary consequences are adequate stimuli for specialized detector cells which, functioning as quasi-sense organs, react to the index of system disturbance by hormonal and/or neural excitation and response. These responses are the direct cause of correctional activity in the case of the automatic regulations and instigate the discriminatory and orienting responses in the case where behavioral components are necessary. In the latter case it is obvious that docility, flexibility, and variability are introduced, furnishing survival criteria of a kind quite different in many ways from those inherent in the more automatic and internally sufficient type of regulatory mechanism. In short, it would appear that the phylogenetic modifications that have led to the superior mammalian nervous system were decisively determined by the demands of survival by external regulation.

Experimental verification of the essential points in this argument has been accomplished. Discrete

lesions produced in the lateral areas of the hypothalamus cause an animal to become aphagic; the animal will refuse food in the face of a growing and critical caloric need, and eventually, unless maintained by artificial feeding, will die of starvation. In a nearby region ablations can be made that will cause an animal to become adipsic; even when some water is placed in the mouth of such an animal it will refuse to swallow and will attempt to reject the water as if it were some illtasting or noxious substance. It has been reported (Andersson & McCann 1956) that aphagic animals will accept food if it is in liquid form and that adipsic animals will accept water if it is contained in fluid that has an acceptable taste and high caloric content. Such results tend to support the notion of relatively discrete neural systems controlling the urges to eat and to drink. Further support for this point of view is gained by observing the results of lesions in the ventromedial nuclei of the hypothalamus. Animals so injured develop hyperphagia, eating ravenously and far beyond their caloric needs. Such animals, with unlimited supplies of palatable food, become obese, frequently weighing more than twice as much as would be normal for their age. Thus, there would appear to be a specific food-control system, the “need detector” being critically involved with the lateral hypothalamus and the “satiation detector” with the ventromedial hypothalamus. Other parts of the nervous system are, of course, involved also, since the search for and consumption of food requires a vast amount of sensory apparatus, memory capacity, and ability to manage a repertoire of motor responses. But all of this apparatus, important as it is, appears to depend for its operation on signals instigated by the hypothalamic mechanisms. This would seem to be the closest we have yet come to locating a specifically physiological basis for a “pure” motivational component to behavior. While much remains to be done, it can be said with some confidence that the remaining problem in the physiological analysis of motivation is elucidating the organic basis for learning, memory, and perception; the shape of the purely motivational component is now within our grasp.

Brain stimulation

One development that holds promise of relating the need-signaling and satiation-signaling systems to the systems governing learning, memory, and perception is the now well-known finding of Olds and his associates that animals will perform a wide variety of instrumental acts if rewarded by electrical stimulation in subcortical brain areas; still other areas are found to generate avoidance responses (see Olds 1962 for a review of studies of the phenomenon). The “reinforcing” areas are located in a somewhat diffuse path that extends from the midline septal nuclei down to the lateral and posterior hypothalamus. Under optimal stimulus conditions and with electrodes implanted in the most favorable hypothalamic loci, animals will continue pressing a lever to receive stimulation for an indefinitely long period, stopping only when apparently fatigued and resuming their efforts after brief periods of rest. Response rates are augmented by concurrently operating tissue needs (Brady et al. 1957) and are modifiable by changes in the electrical parameters of the stimulus. The relations of this organic phenomenon to hedonic and other theories of motivation will be dealt with by other contributors to this section. What appears inescapable is the fact that by quite artificial and nonphysiological means it is possible so to stimulate the brain as to instigate behavioral sequences that look for the most part like ordinary “motivated” behavior. Still an interesting and vital question is just what part of the regulatory mechanism is triggered by the electrical stimuli. Does the stimulation mimic the adequate need-detection stimuli, or does it operate on whatever system is responsible for determining the acceptability, palatability, or “hedonic tone” of peripheral stimuli? There is not yet enough evidence to decide between these alternatives. Perhaps neither possibility is true, and it might turn out that electrical stimulation of the brain creates a completely unique motivational state having little to do with the central mechanism for other physiological drive states. Even if this were true, however, the animal must marshal his sensory and motor equipment in the interest of repeating the instrumental acts leading to brain stimulation, and so at the perceptual and motor sectors of motivated behavior the over-all model is still sufficient [seeNervous system, article on Brain stimulation].


In addition to the newly expanded knowledge of neural and hormonal variables in regulation, there has been another development in neurophysiology that has exercised a significant influence on concepts of motivation. The discovery by Horace Magoun (1950; 1958) and his co-workers of a second sensory and motor neural mediating system, working in conjunction with the classical afferent paths to the brain and the pyramidal efferent motor outflow from the brain, has given the psychological theorist a wider range of physiological properties on which to base his thinking about the relation of brain to behavior. Magoun showed that the reticular formation of the brain stem received innervation from most of the afferent nerves leading from sense organs and that stimulation of sense organs caused excitation to be transmitted not only through the long-known “specific projection pathways” to the corresponding sensory areas of the cortex but also, by means of the reticular formation, diffusely to most or all other parts of the cortex.

Because the reticular formation receives excitation from all sensory channels and because any specificity appears lost in the diffuse transmission to the cortex, this system was called the “non-specific,” or “diffuse,” projection system. The major feature of the reticular formation seems to be the dependence of the higher regions of the brain on this diffuse excitatory consequence of sensory stimulation for proper transmission and integration of impulses that are carried over the specific projection system. In a classical experiment Moruzzi and Magoun (1949) showed that cats with the reticular formation ablated appeared unable to respond to peripheral stimulation, although electrical recording from the sensory areas of the cortex showed that the signals from the sensory nerves were arriving at the cortical sensory projection areas in a normal fashion. It had been known that the electroencephalogram (EEG) recording the spontaneous massed electrical activity of the cortex showed a regular alternation of a roughly sinusoidal character and of a frequency that was directly related to the degree of alertness of the subject—coma and sleep being accompanied by very slow waves; relaxed waking states, by an intermediate frequency; and a shift toward higher frequencies occurring when the subject either was attending to peripheral sensory stimulation, was actively engaged in tasks, or was disturbed by emotional thoughts. The shift from lower to higher frequencies was shown by Magoun and others to be closely related to activity in the diffuse projection system. The phenomenon of increased EEC frequency as a consequence of stimulation has been called activation and as such is an index of the widespread changes in the higher nervous system attending integrated behavior. More broadly, then, “activation” is a term used to denote the generalized, nondirectional alerting of the subject as a consequence of external or internal stimulation. In this sense, the concept has been called upon to bear an increasingly heavy theoretical load in discussions of motivated behavior [see Attention].

Considering the importance of activation as a part of the physiological analysis of motivation, at least two main points should be made. To the extent that regulatory imbalance increases the activity level of the animal, it could be surmised that the various deficiency and excess detector mechanisms, like the peripheral sense organs, contribute to excitation in the diffuse projection system in addition to functioning as the origin of signals specific to the particular system out of equilibrium. If this is so, the diffuse projection system is at least a part of the physiological mechanism underlying “drive” and conforms nicely to some of the behaviorally observable properties of motivation. A second, and perhaps more important, possible property of the activation system is that, in its obvious importance for discriminatory awareness, it provides a common physiological mechanism for mediation of tissue-need motivation and the other more complex forms of motivation that appear to originate in peripheral sensory stimulation or in some relationship to the previous learning and memory of the individual. A number of years ago Morgan (1943) proposed that the essential physiological mechanism in motivation was a kind of general excitatory process, to which he gave the name “central motive state.” It would seem that the central motive state could well be the diffuse activation process. To the extent that activation is nonspecific it is a process that can be equally at the service of any adequate stimulus situation, be it internal or external, be it changes in physical constants of plasma or changes in patterns of symbolic sensory input.

Instinctive behavior

The strongly empiricist bias of behavioral science in the United States and in Russia has led to a serious neglect by psychologists of some of the clearest examples of motivational models at work. Most animal species show, to varying degrees, complex behavioral sequences, the performance of which is so similar among members of a species as to suggest compellingly that some of the crucial determinants of the sequence are a part of the genetically transmitted characteristics of that species. Intensive field and laboratory studies of the behavior of members of many of the animal phyla have led to a renewed interest in instinctive behavior and to several important modifications in our concept of its characteristics. The most important insight is the recognition that instinctive behavior does not run itself off blindly and inflexibly, but rather occurs under an exquisitely balanced set of external and internal stimulus conditions, changes in any of which cause corresponding changes in the details of the instinctive acts; along with this there is a flexibility and adaptability of the activity to the existing conditions, and within the uniformity of the over-all ends, or goals, of the behavior, there is a variety of means employed that makes any given sequence of instinctive behavior well-nigh unique. Further, the physiological basis for instinctive behavior, so far as it is now known, seems to conform quite well to the general model for regulatory behavior.

All of these points can be made more vividly by briefly citing an example. Several species of Pacific salmon have a life cycle that starts with hatching from eggs laid in fresh-water streams at some distance from the ocean. After a few months of growth in the immediate vicinity of their birth site, the young salmon gradually drift downstream, foraging as they go and maintaining a predominant upstream body orientation. Upon reaching the ocean they range over a territory of many thousand square miles for periods that vary from one to four years. During this time, nourished by the plentiful food supply of the seas, they attain a large size. Then, for reasons still obscure, changes occur in the pituitary, the fish stop foraging for food, their digestive tracts start an active atrophic process, and the salmon start on the return trip to the river drainage from whence they came. With a high probability of success they locate the correct river, ascend it, select the correct branchings, and return to the particular stretch of water in which they were hatched. By this time the starvation and the pituitary-directed gonadal changes have produced marked structural alterations in the fish. Their skin pigmentation is changed, their jaw structure is modified, and they are immeasurably weaker. The female selects a favorable spot, scoops out a nest in the stream bottom, and lays her eggs. These are covered with the sperm-bearing fluid of the male. Soon both parents die. (Other closely related species, the steelhead trout and the Atlantic salmon, show the migratory sequence but live to spawn on several repeated occasions.) Noteworthy in this sequence is the interdependence of genetic inevitabilities, such as the digestive-tract atrophy and individually learned memories. In some very real sense the salmon must learn and remember a unique set of geographical coordinates and features. Its return from the ocean to the mouth of the main stream of its home drainage requires not only the capacity to use navigational techniques (it is probable that the salmon navigates by sun angles) but also a memory of these bearings in relation to particular sequences of temperatures, currents, salinities, odors, and other environmental features in order to return successfully to its spawning ground.

The complex interweaving of genotypic and phenotypic factors that are seen in patterns of instinctive behavior do not seem completely different from the types of variables underlying any physiological drive state. Nor is it beyond the realm of possibility that even the most complex and uniquely human motivational conditions may follow the same sort of pattern, in which cultural, individual, and genetic variables interact to produce resultants that have individual variability within a larger context of species uniformity. Modern concepts of instinctive behavior, then, may lend some support to a “neo-McDougallism,” not by making culture and learning less important but by making “instincts” more susceptible to phenotypic variation [see Instinct].

Psychological aspects of motivation

Turning from the biological material we have been considering to the type of thinking and writing being done by the majority of experimental psychologists, we move from a search for organic substrates to an exercise in theoretically guided research, in which motivational concepts are treated as intervening variables and hypothetical constructs. These constructs are used as mediators between the observable and controllable aspects of stimulation and response, along with such nonmotivational constructs as habit.

The central issue in the theoretical psychology of motivation has been the relationship of motivational variables to those of learning. In what Hunt (1963) has called the traditionally dominant conceptual scheme, behavior is thought of as starting with general random activity, instigated by drive; the latter may be equivalent to painful or uncomfortable internal stimulation consequent to tissue needs. A behavior sequence, or cycle, is terminated when the drive is reduced by the animal coming into commerce with circumstances that terminate the uncomfortable internal stimulation. If, as is usually the case, the tissue need is recurrent, the animal learns quicker and more effective techniques for drive reduction. Thus, in its final form behavior becomes some sort of joint function of drive and habit. Important issues grow out of this simple basic conceptual scheme. Most influential in experimental psychology has probably been the treatment given to these problems by Hull (1943), in which drive reduction is viewed as a necessary condition for habit acquisition and in which performance is a joint function of habit as a directional component and drive as an energizing component. For well over a decade, almost every study reported in the experimental journals seemed oriented toward issues raised by this formulation or its obvious alternatives. Despite all the careful experimental work, however, it is still impossible to arrive at any simple specification of the role of motivation in learning. Nor, unfortunately, is it possible to make a clear decision about the correctness of the traditional formulation. There is, for example, enough experimental evidence to lead us to suspect that habits may be acquired quite independently (or even in the absence) of any concurrent drive state; that, while temporal contiguity of an action and drive reduction may facilitate learning, the role of drive reduction may be more apparent than real; that intensity of drive may be related to efficiency of performance by some sort of an inflected function, very high drive states being as detrimental to performance as are very weak drive levels; that decisions between alternative habit possibilities may be a function of perceptual structuring independent of the relative strength of the alternative habits or of the nature of the drive state; that quality and quantity of an incentive may be more important in determining acquisition or performance than any of the detectable properties of concurrent drive states; and that the intensity of a drive state under which a habit is acquired may be a determiner of the strength of the habit, as measured in later tests of retention [see the biography ofHull].

An over-all negative conclusion relevant to the problem of motivation, however, may be stated with some confidence: throughout the range of mammalian species explored (unfortunately almost exclusively rat, cat, dog, monkey, and man) there are many sources for the energizing of behavior that are not easily and directly related to the needs that arise from regulatory processes.

Space does not permit a thorough review of the facts or theoretical proposals concerning motivational sources of a nonregulatory nature, although Hunt provides an excellent summary (1963). One of the principal features of many “intrinsic” motivational proposals is their emphasis on the role of cognitive processes arising from one form or another of incongruity, either with or without the added assumption that the cognitive process is accompanied by or stimulates affective, or emotional, reactions. Thus, Montgomery (1954) and Berlyne (1960) have adduced evidence that behavior may be instigated by unfamiliar stimulus situations which arouse “curiosity” or “exploratory drive.” Festinger (1957) has studied the motivational effects of what he terms cognitive dissonance, which refers to uncertain, unfamiliar, or unexpected relationships between stimulus elements and internally stored memories, beliefs, attitudes, etc. While not all of the “nonphysiological” theorists have made use of the concept of activation as the underlying energizing mechanism, Hebb (1955), Malmo (1959), Duffy (1962), and Hunt (1963) have each in his own way argued for the importance of the nonspecific projection system as the neural mediator of intrinsic motivation [seeStimulation Drives].

The cognitive theories represent a departure from the classical formulation for the development of motives unrelated to primary needs. The older point of view maintained that drives could be acquired by the familiar process of conditioning and thus were derivable from primary drives. An earnest search for evidence of acquired drive and secondary reinforcement has been only partially successful. Recent summaries by Mowrer (1960) and by Brown (1961) discuss much of the evidence. Russian workers have reported a great many experiments which demonstrate that almost any internal “automatic” process, such as bile secretion, urine secretion, or gastric acidity, can be brought under the control of environmental stimulation by applying the methods of classical conditioning (see Razran 1961). The significance of these findings for the problem of higher-order motivational processes is potentially great.

What does the experimental psychology of motivation have to contribute to the social scientist? In the present writer’s opinion, the strongest developments in motivation research of the past twenty years have been in the basic underlying physiological processes. Not only have mechanisms been specified for individual regulatory states, but an outline, at least of expectation for more general somatic integrating processes underlying complex perceptual and socially oriented behavior has been achieved. Socialized man, unique as he is, works within limits set by his anatomical characteristics, and a more precise prediction of his behavior may well emerge when his properties as a physiological system are assimilated with his properties as a social being.

Lawrence I. O’Kelly

[Directly related are the entries Drives; Instinct; Learning, article onreinforcement; Stimulation drives. Other relevant material may be found in Emotion; Homeostasis; Learning; Nervous System; Pain; Personality: Contemporary Viewpoints; and in the biographies of Cannonand MCDougall.]


Andersson, B.; and MCCann, S. M. 1956 The Effects of Hypothalamic Lesions on the Water Intake of the Dog. Acta physiologica scandinavica 35:312-320.

Berlyne, D. E. 1960 Conflict, Arousal, and Curiosity. New York: McGraw-Hill.

Brady, Joseph V. et al. 1957 The Effect of Food and Water Deprivation Upon Intracranial Self-stimulation. Journal of Comparative and Physiological Psychology 50:134-137.

Brown, Judson S. 1961 The Motivation of Behavior. New York: McGraw-Hill.

Dashiell, John F. 1928 Fundamentals of Objective Psychology. Boston: Houghton Mifflin.

Duffy, Elizabeth 1962 Activation and Behavior. New York: Wiley.

Festinger, Leon 1957 A Theory of Cognitive Dissonance. Evanston, Ill.: Row, Peterson.

Hebb, Donald O. 1955 Drives and the C.N.S. (Conceptual Nervous System). Psychological Review 62:243-254.

Hull, Clark L. 1943 Principles of Behavior: An Introduction to Behavior Theory. New York: Appleton.

Hunt, J. McV. 1963 Motivation Inherent in Information Processing and Action. Pages 35-94 in O. J. Harvey (editor), Motivation and Social Interaction. New York: Ronald.

Magoun, Horace W. 1950 Caudal and Cephalic Influences of the Brain Stem Reticular Formation. Physiological Reviews 30:459–474.

Magoun, Horace W. (1958) 1963 The Waking Brain. 2d ed. Springfield, Ill.: Thomas.

Malmo, Robert B. 1959 Activation: A Neuropsychological Dimension. Psychological Review 66:367-386.

Montgomery, K. C. 1954 The Role of Exploratory Drive in Learning. Journal of Comparative and Physiological Psychology 47:60-64.

Morgan, Clifford T. (1943) 1965 Physiological Psychology. 3d ed. New York: McGraw-Hill.

Moruzzi, G.; and Magoun, Horace W. 1949 Brain Stem Reticular Formation and Activation of the E.E.G. Electroencephalography and Clinical Neurophysiology 1:455-473.

Mowrer, Orval H. 1960 Learning Theory and Behavior. New York: Wiley.

Olds, J. 1962 Hypothalamic Substrates of Reward. Physiological Reviews 42:554-604.

Razran, Gregory 1961 The Observable Unconscious and the Inferable Conscious in Current Soviet Psychophysiology: Interoceptive Conditioning, Semantic Conditioning, and the Orienting Reflex. Psychological Review 68:81-147.


The language of motivation is a workaday device for all of us in our social world. We speak of aims, purposes, desires, wants, needs, and compulsions in others and use the same language in testifying about ourselves. The language is descriptive, unqualified, contradictory, and misleading. It manifestly will not do for science, and yet, in a pragmatic fashion, we get it to work much of the time in our daily lives. For better or for worse, it has been the departure point for the development of scientific statements about human motivation.

From the outset, systematic writing about human motivation has had to accommodate the fact that our subjective sense of intention is an unreliable index of our behavior. Many behaviors show intentional organization which may be successfully identified by the observer when the behaving person himself cannot report or infer the intention. Efforts to cope with this feature of human motivation have led to a wide range of strategies of theorizing which, in turn, have stimulated rather distinctive styles of research tactics. One result of this state of affairs is that there is not yet any general theory of human motivation, nor does it seem likely that there will be one for quite some time. Let the reader thus be prepared for a certain amount of surveying here, with a special effort to mark numerous reference signs pointing to those sizable nexuses of literature which must be pursued in depth. (For a more ex-tended survey, see Murphy 1954.)

Textbook treatments of social motivation from various viewpoints may be found in recent texts by Atkinson (1964), Brown (1961), and Gofer and Appley (1964). Atkinson provides an excellent historical review of the manner in which the framing of motivational questions has evolved and suggests an essentially cognitive resolution; Brown’s book treats the topic from the point of view of Hullian drive theory, with its resultant absorption of motivational questions into the analysis of habit systems; while Gofer and Appley give an exhaustive and eclectic summary of the motivational literature, culminating in the suggestion that research will be best guided by an “equilibration” model focusing on the anticipation and/or sensitization invigoration mechanisms.

In these modern treatments of motivation, the fact of socialization is acknowledged but not given any special status beyond that given other sources of stimulus input. The same is true of the response concept, in which no qualitative distinction is made between subjective report and observed behavior. The effect of this sort of theorizing is to place the burden for distinguishing social classes of stimuli and responses upon spatial location, timing, intensity, association, and complexity. The power of such an approach lies in its reductionist implications, since the observer must give up his “area” terms, such as love, anxiety, ambition, etc., in favor of a step-by-step analysis of the motivated sequence. Such is the approach of Ford and Beach (1951) in describing the pre-conditions, body states, arousing stimuli, and preparatory, consummatory, and withdrawal movements which characterize sexual behavior across species, including man.

The limitations of the reductionist approach have been obvious for decades. McDougall (1908) warned against them and tried to provide an alternative that would preserve the value of social motivation in our common vocabulary. Contemporary writers have also pointed up the severe limitations of reducing the study of motivation to those behavioral sequences which focus on action “in order to” at the expense of action for its own sake of “being.” Gordon Allport (1964) has reiterated his often expressed evaluation of theory and research unenlightened by a proper degree of eclecticism. When we add to these considerations the problems posed by the desire of many to write a truly social psychology of motivation—for example, Floyd All-port and Kurt Lewin—we must be prepared to find the literature of the field a disordered array of constructs, theories, methods, empirical findings, and research programs. There is a sense in which constructs and theories are answers to questions posed by observation. What are the origins of human motives? How do motives develop? What are the motives of men? How do motives affect behavior and experience? By organizing the remainder of this article around these questions, we will be surveying the literature on human social motivation.

The origins of motives

Nearly all serious observers of human behavior have had to frame a statement about the sources and wellsprings of motivated behavior. The early works of McDougall (1908), Freud (1915), and Thorndike (1927) use extensions of the philosophical discussions of hedonism and the role played by the affective dimensions of experience. The general notion is that those behaviors which result in changes in affect soon take on directional qualities, while those which have no observable affective components are not properly called motivational. However, both the Freudian postulation of unconscious affects and the difficulties of objective measurement of affects soon led to a willingness to assert that basic motivational tendencies may emerge as a natural component of behavior in the normal course of maturational development (e.g., White 1959). Gordon Allport has extended this position by postulating that new motives may develop from old by becoming “functionally autonomous” that is, early motives produce a profusion of new experiences which transform and redirect them. Jung (1932-1936) extended the maturational change through the life span well beyond the middle years and asserted that new motives continue to appear late in life.

Learning theorists have progressively shown more interest in objective determinants of behavior. The two major research programs have been those of Clark Hull and B. F. Skinner [seeHull; Learning, article oninstrumental learning]. By emphasizing the role of response consequences (“reinforcers”) in learning and the directing influence of stimuli associated with reinforcement, they reduced the motivational bases of behavior to those primary bodily conditions which drive the organism to a sufficient level of arousal to support learning. Thus Brown (1961) argues that all social motivation is based upon primary drive systems that have been elaborated by reinforcement into secondary systems.

The effect of these formulations has been to focus attention on the definition of primary systems. It is an empirical fact that hunger, thirst, pain, and affective arousal surrounding those body systems eventually integrated into adult sexuality have proved easiest to observe and manipulate. But other researchers, such as Sears, Maccoby, and Levin (1957), have demonstrated the feasibility of empirical studies of those systems devoted to cognition, mastery, empathy, and identification of value orientations. These “ego functions,” as they are called, appear to be equally primary in driving the organism. Indeed, the difficulties of specifying the attributes of primary drive systems lend force to the models emerging in the discussions between psychologists and ethologists about the proper method of study of emergent patterns of behavior. Here we are warned against placing too much value on “area” terms such as “drive,” “primary,” etc., in favor of providing a closely specified, objective description of the sequence of events, both organismic and environmental, which contribute to the appearance of a behavior sequence (Bindra 1959). As this advice is more widely adopted, it appears likely that the origin of social motivation will be described as some unique arrangement of determinants known to characterize social motivation throughout the life span.

The development of social motivation

The earliest comprehensive statement of motivational development is Freud’s theory of psychosexual stages (1932), wherein intense affects of pleasure and distress progressively focus on the emerging body functions of ingestion, elimination, and orgasm, as well as on fantasied castration threat. These maturational stages have been further supplemented by Erikson’s “epigenetic ages” (1950), which emphasize psychosocial stages of development of trust, autonomy, initiative, industry, identity, intimacy, generativity, and ego integrity. Jung also conceives of psychological stages extending through the life span. The social factor in each of these schemes lies in the association of gratification or fear with other persons, acting within the area of interest to the developing human being. Since the focus is on the growing person, the “other” tends to be treated as an object or agent, and the sense of reciprocity found in social psychology is absent.

Also absent from the above formulations is a closely reasoned theory of learning. McClelland (1951) has presented a discussion of the importance of the first years of life in the formation of motives which points toward the objective analysis of those conditions of early environmental input, autonomic conditioning, undeveloped cognitive discrimination, absence of symbolic control, and failure of extinction due to the unreproducibility of the original learning situations. Recently more precise statements of early learning of social motives have been set out by Staats and Staats (1963), Bijou and Baer (1961), and Bandura and Walters (1963). The first two pairs of authors use recent developments in Skinnerian analysis of behavior to effect an exposition of the emergence of directed behavior according to the pattern of classical conditioning of “respondents,” reinforcement schedules of “operants,” use of “discriminant” stimuli, and eventual symbolization of such stimuli. From this point of view, motives appear because some stimuli and reinforcers are more common than others and are easier to discriminate and of greater importance to society. Important issues remain untouched in this analysis. The defining attributes of reinforcers, beyond their capacity to reinforce, go unanalyzed, thus placing a heavy environmental emphasis on the theory and separating it from the research discussed in the previous section on origins of motivation. The loss of objectivity which occurs when the child masters sufficient language to permit the chief dynamics of reinforcement and discrimination to take place as thought and decision points to the need for a theory of language, and the Skinnerian efforts in this direction have suffered heavy criticism as being too simplistic. Finally, the value of these theories in generating research on the development of motives remains to be seen. As yet the presentations are descriptive and largely speculative, being reminiscent of a previous effort by E. R. Guthrie [see GUTHRIE]. Judging by the capacity of such theory to stimulate research and by some of the preliminary efforts, considerable research will be produced.

Bandura and Walters (1963) write from the sociobehavioristic viewpoint and present a considerable array of research findings in support of their theorizing. They emphasize the importance of social imitation and vicarious reinforcement, that is, change in behavior through observing the reinforcement experience of another. By combining the effects of imitative experience with direct social reinforcement, they show that social learning may involve sudden “mastery” of whole patterns of behavior in brief periods of time. They further theorize that the establishment of behavior patterns of aggression, dependence, sexual behavior, and self-control follows directly from patterns of reinforcement and stimulus generalization. However, the inhibition of these behaviors by socially acceptable alternative behaviors requires a combination of reinforcement withdrawal, modeling of alternative responses by others, and perhaps cessation of punishment following a restitutive or prosocial response. Punishment alone is said to inhibit the expression of the response in the presence of the punishing agent, but nothing more. This monograph is an excellent example of the behaviorist’s art of analyzing a behavioral sequence into those components of stimuli, responses, and environmental events for which reasonable estimates of relationship can be made.

There is the usual behavioristic sense of circumvention of the private, subjective interior of human experience in this writing, although Bandura and Walters devote considerable attention to learned verbal responses. “In contrast, a child may learn to criticize himself for transgression because self-criticism proved a successful means of securing the reinstatement of his parents’ affection and approval. In this case, the child’s behavior parallels that of an animal who learns to press a mildly charged lever in order to obtain food” (1963, pp. 186–187). The subjective sense of conflict, discrimination, interpretation, and decision—to say nothing of aspiration and purpose—continues to await an adequate theory of reinforcement. [SeeImitation.]

Standing in sharp contrast to the behavioristic approach is the work of McClelland in The Achieving Society (1961). He, too, attempts to trace the development of motivation, in this case the achievement motive, through an interlocking set of studies designed to focus on the value and meaning of various reinforcement situations as they impinge on the child. The emphasis is on the way parents interpret problem, work, and play situations to the child; on the problem-solving strategies of aspiration and effort which children adopt (Heckhausen 1963); on the effects of such experience as reflected in fantasy, self-evaluation, and choice of long-term interests; and on the eventual appearance in the adult personality of a coherent motivational system that continues to affect decision processes, performance characteristics, and belief systems. Such a program suffers from confusion of definitions, argument by analogy, numerous inade- quate controls, and poorly defined construct validity. Its value lies in its holding close to the phenomenal world of the subject, as experienced, in the hope of laboriously introducing those methods uniquely required for the proper study of human motivation. [SeeAchievement motivation.]

The motives of men

Asking for a taxonomy of motives implies some sort of list. Thus it was that early writers on the subject (for example, Jeremy Bentham) felt that the naturalist’s approach to motivational phenomena would lead to the proper definition of the subject. However, the proliferation of “instinct” theories, with their endless lists of motives, combinations, and hierarchies, eventually led to the discrediting (see Bernard 1926) of the work of men like McDougall (1908) and Troland (1928) and to the suppression of the question, What are the motives of men? In 1938 Henry Murray reopened the question with the publication of Explorations in Personality. This effort to re-establish the importance of the taxonomic approach to motives and situations seemed to renew interest in programs of research systematically directed at the study of single motive systems. The list of publications devoted to such study is growing steadily.

Generally speaking, the research strategy for the study of motive systems consists of identifying a reasonably finite set of behaviors designated by common-sense language under a single term, for example, affiliation. Efforts are then made to provide adequate measures of both the behavior—that is, an affiliative response—and the disposition so to respond—that is, the need for affiliation. Once the measure of the motive is established, a series of studies is begun to determine the motive’s sensitivity to environmental and social arousal, its role in personality dynamics, and its effects on other specific behavior systems such as perception, cognitive processes, or learning sequences—and to abstract from all of these findings some general statements of motivational processes. Inevitably such research produces enough anomalies to require revision of the original conception of the motive construct itself, the set of behaviors initially said to define it, and some of the assumptions made in its measurement. The studies discussed below illustrate these conditions.

Since truly programmatic research is still not common in American social science and psychology, it should not be surprising to find that Murray’s mapping of personality domains failed to guide motivational search. Broadly speaking, the programmatic literature does divide into “primary” systems of sexual behavior and anxiety-driven behavior; “secondary” systems of curiosity, competence, and dependency; and acculturated systems of authoritarianism, affiliation, approval, ingratiation, conformity, achievement, and power. For each of the terms just mentioned, at least one volume or working paper has been published by researchers working continuously on the problem area with coherent methods and purposes. Certainly the literature on other motivational systems is quite large but fragmented to the point of defying integration. Frequently the study of a particular behavior pattern is accompanied by the invocation of the “need for” phrasing (Gofer and Appley index the need for identity, dreaming, rest, satisfaction, security, sex, and sleep) with no effort made to give the motive construct an independent definition and measurement. It is this practice which has led many writers to abandon the motive construct as unfruitful and redundant (e.g., Rogers 1963; Jones 1956-1962, esp. volume 8; Kelly 1962). However, the more naturalistic, descriptive analysis of motive systems continues to illuminate the nature of human experience in social situations.

Current studies of motivation


Given the extraordinary preoccupation of psychological studies with sexual behavior, we might expect to cite several comprehensive works on human sexual motivation. But in fact, the recent Encyclopedia of Sexual Behavior (Ellis & Abarbanel 1961) displays a wide diversity of investigation from every conceivable point of interest without providing a clear picture of sexuality as a motivational process. The early comparative study by Ford and Beach (1951) gave some hint of how such investigation might proceed, but we have only the Kinsey studies (Kinsey et al. 1948; 1953), exploratory reports by Maslow (1962), and the more recent intensive studies by Money, Hooker, and Masters (Money 1965) to show the beginnings of an assessment of sexual capacities, development, practice, and experience in humans. [SeeSexual Behavior.]


The literature on anxiety undoubtedly exceeds that on any other motivational topic. It may be divided into studies of physiological processes, case studies, field studies, and laboratory studies of the effects of anxiety on behavior and experience, assessments of therapeutic procedures for its relief, and theoretical statements on its origin, nature, and role in personality functions. Psychopathology, work loss and impairment, much of the thematic content of contemporary works of art, and the focus of social commentary in both popu- lar and scholarly writing all give testimony to the presence of anxiety in human affairs. Again, how-ever, as with sex, we find a discursive literature remarkably deficient in programmatic intent and lacking in coherence. Hoch’s assertions of 1950 remain true:

Today we know a great deal about where and when anxiety occurs, but we are still quite hazy as to how it originates and even what purpose it serves. . . . Some think that anxiety is secondary to an intraorganismic or interorganismic imbalance, being a symptom of a disturbed homeostasis in the organism due to conflicting drives within the individual and the environment; others support the point of view that anxiety itself is the cause of the disturbances we see in most neurotic and in some psychotic manifestations. (Hoch & Zubin 1950, p. 105)

The physiological mechanisms are outlined in the work of Selye (1956) on the “general adaptation syndrome,” in Wolff (1953), and in papers delivered at the Symposium on Stress, held in 1953 by the National Research Council and Walter Reed Army Medical Center. The Funkenstein, King, and Drolette (1957) experimental studies of induced stress as it affects physiological and psychological indices reveal the complexity of individual mastery of stressor effects and their attendant anxiety. Janis’ strategies (1958) for testing specific hypotheses of anxiety control in preoperative and postoperative patients stand as an excellent example of the careful field studies that are so badly needed. [SeeAnxiety; Stress.]


An excellent example of the successful researching of a motivational process is found in Berkowitz’ Aggression. By integrating his own research with the large body of material available, he was able to conclude:

. . . the habitually hostile person is someone who has developed a particular attitude toward large segments of the world about him. He has learned to interpret (or categorize) a wide variety of situations and/or people as threatening or otherwise frustrating to him. Anger is aroused when these interpretations are made, and the presence of relevant cues—stimuli associated with the frustrating events—then evokes the aggressive behavior. In many instances the anger seems to become “short-circuited” with continued repetition of the sequence so that the initial thought responses alone elicit hostile behavior. (1962, p. 258-259)

Thus a motive component surrounds the experience of threat, while the notion of latent aggression or need for aggression is abandoned in favor of a trait conception of more or less consistent aggressive reactions. However, Berkowitz clearly states that enduring motives may conflict with or support the aggressive response to threat as well as lie at the seat of the developmental course which leads to the aggressive personality pattern.

Berkowitz’ findings probably have great generality for other motivational systems. By tracing the relative weights of the various sources of variance as they are found in capacity for emotional arousal, constitutional capability, early models for action and thought, social settings of support or inhibition, and the structure of interiorized moral standards, he has doubtless identified the basic sources of many important motivational systems. Not that the scheme is yet complete. Notably absent from the work is a treatment of the middle and late life changes which occur presumably from self-education, shifts in ideology, and a steadily lengthening course of experience. This deficit is a common one in the works we are reviewing. [SeeAggression.]

Ludic behavior

“Ludic behavior consists in large measure of what we are calling perceptual and intellectual activities—seeking out particular kinds of external stimulation, imagery, and thought” (Berlyne 1960, p. 5). There is a growing body of literature concerned with exploratory behavior, curiosity, manipulation, attention, and epistemic behavior. It is paralleled in the clinical literature by an increased emphasis on the analysis of ego functions. Berlyne’s works (1960; 1965) constitute an impressive review of the studies of animals and men engaged in ludic behaviors. He suggests that exploration may be released by some specific stimulus event in the situation or may emerge from an ultrastable stimulus situation in an apparent effort to create “diversive” stimulation. Given these basic motivational dispositions, the processes of socialization, reinforcement, etc. may then produce more stable response patterns which are placed in the service of conflict reduction; these in turn lead to generalized epistemic behaviors de-signed to provide information and understanding suitable for adjustment to a wide range of choice and conflict situations. Thus ludic behaviors are usually found concurrently with the activation of other motivational systems, but they are distinct processes in their own right and not merely vari-ants of anxiety, aroused drive states, etc. Thus far this research has not attempted to provide standardized measures of individual differences in ludic motivation. [SeeCreativity; Stimulation DRIVES.]


The complexity of human social attachments naturally leads to attempts to distinguish between the qualities of human association. The voluminous clinical and psychoanalytic literature on psychosexual development has generated numerous hypotheses about the sources of attraction, dependence, love, and identity between per- sons. For several years Sears and his associates have been studying the development of affiliative tendencies in children (Sears et al. 1957; Sears 1963). “For the child, the upshot of this infantile experience is that a certain number of operant responses become firmly established to the various instigators that have been commonly associated with primary gratifications or reinforcing stimuli. The child learns to ‘ask” for the mother’s reciprocal behavior. These asking movements are the dependency acts whose frequency and intensity we use as a measure of the dependency trait (or action system)” (Sears 1963, p. 31). It is the appearance, maintenance, growth, and elaboration of these dependency acts that concern Sears, and his studies demonstrate the complexities of tracing these processes. Thus for the sample of four-year-olds for whom data on early infancy was available, the prediction of negative or positive attention-seeking, touching or holding, being near, and seeking reassurance proved to differ for the sexes, with the girls’ patterns related to level of maternal care, achievement demands, and sex anxiety for the father. Maternal coldness, slackness of standards, and neglect, without any real permissiveness, and paternal general nonpermissiveness—especially about sex— was related to boys’ dependency (Sears 1963, p. 63). Sears is willing to refer to these patterns as motivational systems, but he makes it clear that the sheer complexity of variables requires more precise definition than a list of needs or motives can provide. It is perhaps for this reason that individual difference measures of the dependency disposition are not reported.

Shipley and Veroff (1952) have established a reliable measure of need for affiliation (n Aff), using the modified Thematic Apperception Test procedure of McClelland. For college student populations in particular, this measure has shown predicted positive relationship to suggestions for conformity (Walker & Heyns 1962), negative subjective reactions to rejection (Hardy 1957), and effort on achievement tasks when they are instrumental to social approval (French 1958), to cite a few salient findings. These studies have been primarily aimed at establishing the construct validity of the n Aff measure and do not constitute a comprehensive study of affiliative behavior.

Schachter (1959) set out to study the conditions which cause variation in affiliative action. It has been demonstrated that affiliative tendencies increase with increasing anxiety and hunger and that, for anxiety, ordinal position of birth is an effective discriminator of the magnitude of the affiliative tendency. The over-all findings warrant the conclusion that affiliative tendencies are a manifestation of needs for anxiety reduction and self-evaluation (Schachter 1959, p. 132). Here we have an example of motive assignment from the observer’s interpretation of the situation, supported by subjective report of the subjects.

Approval and ingratiation. A comprehensive program of research on affiliative behavior is found in The Approval Motive by Douglas P. Crowne and David Marlowe (1964). Starting with an interest in a measure of individual differences in the social-desirability response set to personality inventory items,

. . . we directed our search toward the goals and expectations that would impel one to evaluate himself in terms conditioned by the acceptance of others. To do so required us to postulate a motivational state [the approval motive], reflected in test-taking behavior [the Marlowe-Crowne Social Desirability Scale (MC)], and to seek its correlates in behaviors less harassed by the confusions of personality tests. Our findings have been confirmative, although in the process a major alteration of the concept of the approval motive—the defensiveness-and-vulnerable-self-esteem hypothesis—was necessary to account for some unanticipated and initially paradoxical results. (1964, p. 206)

In this case the authors did find a significant correlation (+.55) between the projective n Aff score and the MC score, whose high scorers are

. . . more conforming, cautious, and persuasible, and [whose] behavior is more normatively anchored. . . . The greater amenability to social influence of persons who characterize themselves in very desirable terms is seen in (a) the f avorability of their attitudes toward an extremely dull and boring task; (b) their greater verbal conditionability, both directly and vicariously; (c) social conformity; (d) a tendency to give popular word associations; (e) the cautious setting of goals in a risk-taking situation; (f) their greater reactivity . . . in a ... perceptual-defense task; and (g) susceptibility to persuasion. (1964, p. 190)

These authors chose to keep the concept “approval motive” while finding it useful, as did Schachter, to postulate underlying motivation to maintain and preserve self-esteem. Thus we see the manner in which the hierarchy of social motives must be uncovered by a coherent program of research.

The same experience is reported by Jones (1964). He reports a series of studies using instructional and situational manipulation designed to reveal the extent and variety of ingratiation behaviors as well as effects on attitudes, beliefs, and perceptions, especially as they focus on self-esteem. Given instructional or situational sets to enhance ingratiation behavior, subjects (a) emphasize their positive attributes over their weaknesses, (b) move toward greater public agreement with a target person’s stated opinions, and (c) show an adaptive capacity for adjusting these actions to the status, awareness of the target of the subject’s intentions, and requirements of the mutual task.

Each of these monographs approaches the affiliative process in particular response domains, demonstrates some of the determinants of the behaviors, and finds it useful to infer a generalized disposition having motivational properties. The data suggest that at the center of affiliative behavior lies a concern for self-confirmation, enhancement, esteem, or maintenance, which itself may imply a more basic personality disposition to stabilize, order, and control changes in one’s position in the world.


A considerable part of one’s life-time is devoted to the performance of tasks whose outcomes provide important consequences for survival, well-being, social rewards, and self-esteem. Clearly understood standards of performance exist for these tasks, and to match or surpass the norm is considered an achievement. Murray gave the following definition of need Achievement (n Ach): “To accomplish something difficult. To master, manipulate, or organize physical objects, human beings, or ideas. To do this as rapidly and as independently as possible. To overcome obstacles and attain a high standard. To excel one’s self. To rival and surpass others. To increase self-regard by the successful exercise of talent”(Explorations in Personality . . . 1938, p. 164).

In 1953 McClelland, Atkinson, Clark, and Lowell published The Achievement Motive—which presented a projective measure of n Ach, defined now as concern with success in competition with some standard of excellence—and a series of studies de-signed to establish the construct validity of the measure. This work was followed by Atkinson’s Motives in Fantasy, Action, and Society (1958), which contains further studies of n Ach as well as new projective scoring systems for n Sex, n Power, and n Aff. McClelland’s Achieving Society (1961) and Heckhausen (1963) have provided still more research and theory about the achievement motive and its avoidance opposite, fear of failure. The continuously growing body of literature is the subject of reviews by Heckhausen (1965) and Birney (1966) and a collection of papers edited by Atkinson and Feather (1966).

The body of knowledge growing out of this sustained research effort has slowly taken the following shape. The child’s early efforts to master his world provide the parents with the opportunity to reward independent, self-propelled actions differentially. If such rewards come early in life and are accompanied by maternal praise and pacing and supportive paternal endorsement, task situations become the cue for realistic aspirations, capacity for delayed gratification, fantasies of success, and the desire for personal responsibility. These preferences lead to realistic occupational aspirations emphasizing moderate risks and personal freedom of decision. Authoritarian work situations are avoided and resisted, and these may include highly demanding academic situations. Vocational careers are marked by upward mobility, preference for moderate-risk business and managerial situations, and concentration on the instrumentalities of working situations.

It might be pointed out that this pattern of entrepreneurial features was not initially anticipated by the researchers, being only slowly understood as numerous studies showed that high task achievement did not necessarily denote a high need for achievement in most subjects. By focusing on the motivation measure, rather than on achieving behavior, the form of the motivational system has emerged.

This review of systematic studies of human motive systems illustrates the current phase of research now being pursued by persons interested in the identification, measurement, and functional properties of important social motives. Whether Murray’s list of motives proves prophetic remains to be seen. As more of these systems are understood, the opportunity for writing a general theory of human motivation will arise. Whether that theory will resemble the many restrictive models of action and behavior also remains to be seen. At the present it appears that human motives play their major role in sensitizing persons to environmental possibilities, directing their choice among incentives, contributing to both their degree of involvement in the situation and their phenomenal sense of it, and ordering the sense of closure and history surrounding the past sequence of events. So long as these aspects of life remain denotable, the motive construct will retain its usefulness.

Robert C. Birney

[Directly related are the entries Attitudes; Drives, article on Acquired Drives; Stimulation Drives. Other relevant material may be found in Achievement Motivation; Affection; Aggression; Anxiety; Imitation; Learning,article on Reinforcement; Personality, article on Personality Development; Personality: Contemporary View-Points; Projective Methods, article on THE Thematic Apperception Test; Sexual behavior; Socialization; Stress; and in the biographies of Allport; Lewin; Mcdougall.]


Allport, Gordon W. 1964 The Fruits of Eclecticism: Bitter or Sweet? Acta psychologica 23:27-44.

Atkinson, John W. (editor) 1958 Motives in Fantasy, Action, and Society. Princeton, N.J.: Van Nostrand.

Atkinson, John W. 1964 An Introduction to Motivation. Princeton, N.J.: Van Nostrand.

Atkinson, John W.; and Feather, Norman T. (editors) 1966 A Theory of Achievement Motivation. New York: Wiley.

Bandura, Albert; and Walters, R. H. 1963 Social Learning and Personality Development. New York: Holt.

Berkowitz, Leonard 1962 Aggression: A Social Psychological Analysis. New York: McGraw-Hill.

Berlyne, D. E. 1960 Conflict, Arousal, and Curiosity. New York: McGraw-Hill.

Berlyne, D. E. 1965 Structure and Direction of Thinking. New York: Wiley.

Bernard, L. L. 1926 Introduction to Social Psychology. New York: Holt.

Bijou, Sidney W : and Baer, Donald M. 1961 Child Development. Volume 1: A Systematic and Empirical Theory. New York: Appleton.

Bindra, Dalbir 1959 Motivation: A Systematic Reinterpretation. New York: Ronald.

Birney, R. C. 1966 Research on the Achievement Motive. Unpublished manuscript.

Brown, Judson S. 1961 The Motivation of Behavior. New York: McGraw-Hill.

Cofer, Charles N.; and Appley, MORTIMER H. 1964 Motivation: Theory and Research. New York: Wiley.

Crowne, Douglas P.; and Marlowe, David 1964 The Approval Motive: Studies in Evaluative Dependence.New York: Wiley.

Ellis, Albert; and Abarbanel, Albert (editors) 1961 The Encyclopedia of Sexual Behavior. 2 vols. New York: Hawthorne.

Erikson, Erik H. (1950) 1964 Childhood and Society. 2d ed., rev. & enl. New York: Norton.

Explorations in Personality: A Clinical and Experimental Study of Fifty Men of College Age, by Henry A. Murray et al. 1938 London and New York: Oxford Univ. Press.

Ford, Clellan S.; and Beach, Frank A. 1951 Patterns of Sexual Behavior. New York: Harper.

French, E. G. 1958 Effects of the Interaction of Motivation and Feedback on Task Performance. Pages 400–408 in John W. Atkinson (editor), Motives in Fantasy, Action, and Society. Princeton, N.J.: Van Nostrand.

Freud, Sigmund (1915) 1959 Instincts and Their Vicissitudes. Volume 4, pages 60–83 in Sigmund Freud, Collected Papers. International Psycho-analytic Library, No. 10. New York: Basic Books; London: Hogarth.

Freud, Sigmund (1932) 1965 New Introductory Lectures on Psycho-analysis. New York: Norton. → First published as Neue Folge der Vorlesungen zur Einfiihrung in die Psychoanalyse.

Funkenstein, Daniel H.; Klng, Stanley H.; and Dro lette, Margaret e. 1957 Mastery of Stress. Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard Univ. Press.

Hardy, Kenneth R. 1957 Determinants of Conformity and Attitude Change. Journal of Abnormal and Social Psychology54: 289–294.

Heckhausen, Heinz 1963 Hoffnung und Furcht in der Leistungsmotivation. Meisenheim am Glan (Germany): Hain.

Heckhausen, Heinz 1965 Leistungsmotivation. Volume 2, pages 602–702 in Handbuch der Psychologic. Göttingen (Germany): Hogrefe.

Hoch, Paul H.; and Zubin, Joseph 1950 Anxiety. New York: Grune.

Janis, Irving L. 1958 Psychological Stress: Psychoanalytic and Behavioral Studies of Surgical Patients. New York: Wiley.

Jones, Edward 1964 Ingratiation: A Social Psychological Analysis. New York: Appleton.

Jones, Marshall R. (editor) 1956–1962 Nebraska Symposium on Motivation. Vols. 4, 8, 10. Lincoln: Univ. of Nebraska Press.

Jung, Carl G. (1932–1936) 1939 The Integration of the Personality. New York: Farrar. → Originally published in German in the 1932-1936 volumes of Eranos Jahrbuch.

Kelly, George A. 1962 Europe’s Matrix of Decision. Volume 10, pages 83–125 in Marshall R. Jones (editor), Nebraska Symposium on Motivation. Lincoln: Univ. of Nebraska Press.

Kinsey, Alfred C. et al. 1948 Sexual Behavior in the Human Male. Philadelphia: Saunders.

Kinsey, Alfred C. et al. 1953 Sexual Behavior in the Human Female. Philadelphia: Saunders.

Mcclelland, David C. 1951 Personality. New York: Sloane.

Mcclelland, David C. 1961 The Achieving Society. Princeton, N.J.: Van Nostrand.

Mcclelland, David C. et al. 1953 The Achievement Motive. New York: Appleton.

Mcdougall, William (1908) 1950 An Introduction to Social Psychology. 30th ed. London: Methuen. → A paperback edition was published in 1960 by Barnes and Noble.

Maslow, Abraham H. 1962 Toward a Psychology of Being. Princeton, N.J.: Van Nostrand.

Money, John (editor) 1965 Sex Research: New Developments. New York: Holt.

Murphy, Gardner 1954 Social Motivation. Volume 2, pages 601–633 in Gardner Lindzey (editor), Handbook of Social Psychology. Cambridge, Mass.: Addison-Wesley.

Rogers, Carl 1963 The Actualizing Tendency in Relation to “Motives” and to Consciousness. Volume 11, pages 1–24 in Marshall R. Jones (editor), Nebraska Symposium on Motivation. Lincoln: Univ. of Nebraska Press.

Schachter, Stanley 1959 The Psychology of Affiliation: Experimental Studies of the Sources of Gregariousness. Stanford Studies in Psychology, No. 1. Stan-ford Univ. Press.

Sears, Robert R. 1963 Dependency Motivation. Volume 11, pages 25–64 in Marshall R. Jones (editor), Nebraska Symposium on Motivation. Lincoln: Univ. of Nebraska Press.

Sears, Robert R.; Maccoby, E. E.; and Levin, H. 1957 Patterns of Child Rearing. Evanston, 111.: Row, Peterson.

Selye, Hans 1956 The Stress of Life. New York: McGraw-Hill.

Shipley, Thomas E.; and Veroff, Joseph 1952 A Projective Measure of Need for Affiliation. Journal of Experimental Psychology 43:349–356.

STAATS, Arthur W.; and Staats, Carolyn K. 1963 Complex Human Behavior. New York: Holt.

Thorndike, Edward L. 1927 The Law of Effect. American Journal of Psychology 39:212–222.

Troland, Leonard T. 1928 The Fundamentals of Human Motivation. New York: Van Nostrand.

Walker, Edward L.; and Heyns, Roger W. 1962 An Anatomy for Conformity. Englewood Cliffs, N.J.: Prentice-Hall.

White, Robert W. 1959 Motivation Reconsidered: The Concept of Competence. Psychological Review 66:297–333.

Wolff, Harold G. 1953 Stress and Disease. Springfield, 111.: Thomas.


views updated Jun 08 2018


sandra graham

mark r. lepper

jennifer henderlong
self-regulated learning
paul r. pintrich


Motivation is the study of why people think and behave as they do. In an achievement setting, someone would be concerned with motivation if he were to ask, for example, why some students persist to task completion despite enormous difficulty, while others give up at the slightest provocation; or why some students set such unrealistically high goals for themselves that failure is bound to occur.

Motivation is also the study of what pushes or pulls an individual to start, direct, sustain, and finally end an activity. Consider, for example, an achievement activity such as studying for an exam. Motivation researchers would want to examine what the person is doing: the choice of behavior; how long it takes that person to get started. Or they wish to see the latency of behavior: how hard the individual actually works at the activity (the intensity of behavior); how long that individual is willing to remain at the activity (the persistence of behavior); and what the person is thinking or feeling while engaged in the activity, or the cognitions and emotional reactions that accompany behavior. Note that this focus on the "why" of achievement is quite different from the study of achievement itself. Educators sometimes confuse the topics of researchers who study motivation with the topics of researchers who study achievement and learning.

Early Theories

The scientific study of motivation as a discipline separate from learning began in the 1930s. Early motivation researchers were primarily interested in the factors that aroused behavior, or that got it started in the first place. It was widely believed at the time that the optimal state of an organism, both animal and human, was one of balance and equilibrium, where all needs were satisfied. The process of keeping the organism at this optimal level is known as homeostasis. Homeostatic balance was also thought to be satisfying, which was compatible with the belief that organisms were primarily motivated by hedonism, or the desire to maximize pleasure and minimize pain. Theories of motivation that emerged in the 1930s were based on the ideas of homeostasis and hedonism as fundamental principles.

Drive theory. The best known of these early conceptions was Clark Hull's drive theory. According to Hull, behavior is a function of drive and habit. Drives in the Hullian framework are unsatisfied needs, such as the need for food (hunger) or the need for water (thirst). The drive to satisfy one's needs is what arouses or energizes behavior. Habits, in turn, provide a direction for behavior. Habits are stimulus response bonds that are built up over time as a result of prior learning. For example, if some-one's need to achieve has been satisfied in the past by studying hard for exams, then deficits in that need (arousal) should be satisfied by renewed study behavior. Thus behavior can be explained by both a motivation component (the drive that energizes behavior) and a learning component (the habit that provides direction or indicates what particular behavior will be initiated).

Simple yet elegant, drive theory generated a vast amount of motivation research from the 1930s through the 1950s. Of most relevance to education were studies on anxiety and learning conducted by Kenneth Spence, who was a student of Hull's. According to Spence, anxiety is a drive and it therefore arouses behavior, in this case the speed with which one learns simple versus complex tasks. On simple tasks where there is already a strong habit strength, anxiety will facilitate the speed of learning. With complex tasks, on the other hand, where there are weak stimulus-response bonds, high anxiety should interfere with learning, because high anxiety activates incorrect stimulus-response bonds (habits) that compete with correct responses. In support of this analysis, many studies reveal that high anxiety is neither uniformly adaptive or maladaptive across all learning contexts.

Expectancy-value theory. Drive theory was very mechanistic. There was no role for complex cognitive processes such as how a person interprets an arousal cue or whether their expectations for success might energize behavior. With the cognitive revolution of the 1960s, motivation researchers became much more interested in how thoughts as well as unsatisfied needs and habits influenced behavior. The impact of drives as an organizing construct therefore waned. Furthermore, it became accepted that organisms are always active and the field of motivation shifted from the study of what turns organisms "on" and "off" to an interest in the direction of behavior, including choice and persistence.

The interest in cognition resulted in what is known as expectancy-value theory in motivation. The basic assumptions of expectancy-value theory are in accord with commonsense thinking about motivated behavior. Behavioral choice is determined by the perceived likelihood that the behavior will lead to a goal and how much that goal is desired or wanted. In the 1950s and 1960s, John Atkinson developed a theory of achievement motivation that perhaps best illustrates an expectancy-value framework. In its simplest form, Atkinson's theory states that the tendency to approach as achievement activity (Ts) is a function of three factors: the motive for success (Ms), the probability that one will be successful at the activity (Ps), and the incentive value of success (Is). The factors are related multiplicatively, such that: Ts = M × P × I.

In this equation, Ms is the achievement motive, a relatively enduring personality trait presumed to be learned early in life. Ps, or the probability of success, takes on a numerical value from 0 to 1, with high numbers (e.g., Ps = 0.8) indicating greater likelihood of success, that is, an easy task. Finally, incentive value (Is) represents an affective state, labeled pride in accomplishment, and it was assumed to be inversely related to expectancy (1-Ps). That relationship captured the notion that easier tasks, where the probability of success was high, would elicit less pride and would therefore be less motivating.

Atkinson's theory was very popular from 1960 to 1980 and it generated many intriguing hypotheses about motivation. The theory predicted that high achievement oriented people prefer tasks of intermediate difficulty (Ps = 0.5) because such tasks elicited the most pride following success. People who were low in the achievement motive would be more motivated when tasks were very easy or very difficult. Atkinson was among the first theorists to point out that adaptive motivation was not necessarily associated with persisting at the hardest tasks where the probability of success is low. Indeed, the hallmark of a high achievement-oriented person is that they are able to gauge their efforts in response to their perceived expectancy, always striving toward intermediate difficulty.

Contemporary Theories of Motivation

Atkinson's theory gradually declined in the 1980s as motivation researchers turned their attention to a broader array of cognitions and to motivational traits other than the achievement motive. In general, contemporary motivation theories are dominated by three separate but interrelated constructs: expectancy, value, and achievement goals. As defined in the early twenty-first century, expectancy has to do with beliefs about ability (Can I do it?). Values are concerned with preferences and desires (Do I want it?). And goals capture purpose or the reasons for engaging in achievement activities (Why am I doing this?).

Beliefs about ability: Attribution theory. Three theories have addressed beliefs about ability. The first is attribution theory as developed by Bernard Weiner. Attributions are inferences about the causes of success and failure. (e.g., "Why did I get a poor grade on the exam?" or "Why did I get the highest grade?") Among the most prevalent inferred causes of success and failure are ability (aptitude), effort, task difficulty or ease, luck, mood, and help or hindrance from others. According to Weiner, these causes have certain underlying characteristics, which are known as causal dimensions. Causes differ in locus, or whether the cause is internal or external to the person; stability, which designates as cause as constant or varying over time; and in controllability, or the extent to which a cause is subject to volitional alteration. For example, low aptitude as a cause for failure is considered to be internal to the actor, stable over time, and uncontrollable, whereas lack of effort is judged as internal, but variable over time and subject to volitional control.

Each of these causal dimensions is linked to particular consequences that have motivational significance. For example, the stability dimension is related to expectancy for future success. When failure is attributed to a stable cause such as low ability, one is more likely to expect the same outcome to occur again than when the cause of failure is due to an un-stable factor such as lack of effort. Thus the failing student who believes that he or she did not try hard enough can be bolstered by the expectation that failure need not recur again. Guided by these known linkages between causal stability and expectancy, attribution retraining programs have been developed that teach students to attribute failure to lack of effort rather than lack of ability. Many successful programs have been reported in which retrained students show greater persistence when they encounter challenging tasks, more confidence, and more positive attitudes toward school work.

The controllability dimension is related to a number of interpersonal affects, such as pity and anger. Pity and sympathy are experienced toward others whose failures are caused by uncontrollable factors (think of the teacher's reactions to the retarded child who continually experiences academic difficulty). In contrast, anger is elicited when others' failures are due to causes within their control (imagine that same teacher's affect toward the gifted student who never completes assignments). These emotional reactions also can serve as indirect attributional cues (i.e., they provide information about the cause of achievement). If a teacher expresses pity and sympathy following student failure, that student tends to make a low ability attribution. Hence, pity from others can undermine beliefs about ability.

Beliefs about ability: Self-efficacy theory. Popularized by Albert Bandura, self-efficacy refers to individuals' beliefs about their capabilities to perform well. When confronted with a challenging task, a person would be enlisting an efficacy belief if they asked themselves: "Do I have the requisite skills to master this task?" Unlike causal beliefs in attribution theory, which are explanations for past events, efficacy percepts are future oriented. They resemble expectations for personal mastery of subsequent achievement tasks. Also unlike attribution theory, which focuses on the perceived stability of causes as a determinant of expectancy, efficacy theorists have articulated a much more extensive set of antecedents, including prior accomplishments, modeling, persuasion, and emotional arousal. For example, physiological symptoms signaling anxiety, such as rapid heart beat or sweaty palms, might function as cues to the individual that he or she lacks the requisite skills to successfully complete a task.

According to Bandura, perceived efficacy determines how much effort a person is willing to put into an activity as well as how long they will persevere in the face of obstacles. Many studies have documented the adaptive consequences of high self-efficacy. For example, it is known that high self-efficacy and improved performance result when students: (1) adopt short-term over long-term goals, inasmuch as progress is easier to judge in the former case; (2) are taught to use specific learning strategies, such as outlining and summarizing, both of which increase attention to the task; and (3) receive performance-contingent rewards as opposed to reinforcement for just engaging in a task, because only in the former case does reward signal task mastery. All these instructional manipulations are assumed to increase the belief that "I can do it," which then increases both effort and achievement. Efficacy beliefs have been related to the acquisition of new skills and to the performance of previously learned skills at a level of specificity not found in any other contemporary theory of motivation.

Beliefs about ability: Learned helplessness theory. Whereas self-efficacy captures lay understanding of "I can," helplessness beliefs symbolize shared understanding about the meaning of "I cannot." According to this theory, a state of helplessness exists when failures are perceived as insurmountable, or more technically, when noncontingent reinforcement results in the belief that events are uncontrollable. That belief often is accompanied by passivity, loss of motivation, depressed affect, and performance deterioration. Martin Seligman, a main proponent of the theory, has argued that helplessness becomes a learned phenomenon when individuals inappropriately generalize from an experience with noncontingency in one situation to subsequent situations where control is possible. A prototypical example is the successful student who unexpectedly fails despite high effort and then becomes virtually incapable of completing work that was easily mastered prior to failure.

Helplessness theory has a decidedly attributional focus in that Seligman and others maintain that when individuals encounter failure, they ask, "Why?" How people characteristically answer this question is known as explanatory style. Some people typically explain bad events by pointing to factors that are internal, stable, and global. (e.g., "I'm always a failure no matter what I do"). These individuals are believed to have a pessimistic explanatory style. Other people interpret bad events by evoking momentary and specific causes (e.g., "I just happened to be in the wrong place at the wrong time"). Such individuals are characterized as having an optimistic explanatory style. A pessimistic explanatory style in the achievement domain has been related to poor school grades, reluctance to seek help, diminished aspirations, and ineffective use of learning strategies.

The research of Carol Dweck has focused particularly on individual differences the motivational patterns of children who may be vulnerable to helplessness beliefs. In response to challenging tasks where failure is possible, some children have a mastery-oriented motivational system: they believe that ability is incremental (e.g., "smartness is something you can increase as much as you want"), they focus on the task rather than their abilities, they enjoy challenge, and they can generate solution-oriented strategies that lead to performance enhancement. At the other end of the continuum are children who display a helpless motivational pattern: they believe that ability is fixed (e.g., "how smart you are pretty much stays the same"); they focus on personal inadequacies; express negative affect, including boredom and anxiety; and they show marked deterioration in actual performance. In other words, they display the classic symptoms associated with learned helplessness.

In summary, the dominant theme in contemporary motivation research revolves around beliefs about ability as represented by attribution theory, self-efficacy theory, and learned helplessness theory. Attribution theory has its origins in social psychology and is therefore especially concerned with the situational determinants of motivation and with both self-perception and the perception of others. Self-efficacy theory has emerged from a social learning perspective and therefore has close ties with behavioral change. Learned helplessness theory reflects the influence of clinical and personality psychology with its focus on coping with failure and individual differences in a presumed motivational trait.

Achievement values. There is a much smaller literature on achievement values, the other broad construct in expectancy-value approaches to motivation. Unlike expectancy, which focuses on beliefs about ability, values are more directly concerned with the perceived importance, attractiveness, or usefulness of achievement activities. Values also are rooted in the moral constructs of "ought" and "should," as illustrated by the belief that one should try hard in school regardless of his or her perceived abilities.

The most extensive research on achievement values has been conducted by Jacque Eccles and Allan Wigfield. These researchers define achievement tasks in terms of their attainment value (the perceived importance of doing well), intrinsic value (how much enjoyment the individual derives from engaging in the task), utility value (how the tasks relates to future goals), and costs (the undesirable consequences of engaging in the task). Most of the research guided by this conception has selected specific subject matter domains to examine whether task value predicts different consequences, such as course grades and enrollment decisions, or the extent to which value and expectancy are positively or negatively related (according to Atkinson's theory, these two constructs, Is and P, should be inversely related). The findings of Eccles and Wigfield reveal that how much students value a particular domain influences choice behavior (i.e., their intention to enroll in particular courses and their actual enrollment). Task values, however, have little direct impact on actual course grades. Value and expectancy also appear to be positively correlated: individuals judge the tasks that they perceive themselves to be good at as more important, enjoyable, and useful. An unanswered question in this research is the issue of causal sequence. It is unclear whether individuals come to value what they are good at (expectancy [.arrowright] value), or whether individuals develop more confidence over time in the tasks that are most important (value [.arrowright] expectancy).

Achievement goals. Achievement goals capture the reasons why a person engages in achievement behavior, and two broad types have been identified. Students who pursue mastery goals are oriented toward acquiring new skills or improving their level of competence. In contrast, students who adopt performance goals are motivated by the intent to demonstrate that they have adequate ability and avoid displaying signs that they have low ability. According to this analysis, individuals can therefore decide to engage in achievement activities for two very different reasons: They may strive to develop competence by learning as much as they can, or they may strive to publicly display their competence by trying to outperform others.

A vast number of studies suggest that mastery goals increase motivation more than do performance goals. The general thinking is that mastery oriented individuals seek out challenge and escalate their efforts when tasks become difficult, whereas performance-oriented individuals see their ability as threatened in challenging situations, which they tend to avoid. More recent research, however, suggests that adopting performance goals in some situations may enhance motivation. At times the two goal orientations may go hand in hand (people can strive to attain mastery and outperform others) or the pursuit of performance goals (i.e., comparing one's self to others) can provide cues that the person is competent and will therefore enhance motivation. It also appears that when performance goals are differentiated by approach (demonstrating ability) and avoidance (concealing low ability) tendencies, it is mainly the avoidance component that compromises sustained achievement strivings.

A related body of research, labeled self-determination theory by Edward Deci and Richard Ryan, conceptualizes achievement goal pursuits in terms of whether they fulfill the individual's basic needs for competence, autonomy, and relatedness to other people. Goals that satisfy these needs enhance intrinsic motivation. The pioneering research of Deci and Ryan has alerted many educators to the fact that extrinsic rewards, such as grades, gold stars, or even money, can undermine intrinsic motivation if they jeopardize people's sense of competence and feelings of personal control.

Future Challenges

Motivation is a rich and changing field that has enjoyed much progress in its relatively brief history. In more than six decades following Hull's insights, there have been major upheavals in the field (the shift from behaviorism to cognition); new theories and concepts have been introduced, and novel research directions have been pursued (such as the finding that reward can decrease motivation). Principles of motivation have been described that can become the basis for intervention. Quite a bit is known, for example, about the positive motivational consequences of attributing failure to lack of effort rather than low ability, of selecting tasks of intermediate difficulty, and of focusing on mastery rather than outperforming others. All these principles have good theoretical and empirical grounding. The challenge for the future will be to study motivation in context. Examining achievement expectancy, values, and goals and how they get expressed in the broader context of social and cultural influences might provide important clues for understanding the academic challenges faced by many ethnic minority youth. Addressing such issues will be a useful step toward promoting the field of motivation in education research and assuring its continued vitality.

See also: Motivation, subentries on Instruction, Self-Regulated Learning.


Bandura, Albert. 1997. Self-Efficacy: The Exercise of Control. New York: Freeman.

Dweck, Carol. 1999. Self-Theories: Their Role in Motivation, Personality, and Development. Philadelphia: Taylor and Francis.

Graham, Sandra, and Weiner, Bernard. 1996. "Theories and Principles of Motivation." In Handbook of Educational Psychology, ed. David C. Berliner and Robert C. Calfee. New York: Macmillan.

Peterson, Christopher; Maier, Steven; and Seligman, Martin. 1993. Learned Helplessness: A Theory for the Age of Personal Control. New York: Oxford University Press.

Pintrich, Paul, and Schunk, Dale. 1996. Motivation in Education: Theory, Research, and Applications. Englewood Cliffs, NJ: Prentice-Hall.

Weiner, Bernard. 1992. Human Motivation: Metaphors, Theories, and Research. Newbury Park, CA: Sage.

Sandra Graham


The study of motivation has its roots in reinforcement theory, which focuses on the ways behaviors can be shaped by their consequences. In this model, the probability of a given response being repeated in the future is strengthened when it is followed by reward and weakened when it is nota phenomenon the American psychologist Edward L. Thorndike, author of the 1911 book Animal Intelligence, termed the "law of effect." Reinforcement theory, as elaborated by American psychologist B. F. Skinner, examined the ways in which arbitrary responses could be elicited or eliminated through the use of systematic reinforcement and punishment. Rewards and punishments were thought to affect behavior automatically, without complex cognitive processes. Indeed, most early research was conducted with rats and pigeons, although the underlying principles and processes were thought to operate similarly in people.

Extrinsic Reformers

Until the 1960s, educators interested in enhancing student motivation were primarily instructed in the use of extrinsic reinforcers to control behavior. Such behavior modification programs, which remain in widespread use in the early twenty-first century, make desired consequences (e.g., rewards, praise, good grades, teacher attention) contingent upon performing specified behaviors (e.g., completing homework, paying attention, remaining quiet). One popular behavior modification technique is the token economya system in which students receive tokens each time they exhibit specified behaviors and in which these tokens can be subsequently exchanged for desired goods. Token economies can be extremely effective in producing immediate behavioral changes, and continue to be important techniques for classroom management. At the same time, these techniques have been less effective in producing persistence and generalization of desired behaviors when tangible rewards are no longer available. Thus, despite the obvious benefits of tangible extrinsic reinforcers, several weaknesses of this approachespecially as applied to educationbecame apparent.

First, although extrinsic contingencies often enhance classroom motivation, this approach ignores the mediating cognitive processes, such as the person's expectations, knowledge, and beliefs, that are essential for understanding when such changes will persist or generalize. Second, extrinsic constraints may sometimes conflict directly with children's intrinsic motivation to learn, subsequently causing as much harm as good. Third, this approach neglects other significant motivational variables, such as interests, values, and social relationships. Since the 1960s, these limitations of reinforcement theory have served as the impetus for the three broad classes of research reviewed below.

Mediating Cognitive Processes

Beginning in the 1960s, motivational researchers adopted a more cognitive approach. Rather than studying only the direct effects of rewards and punishments, researchers became concerned with people's subjective interpretations of these external consequences. Do they expect to be rewarded? Do they expect to succeed? Do they believe their actions will make a difference? Modern researchers believe that people, unlike rats and pigeons, consider whether they are capable of achieving a given goal before they attempt it.

One of the earliest approaches that included these mediating factors was the expectancy-value theory of motivation. This model, which viewed motivation as the multiplicative product of a person's expected probability of success and the expected value of success to that person, proved a significant turning point. Indeed, contemporary theories of motivation consider competence beliefs central to achievement motivation. Researchers have also examined more domain-specific expectancies, such as self-efficacy beliefsin other words, beliefs that one can achieve specific goals in particular situationswhich can promote effort expenditure, persistence in the face of setbacks, and academic performance. People's general theories about the mutability (capacity for change) of intelligence are also important. Compared to theories that intelligence is fixed, theories that intelligence is malleable produce more adaptive behaviors in academic contexts, such as persistence following setbacks and a focus on learning rather than performance.

Expectations for success also depend on attributions regarding past successes and failures. According to attribution theory, individuals characterize causes for success and failure along three dimensions: internal versus external locus (which affects feelings of self-esteem), stability over time (which affects expectations for success in the future), and controllability (which affects emotions such as guilt and shame). These causal attributions are particularly significant when individuals experience failure, and research suggests that attributions of failure to internal, unstable, and controllable causessuch as low effort or a poor strategyare the most adaptive. Conversely, individuals who attribute failures to stable and uncontrollable causes, such as a lack of aptitude, tend to become helpless and give up, even when they could later easily succeed. Regardless of the presence of rewards, individuals are not motivated to engage in a behavior if they believe they cannot succeed.

Students' beliefs about their abilities and their expectations for success in school can be significantly influenced by teachers' instructional practices. Studies have shown that self-efficacy can be enhanced through direct success experiences, observed successes of a model, and verbal persuasion. One particularly effective procedure is to train students to set proximal (near-term) rather than distal (farterm) goals, which produces both self-efficacy and achievement gains. Teacher expectations can also influence student learning, even when these expectations have no basis in reality, suggesting that teachers convey subtle cues to students that have important consequences for motivation and achievement. Even seemingly innocuous behaviors, such as high praise for easy tasks or unsolicited help giving, can signify that teachers have low expectations and may adversely affect students' beliefs about their own abilities. Students can also be explicitly taught to focus on controllable and unstable causes for failure, such as a lack of effort or a poor strategy. Thus, effective instructional practices should communicate high but realistic expectations for success to students.

Intrinsic versus Extrinsic Motives

Also in the 1960s, researchers began to contrast extrinsic motivation with intrinsic motivationthe desire to engage in activities because they are inherently pleasurable, regardless of external contingencies. Given this contrast, it soon became apparent that extrinsic motivators have the potential to decrease students' subsequent intrinsic motivation when rewards are no longer available. That is, individuals must feel that their behavior is self-determined in order to experience motivation in the absence of extrinsic constraints. Studies have demonstrated that individuals who feel more in control of their own behavior also show more active learning, greater perceived competence, and higher academic achievement.

Conversely, the use of unnecessarily powerful extrinsic rewards can lead individuals to discount their intrinsic motivation. In many studies, students promised and given tangible rewards for engaging in initially intrinsically interesting activities showed less subsequent desire to perform those activities than students given no reward or the same reward unexpectedly. Thus, contracting to perform an activity in order to receive an extrinsic reward may undermine students' intrinsic motivation. Rewards do not always ways negatively impact intrinsic motivation, though, and much research has been devoted to understanding when rewards have beneficial versus detrimental effects. For example, rewards tend to enhance motivation when they are unexpected, intangible, and competence enhancing, and when there is little initial interest in an activity. Some controversy remains, however, regarding the specific conditions under which rewards negatively impact motivation.

The overuse of extrinsic incentives may also induce a performance orientation, as opposed to mastery orientation. Individuals with performance goals focus on appearing competent, even at the expense of further learning, whereas individuals with mastery goals focus on learning and understanding, even if their performance temporarily suffers. Research has shown that mastery goals are often associated with many positive achievement behaviors, such as persistence, effort, and effective strategy use. Nonetheless, performance goals may also sometimes be adaptive, and they may even correlate positively with mastery goals. As with intrinsic versus extrinsic motivation, sharp distinctions may be unwarranted.

Teachers can promote intrinsic motivation and foster mastery orientations. When students are encouraged to plan ahead, take personal responsibility, and set individual learning goals, they experience a greater sense of control and show gains in motivation and achievement. Personalizing learning activities or providing individuals with explicit choices can also boost motivation and enhance learning. The judicious use of extrinsic rewards and punishments, just sufficient to elicit compliance, will similarly have particularly positive effects on later intrinsic motivation. A classroom climate that supports mastery orientationsby minimizing public evaluation and normative comparisons, providing opportunities for improvement, and recognizing student effortshould also be beneficial. Instructional practices, therefore, should promote autonomy and minimize unnecessary extrinsic constraints, to foster intrinsic motivation and lifelong learning.

Additional Important Factors

Classic reinforcement theory also neglects other important factors, such as values, interests, and relationships. Values have more recently been viewed as having several components: attainment value (i.e., importance of doing well), interest value (i.e., task enjoyment), utility value (i.e., future usefulness), and cost (i.e., effort). Studies have shown that personal value of an academic domain can influence course enrollment, effort, persistence, and critical thinking. Closely related to value is interest, which has long been considered an important source of intrinsic motivation. The study of interest has recently received renewed attention, as researchers have sought to understand its relationship to self-regulation and to determine how different forms of interest are related to achievement outcomes.

Relationships are also not addressed by the extrinsic approach, although, much like competence and autonomy, they may be central to intrinsic motivation. Indeed, positive and secure relationships between students and teachers lead to greater classroom engagement, better emotional adjustment to school, and higher valuing of academic activities. It is not only beliefs, but also the more emotional factors of values, interests, and relationships, that can determine students' motivation.

Teachers can support values, interests, and relationships through a variety of instructional practices. Placing curriculum activities in interesting, perhaps even imaginary, contexts (e.g., learning math equations through a computerized space adventure) can produce gains in motivation and learningprovided that the context supports rather than distracts from the curriculum. Another strategy is to select or develop tasks centered on students' existing interests and concerns. This concept has been successfully implemented, both in small cooperative learning groups and in programs designed to create classroom "communities of learners" invested in working together to achieve common goals. Finally, research suggests that positive relationships are fostered when teachers provide appropriate structure and autonomy for their students and show them affection and respect.

Individual Differences

Many of these motivational variables may interact with individual differences, such as need for achievement, locus of control, explanatory styles, and self-theories. For example, stable individual beliefs about whether events are caused by internal versus external factors affect a host of achievement cognitions and behaviors, and different instructional practices may be more appropriate for internals versus externals. Researchers have also examined individual differences in general self-schemas or conceptual frameworks. For example, the extent to which individuals have a theory of intelligence as a malleable quality versus a fixed entity is thought to account for differences in achievement beliefs, goals, behaviors, and emotions. While it is unrealistic to assume that classroom practices can be perfectly matched to the needs of every individual student, at least given the current structure of most schools, differences in individuals' beliefs and behaviors must be considered, whenever possible.

Finally, motivational theories must include a developmental perspective, particularly when complex cognitive processes are involved. Studies suggest that there are developmental changes in children's beliefs about the relationship between ability and effort and the role that natural ability plays in achievement. Additionally, striking developmental decreases in children's intrinsic motivation and personal valuation of academic activities have been repeatedly documented. Clearly, these findings suggest that current practices have not been fully successful at promoting students' motivation as they progress through school.

See also: Motivation, subentries on Overview, Self-Regulated Learning.


Atkinson, John W. 1964. An Introduction to Motivation. Princeton, NJ: Van Nostrand.

Bandura, Albert. 1969. Principles of Behavior Modification. New York: Holt, Rinehart and Winston.

Bandura, Albert. 1997. Self-Efficacy: The Exercise of Control. New York: W. H. Freeman.

Berlyne, Daniel E. 1960. Conflict, Arousal, and Curiosity. New York: McGraw-Hill.

Deci, Edward L., and Ryan, Richard M. 1985. Intrinsic Motivation and Self-Determination in Human Behavior. New York: Plenum Press.

Dweck, Carol S. 1999. Self-Theories: Their Role in Motivation, Personality, and Development. Philadelphia: Psychology Press.

Hunt, J. McVicker. 1961. Intelligence and Experience. New York: Ronald Press.

Kazdin, Alan E. 1977. The Token Economy. New York: Plenum Press.

Lepper, Mark R., and Greene, David, eds. 1978. The Hidden Costs of Reward. Hillsdale, NJ: Erlbaum.

McClelland, David C.; Atkinson, John W.; Clark, Russell A; and Lowell, Edgar J. 1953. The Achievement Motive. New York: Appleton-Century-Crofts.

O'Leary, K. Daniel, and O'Leary, Susan G. 1977. Classroom Management: The Successful Use of Behavior Modification, 2nd edition. New York: Pergamon Press.

Sansone, Carol, and Harackiewicz, Judith M., eds. 2000. Intrinsic and Extrinsic Motivation: The Search for Optimal Motivation and Performance. San Diego, CA: Academic Press.

Skinner, B. F. 1938. The Behavior of Organisms: An Experimental Analysis. New York: Appleton-Century-Crofts.

Skinner, B. F. 1953. Science and Human Behavior. New York: Macmillan.

Weiner, Bernard. 1986. An Attributional Theory of Motivation and Emotion. New York: Springer-Verlag.

Mark R. Lepper

Jennifer Henderlong


Self-regulated learning refers to the processes by which individual learners attempt to monitor and control their own learning. There are many different models of self-regulated learning that propose different constructs and processes, but they do share some basic assumptions about learning and regulation.


One common assumption might be called the active, constructive assumption that follows from a general cognitive perspective. That is, all the models view learners as active constructive participants in the learning process. A second, but related, assumption is the potential for control assumption. All the models assume that learners can potentially monitor, control, and regulate certain aspects of their own cognition, motivation, and behavior as well as some features of their environments. This assumption does not mean that individuals will or can monitor and control their cognition, motivation, or behavior at all times or in all contexts, rather just that some monitoring, control, and regulation is possible. All of the models recognize that there are biological, developmental, contextual, and individual difference constraints that can impede or interfere with individual efforts at regulation.

A third general assumption that is made in these models of self-regulated learning is the goal, criterion, or standard assumption. All models of regulation assume that there is some type of criterion or standard (also called goals) against which comparisons are made in order to assess whether the process should continue as is or if some type of change is necessary. The commonsense example is the thermostat operation for the heating and cooling of a house. Once a desired temperature is set (the goal, criterion, or standard), the thermostat monitors the temperature of the house (monitoring process) and then turns on or off the heating or air conditioning units (control and regulation processes) in order to reach and maintain the standard. In a parallel manner, the general example for learning assumes that individuals can set standards or goals to strive for in their learning, monitor their progress toward these goals, and then adapt and regulate their cognition, motivation, and behavior in order to reach their goals.

A fourth general assumption of most of the models of self-regulated learning is that self-regulatory activities are mediators between personal and contextual characteristics and actual achievement or performance. That is, it is not just individuals' cultural, demographic, or personality characteristics that influence achievement and learning directly, nor just the contextual characteristics of the classroom environment that shape achievement, but the individuals' self-regulation processes that mediate the relations between the person, context, and eventual achievement. Most models of self-regulation assume that self-regulatory activities are directly linked to outcomes such as achievement and performance, although much of the research examines self-regulatory processes as outcomes in their own right.

Domains of Self-Regulation

Given these assumptions, a general working definition of self-regulated learning is that it is an active, constructive process whereby learners set goals for their learning and then attempt to monitor, regulate, and control their cognition, motivation, and behavior, guided and constrained by their goals and the contextual features in the environment. Following this general definition, research on models of self-regulated learning have delineated four general domains that learners can try to self-regulate: (1) cognition, (2) motivation, (3) behavior, and (4) the environment.

The cognitive domain includes the various cognitive strategies that learners can use to help them remember, understand, reason, and problem solve. Much of the work in this domain has focused on the learning strategies that students can use in academic contexts to comprehend text, to learn from lectures, to take notes, to solve math problems, to write papers, (e.g., testing their comprehension as they read a text). In addition, research has focused on meta-cognitive strategies that learners can use to plan, monitor, and control their own cognition. In many ways, metacognition is now seen as one part of the more general construct of self-regulated learning. In general, good self-regulating learners use a number of different strategies to control their cognition in ways that help them reach their goals.

The motivation and affective domain includes the various strategies that individuals can use to try to control and regulate their own motivation and emotions. This can include strategies for boosting their self-confidence or self-efficacy such as positive self-talk ("I know I can do this task") as well as strategies to try to control their interest (e.g., making the task more interesting by making a game out of it). Other strategies can be aimed at controlling negative emotions such as anxiety that can interfere with learning. In some research, these motivational and emotional control strategies are called volitional control strategies, but they can also be seen as part of the larger construct of self-regulated learning. As with cognition, good self-regulating learners do attempt to control their motivation and emotions in order to facilitate attainment of their goals.

The third domain includes actual attempts to control overt behavior, not just internal cognitions or motivational beliefs and emotions. This could involve increasing or decreasing effort on a task, as well as persisting on a task or giving up. Help-seeking behavior is another important self-regulatory behavior. Good self-regulators would adjust their effort levels to the task and their goals; they know when to persist, when to ask for help, and when to stop doing the task.

Finally, self-regulated learners can attempt to monitor and control the environment. Of course, they will not have as much control over the general classroom context or academic tasks as they do over their own cognition, motivation, and behavior, but there are some aspects of the context that can be controlled. For example, good self-regulated learners will try to control distractions by asking others to be quiet or by moving to another location. Good self-regulators also try to understand the task demands and the classroom norms and then try to adjust their learning to fit these demands. In other words, they are sensitive to the contextual demands and constraints that are operating in the classroom and attempt to cope with them in an adaptive manner.

The Development of Self-Regulation

There are a host of factors that can influence the development of self-regulation; three are noted here: cognitive development, motivation, and classroom contexts. Given the complexity of self-regulated learning, it is a phenomenon that emerges later in a child's life. There are clear developmental and maturational constraints on self-regulated learning. Although there are obviously aspects of self-regulation in place by the time a young child reaches school, the development of self-regulation for academic tasks takes place over the course of K12 education. There is not as much research on the development of self-regulated learning as there is on how it operates, but it is probably not until the middle to late elementary school grades (third grade to sixth grade) that students begin to develop some of the important self-regulation strategies. In fact, it is likely that much of the development of self-regulated learning takes place in adolescence, given general cognitive developmental changes as well as the changes in the classroom context in middle schools and high schools. At the same time, there are many students who do not develop self-regulated strategies at all, even some of those more successful ones who go on to college. Accordingly, there is a need to develop explicit instructional strategies and programs to help students learn about self-regulation and develop expertise in regulating their learning.

Self-regulated learning is also time-consuming and quite difficult for some students, even when provided with explicit instruction in self-regulation. Accordingly, it is important that students are motivated to be self-regulating. Research of Paul R. Pintrich (1999) on the role of motivation in self-regulated learning has suggested three important generalizations about the relations between motivation and self-regulated learning. First, students must feel self-efficacious or confident that they can do the tasks. If they feel they can accomplish the academic tasks, then they are much more likely to use various self-regulation strategies. Second, students must be interested in and value the classroom tasks. Students who are bored or do not find the tasks useful or worthwhile are much less likely to be self-regulating than those who are interested and find the tasks important. Finally, students who are focused on goals of learning, understanding, and self-improvement are much more likely to be self-regulating than students who are pursuing other goals such as trying to look smarter than others, or trying not to look stupid. These generalizations have been found in a large number of studies and seem to be fairly robust, but of course there is a need for more research on the role of motivation in self-regulated learning.

Finally, besides developmental and motivational factors, there are contextual factors that play a role in the development of self-regulation. One of the most important is that individuals actually have the opportunity to try to take control of their own learning and are given the chance to try tasks on their own. Of course, it is important that tasks are not too challenging or too easy, but in the students' range of competence. In addition, the modeling and demonstration of various self-regulatory strategies by parents, teachers, and peers can help students learn these strategies. Students also need the opportunity to have guided practice with the use of these strategies, with support and guidance from knowledgeable others, whether they be parents, teachers, or peers. Finally, there should be incentives in the context for the use of these strategies, such that students who are successful in using the strategies are rewarded in terms of praise or more tangible rewards such as better learning and achievement.

Importance of Self-Regulated Learning

In summary, self-regulated learning is an important aspect of learning and achievement in academic contexts. Students who are self-regulating are much more likely to be successful in school, to learn more, and to achieve at higher levels. Accordingly, it is important for schools and classrooms to attempt to foster the development of expertise in self-regulated learning. Of course, there are developmental, motivational, and contextual factors that can facilitate or constrain self-regulated learning, but there are implicit and explicit ways to help foster self-regulated learning. In the twenty-first century and as the explosion of information and multiple ways of learning increase, it will become even more important that individuals know how to self-regulate their learning and that fostering self-regulated learning becomes an important goal for all educational systems.

See also: Learning to Learn and Metacognition; Motivation, subentries on Overview, Instruction.


Boekaerts, Monique; Pintrich, Paul R.; and Zeidner, Moshe, eds. 2000. Handbook of Self-Regulation. San Diego, CA: Academic Press.

Pintrich, Paul R. 1999. "The Role of Motivation in Promoting and Sustaining Self-Regulated Learning." International Journal of Educational Research 31:459470.

Pintrich, Paul R. 2000. "The Role of Goal Orientation in Self-Regulated Learning." In Handbook of Self-Regulation, ed. Monique Boekaerts, Paul R. Pintrich, and Moshe Zeidner. San Diego, CA: Academic Press.

Randi, Judi, and Corno, Lyn. 2000. "Teacher Innovations in Self-Regulated Learning." In Handbook of Self-Regulation, ed. Monique Boekaerts, Paul R. Pintrich, and Moshe Zeidner. San Diego, CA: Academic Press.

Schunk, Dale, and Ertmer, Peggy. 2000. "Self-Regulation and Academic Learning: Self-Efficacy Enhancing Interventions." In Handbook of Self-Regulation, ed. Monique Boekaerts, Paul R. Pintrich, and Moshe Zeidner. San Diego, CA: Academic Press.

Weinstein, Claire Ellen; Husman, Jenefer; and Dierking, Douglas. 2000. "Self-Regulation Interventions with a Focus on Learning Strategies." In Handbook of Self-Regulation, ed. Monique Boekaerts, Paul R. Pintrich, and Moshe Zeidner. San Diego, CA: Academic Press.

Paul R. Pintrich


views updated May 14 2018


Research within the psychology of aging has increased our understanding of old (and very old) age with regard to changes in intellectual functioning, everyday competence, and social relationships, as well as sources of well-being (see Baltes and Mayer, 1999). At the same time, the role of motivational processes in aging has become increasingly important.

Approaches to the study of motivation

The study of motivation focuses on the question of why people initiate, terminate, or persist in specific actions. Given this broad scope, the field of motivation has been characterized as the "cornerstone in the science of human behavior" (Ryan, 1998, p. 114). Despite a variety of theoretical approaches, research has come to increasingly emphasize the importance of goals as directors of human action. Accordingly, research has focused on desired outcomes and how they serve as incentives; on how goals direct action; how pursuit is regulated; and how needs are related to higher-order goals. It has also looked at control-related beliefs for goal attainment, such as an individual's ability to attain desired outcomes through appropriate action. An additional research focus has been on the role of emotions in motivating thought and action.

Arousal theory offers another perspective by focusing on psychophysiological states characterized by varying degrees of excitation, activation, or energy mobilization. It has been maintained that high levels of arousal are a prerequisite for the experience of at least some emotions, and that they are embedded in many motivated acts. On the other hand, any goal-directed activity has an intrinsic emotional component; so motivational and emotional processes are intertwined and exert a powerful influence on cognitive processing, as well as being affected by cognition. Even more, as Buck (1999, p. 303) has put it, "each is involved in both of the others," whereby motivation and emotion are seen "as the two sides of the same coin," i.e., the motivational-emotional system.

Developmental perspectives on motivation

For developmental psychologists the central question is why people pursue particular goals and how goal-pursuit might be related to age or life stage. Most studies, however, have been limited to childhood or early adolescence. Some suggest the relative stability of certain motives, such as the achievement motive, from that time on (McClelland, 1985). Others claim that there is a systematic reorganization of motives across adulthood, with goals related to self-verification and self-worth becoming increasingly salient (Carstensen, 1998). Beyond the question of which needs and goals instigate action at various ages, one can also distinguish various types of motivation to allow for further developmental differentiation. These motivating factors can be broken down into two general areas: (1) goal pursuit being controlled by internal vs. external forces, and (2) the temporal orientation of goals.

Control-related issues. A distinction can be made as to whether goal-directed activity emanates from the self or is brought about by (or perceived to be brought about by) forces external to the self. People of all ages have a strong desire for autonomy and feelings of control, yet the transition into old age is accompanied by increased constraints on control. In particular, rather than supporting autonomy, the social world of elderly people contributes remarkably to decrements in control. Following a "dependency-support script" (Baltes and Wahl, 1992), othersin particular those who take care of the elderlytend to reward dependency and ignore autonomy, thereby stifling the efforts of elderly persons to control their lives themselves and undermining self-determination. Since, however, goal pursuits controlled by internal reasons have been shown to be predictive of almost all indicators of positive well-being, attempts to prevent loss of control have a long history in the psychology of aging. Only recently has it become acknowledged that elderly people, rather than adhering to illusions of control and engaging in fruitless efforts at control, exhibit a shift in regulatory strategies from primary control (directed at the external world) to secondary control (directed at the inner world of the individual). This shift may account for the so-called picture of contentment and well-being amidst threat and loss often ascribed to old age.

Time-related issues. The second way of distinguishing action goals is by their temporal orientation; that is, whether they are related to preparedness for the future or to satisfaction in the present. From this perspective, the notion of perceived time left in life deserves special attention, for the subjective assessment of time is considered to play a critical role in the ranking and execution of all goal-directed processes. Evidence has shown that elderly persons, more than other age groups, seem to focus on the here and now. Additionally, anticipated endings and limited resources have been shown to make elderly people much more selective with regard to where and when to invest their energies, and to make them much more reflexive concerning the optimization of means of attaining goals (as outlined in the model of Selective Optimization with Compensation; SOC-model).

The temporal ordering of action goals may also be examined using developmental tasks as a key concept. Developmental tasks are seen to be jointly produced by the process of biological aging; the demands, constraints, and opportunities provided by the external world; and the desires and strivings that characterize each individual's motivational system. These tasks provide individuals with a mental image of the normative course of development, thereby serving as sources for goal setting and as organizers of self-regulation. In addition, normative life transitions bring about relevant experiences, which might force psychological reorganization and induce changes in the motivational system, although little is known about these processes.

Arousal-related issues. Arousal theory makes plain the relevance of biological functioning to many motivational and emotional phenomena. In more general terms, one might refer again to the developmental-interactionist theory proposed by Buck (1999), which underscores the biological basis of higher level (e.g., social or moral) affects and elaborates how these became interrelated over the course of individual development. One of the most robust findings concerns the general slowing of the aging organism, together with a decline in sensory functioning. Thus, by emphasizing the older adults' lowered levels of vigilance, alertness, and speed of information-processing, it is expected that an individual will have less interaction with his or her environment. This is reflected in decreased emotional intensity (although decline does not occur when low arousal feelings like contentment are studied), among other things. More important, however, is that these biological changes might also have implications for the allocation of energy to goal-directed activities. For example, a decline in energy might foster in elderly people diminished feelings of control and a self-ascribed inability to attain goals. From this point of view, affective and cognitive processes again seem to interact in producing particular motivational states in old age.

Social motivation and self-esteem in old age

Among the basic motivational processes, the need for interpersonal relationships, for positive self-regard, and for meaning in life serve as powerful forces in old and very old age. This is evidenced in various self-regulation processes, and even in the construction of autobiographical narratives, i.e., how people make stories about particular episodes and experiences in their lives.

Interest in social motivation was originally nurtured by research on social support, defined as those interpersonal transactions that involve aid, affirmation, or affect. Although research has mostly lacked a developmental focus, it now seems clear that aid (i.e., instrumental rather than emotional or appraisal support) is the crucial issue for elderly people and is most predictive of their well-being.

Another social perspective considers elderly people not as needy recipients, but rather as providers of social support. Altruistic behaviors in old age are assumed to foster feelings of competence and self-worth and to provide a sense of meaning to one's life, while at the same time they might serve to distract elderly people from current troubles or to ensure the presence of others. A different perspective, known as social emotional selectivity theory, has as its core proposition that the elderly may have fewer social relationships, but that they compensate by selecting relationships in which they can be meaningfully understood, share intimacy, and express emotions. This means that elderly people are seen to be driven more by emotional motives aimed at self-verification or affect regulation rather than by information-seeking motives (e.g., aimed at getting to know new people or at reducing unfamiliarity in social relationships).

Finally, the need for self-esteem represents a pervasive motivation across the entire life span. Evidence on how people, irrespective of their ages, ward off threats to their self-views (e.g., by defensive responses, selective comparisons, and/ or strategic self-presentation) is compelling. There is nothing special about elderly people in this regard, unless one assumes that their experiences of loss are to be equated with threats to self-esteem. It is not well understood, however, how loss encountered in later life is construed by elderly people: do these losses threaten self-esteem, or are they seen as universal concomitants of the natural course of aging? Under what conditions do loss experiences induce unpleasant feelings of uniqueness and attack feelings of self-worth? Obviously, one pathway to understand affect and motivation in elderly persons is to study their (own) subjective implicit theories of aging.

Sigrun-Heide Filipp

See also Control, Perceived; Emotion; Intelligence; Life-Span Theory of Control; Social Cognition; Social Support.


Baltes, P. B., and Mayer, K. U., eds. The Berlin Aging Study. Aging from 70 to 100. Cambridge, U.K.: Cambridge University Press, 1999.

Baltes, M. M., and Wahl, H.-W. "The Dependency-Support Script in Institutions: Generalization to Community Settings." Psychology and Aging 7 (1992): 409418.

Baltes, P. B., and Lindenberger, U. "Emergence of a Powerful Connection Between Sensory and Cognitive Functions across the Adult Life Span: A New Window to the Study of Cognitive Aging?" Psychology and Aging 12 (1997): 1221.

Baltes, P. B., and Baltes, M. M. "Psychological Perspectives on Successful Aging: The Model of Selective Optimization with Compensation." In Successful Aging: Perspectives from the Behavioral Sciences. Edited by P. B. Baltes and M. M. Baltes. Cambridge, U.K.: Cambridge University Press, 1990. Pages 134.

Baumeister, R. F., and Newman, L. S. "How Stories Make Sense of Personal Experiences: Motives that Shape Autobiographical Narratives." Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin 20 (1994): 676690.

BrandtstÄdter, J. "Coping with Discrepancies between Aspirations and Achievements in Adult Development: A Dual-Process Model." In Life Crisis and Experiences of Loss in Adulthood. Edited by L. Montada, S. H. Filipp, and M. Lerner. Hillsdale, N.J.: Erlbaum, 1992. Pages 301319.

Buck, R. "The Biological Affects: A Typology." Psychological Review 109: 301336.

Carstensen, L. L. "A Life-Span Approach to Social Motivation." In Motivation and Self-Regulation Across the Life Span. Edited by J. Heckhausen, and C. S. Dweck. Cambridge, U.K.: University of Cambridge Press, 1998. Pages 341364.

Diener, E.; Suh, E.; Lucas, M.;and Smith, H. L. "Subjective Well-Being: Three Decades of Progress." Psychological Bulletin 125 (1999): 276302.

Filipp, S.-H. "Motivation and Emotion." In Handbook of the Psychology of Aging, 5th ed. Edited by K.W. Schaie and J. Birren. New York: Academic Press, 1996. Pages 218235.

Gollwitzer, P. M., and Bargh, J. A. eds. The Psychology of Action: Linking Cognition and Motivation to Behavior. New York: Guilford, 1996.

Heckhausen, J., and Schulz, R. "A Life-Span Theory of Control." Psychological Review 102 (1995): 284304.

Heckhausen, J. Developmental Regulation in Adulthood. Age-Normative and Socio-Structural Constraints as Adaptive Challenges. Cambridge, U.K.: Cambridge University Press, 1999.

McClelland, D. C. Human Motivation. Dallas: Scott, Foresman, 1985.

Midlarsky, E. "Helping As Coping." Review of Personality and Social Psychology 12 (1991): 238264.

Ryan, R. M. "Commentary: Human Psychological Needs and the Issues of Volition, Control, and Outcome Focus." In Motivation an Self-Regulation across the Life Span. Edited by J. Heckhausen and C. S. Dweck. Cambridge, U.K.: University of Cambridge Press, 1998.

Schulz, R. "Commentary: Motivation and Self-Regulation in Adult Development." In Motivation an Self-Regulation across the Life Span. Edited by J. Heckhausen, and C. S. Dweck. Cambridge, U.K.: University of Cambridge Press, 1998. Pages 424436.


views updated May 29 2018


Motivation is about individuals' actions and what determines them. The word motivation is derived from the Latin verb movere, which means "to move." It is a broad theoretical concept used to explain why individuals behave as they do or why they engage in particular actions at particular times. It is a drive that compels one to act because human behavior is directed toward some goal. As defined by Richard Daft, motivation refers to "the forces either within or external to a person that arouse enthusiasm and persistence to pursue a certain course of action" (2003, p. 526). When motivation is intrinsic (internal), it comes from within based on personal interests, desires, and need for fulfillment. Nevertheless, extrinsic (external) factors such as rewards, praise, and promotions also influence motivation. A basic premise about motivation is that individuals approach goals or participate in activities that are considered desirable and avoid situations and events that are likely to be unpleasant.

Motivation theories have their roots in behavioral psychology. They provide a way to examine and understand human behavior in a variety of situations. Even the oldest of motivation theories can be helpful today because they show the importance of human needs and provide the foundation for the development of other theories. Most motivation theories have been developed by researchers in the United States, so they are, therefore, influenced by American culture.

From a manager's perspective, it is important to understand what prompts people, what influences them, and why they persist in particular actions. Motivation can lead to high performance in the workplace. People who are committed to achieving organizational objectives generally outperform those who are not committed. Those who are intrinsically rewarded by accomplishments are satisfied with their jobs and are individuals with high self-esteem. Therefore, an important part of management is to help make work more satisfying and rewarding for employees and to keep employee motivation consistent with organizational objectives. With the diversity of contemporary workplaces, this is a complicated task. Many factors, including the influences of different underlying principles, are important to understanding motivation:

  • People have reasons for everything they do
  • Whatever people choose as a goal is something they believe is good for them
  • The goals people choose must be seen as attainable
  • The conditions under which the work is done can affect its value to employees and their perceptions of attainability or success

When management was first studied in a scientific way at the turn of the twentieth century, Frederick Winslow Taylor (18561915) worked to improve productivity in labor situations so important in those days of the developing Industrial Revolution. Taylor developed efficiency measures and incentive systems. When workers were paid more for meeting a standard higher than their normal production, productivity increased dramatically. Therefore, workers seemed to be economically motivated. At this time in history, social issues involved in human behavior were not yet considered. A more humanistic approach soon developed that has been influencing management ever since.

During the late 1920s and early 1930s, Elton Mayo (18801949) and other researchers from Harvard University conducted studies at Western Electric's Hawthorne Works plant in Cicero, Illinois, to measure productivity. They studied the effects of fatigue, layout, heating, and lighting on productivity. As might be expected when studying lighting, employee productivity levels increased as the illumination level was increased; the same effect, however, was noted when the illumination level was decreased.

The researchers concluded that the attention paid to the employees was more of a contributing factor to their productivity level than the environmental conditions. The improvement in the behavior of workers when attention is paid to them came to be called the Hawthorne effect. As a result of this research, it was evident that employees should be treated in a humane way. These findings started the human relations movementa change in management thinking and practice that viewed increased worker productivity as grounded in satisfaction of employees' basic needs. (Many years later, it was discovered that the workers in the Hawthorne experimental group had received an increase in income; money, therefore, was probably a motivating factor, although it was not recognized as such at the time.)

A simple model of motivation is shown in Figure 1.

Ongoing changes in the workplace require that managers give continuous attention to those factors that influence worker behavior, recognizing that each individual has his or her own values and differing abilities. Being responsive to these differences can help managers work effectively with many different types of employees. Employee performance is influenced in many waysby how jobs are designed, the conditions of the work environment, and the appropriateness of benefits. Through the use of goals and rewards, managers influence employees, improve morale, and implement incentive and compensation plans.

No one theory can explain all the variances in human behavior, so a wide range of theories have developed over time. The following eight motivation theories can help managers to understand the needs that motivate people and then implement reward systems that fulfill those needs and reinforce the appropriate behavior.


Abraham Maslow (19081970), a professor at Brandeis University and a practicing psychologist, developed the hierarchy of needs theory. He identified a set of needs that he prioritized into a hierarchy based on two conclusions:

  1. Human needs are either of an attraction/desire nature or of an avoidance nature.
  2. Because humans are "wanting" beings, when one desire is satisfied, another desire will take its place.

The five levels of needs are shown in Figure 2. According to Maslow's theory, the lower-level needs must be satisfied before higher-level needs.

  • Physiological needs These are basic physical needs for food, water, and oxygen. In the workplace, these needs translate into the survival needs for an ergonomically designed work environment with adequate heat, air, and an appropriate base salary compensation.
  • Safety needs People want to feel safe, secure, and free from fear. They need stability, structure, and order. In the workplace, job security and fringe benefits, along with an environment free of violence, fill these needs.
  • Belonging needs People have needs for social acceptance and affection from their peers. In the workplace, this need is satisfied by participation in work groups with good relationships among coworkers and between workers and managers.
  • Esteem needs People want to be regarded as useful, competent, and important. People also desire self-esteem and need a good self-image. In the workplace, increased responsibility, high status, and recognition for contributions satisfy these needs.
  • Self-actualization needs This highest motivation level involves people striving to develop their full potential, to become more of what they are capable of being. They seek to attain self-fulfillment. In the workplace, people satisfy this need by being creative, receiving training, and accepting challenging assignments.

Managers can affect the physical, social, and psychological environment in the workplace, and they have a responsibility to help employees fulfill their needs. Focusing on the needs of retraining for growth and challenge as well as rewards and recognition is important to the quality of work life.


In his work, Clayton Alderfer (1940) expanded on Maslow's hierarchical theory. He proposed three need categories and suggested that movement between the need levels is not necessarily straightforward. Failure to meet a higher-level need could cause an individual to regress to a lower-level need. These ERG theory categories are:

  • Existence needs: Needs for physical well-being
  • Relatedness needs: Needs for satisfactory relationships with others
  • Growth needs: The development of human potential and the desire for personal growth and increased competence


Frederick Herzberg (19232000), a professor of psychology at Case Western Reserve University, studied the attitudes of workers toward their jobs. Herzberg proposed that an individual will be moved to action based on the desire to avoid deprivation. This motivation, however, does not provide positive satisfaction because it does not provide a sense of growth. Herzberg's research found that positive job attitudes were associated with a feeling of psychological growth. He thought that people work for two reasons: for financial reasons to avoid physical deprivation, and for achievement because of the happiness and meaning it provides. Herzberg also identified the concept of job enrichment, whereby the responsibilities of a job are changed to provide greater growth and challenge. His motivation-hygiene theory includes two types of factors, motivation and hygiene.


Motivation is based on the positive satisfaction that psychological growth provides. The presence of factors such as responsibility, achievement, recognition, and possibility for growth or advancement will motivate and satisfy people. These factors directly influence how people feel about their work. The absence of these factors will not necessarily demotivate or cause dissatisfaction.


Hygiene is based on an individual's desire to avoid deprivation and the resulting physical and emotional discomfort. Hygiene factors include willingness to supervise; positive working conditions; interpersonal relations with peers, subordinates, and superiors; status; job security; and salary. These factors do not motivate, nor will their presence cause job satisfaction. Their absence, however, will cause dissatisfaction.

Although salary is considered a hygiene factor, it plays an indirect part in motivation as a measure of growth and advancement or as a symbol of recognition of achievement.


Douglas McGregor (19061964), a professor at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and a social psychologist, was greatly influenced by the work of Maslow. McGregor recognized that people have needs and that those needs are satisfied at work. He described two sets of assumptions about people that he labeled Theory X and Theory Y.

Theory X

The assumptions of Theory X are that most people will avoid work because they do not like it and must be threatened or persuaded to put forth adequate effort. People have little ambition and do not want responsibility. They want to be directed and are most interested in job security.

Theory Y

The assumptions of Theory Y are that work is very natural to people and that most people are self-directed to achieve objectives to which they are committed. People are ambitious and creative. They desire responsibility and derive a sense of satisfaction from the work itself.

These assumptions were, at one time, applied to management styles, with autocratic managers labeled as adhering to Theory X and democratic managers to Theory Y. Unfortunately, this fostered a tendency to see people as members of a group rather than as individuals. The important contribution of McGregor's theory was to recognize these two perspectives and to recognize that people can achieve personal objectives through helping organizations achieve their objectives. Their work can be a motivator.


In his studies on personality and learned needs, David McClelland (19171998) developed the acquired-needs theory because he felt that different needs are acquired throughout an individual's lifetime. He proposed three needs:

  1. Need for achievement The desire to accomplish something difficult, attain a high standard of success, master complex tasks, and surpass others
  2. Need for affiliation The desire to form close personal relationships, avoid conflict, and establish warm friendships
  3. Need for power The desire to influence or control others, be responsible for others, and have authority over others

McClelland found through his research that early life experiences determine whether people acquire these needs. The need to achieve as an adult is influenced by the reinforcement of behavior received as a child when a child is encouraged to do things independently. If a child is reinforced for warm, human relationships, then the need for affiliation as an adult develops. If a child gains satisfaction from controlling others, then the need for power will be evident as an adult.

McClelland noted that people with a high need for achievement are persistent in striving to reach goals, work harder than people with other needs, and are medium risk takers. He also found these characteristics to be common among college graduates who selected entrepreneurial occupations.


Victor Vroom (1932) developed the expectancy theory, which suggests expectancy is the perceived probability that a certain effort or performance will result in the achievement of a particular goal. Perceived probability is important. Individuals' expectations about their ability to accomplish something will affect their success in accomplishing it.

The desirability of outcomes is important, too. The value of or preference for a particular outcome is called valence. To determine valence, people will ask themselves whether or not they can accomplish a goal, how important is the goal to them (in the immediate as well as the long term), and what course of action will provide the greatest reward. An individual's expectation of actually achieving the outcome is crucial to success, and many factors influence this.

The expectancy theory can be applied through incentive systems that identify desired outcomes and give all workers the same opportunities to achieve rewards, such as stock ownership, promotions, or other recognition for achievement.


The equity theory focuses on individuals' perceptions of how fairly they are treated in comparison to others. It was developed by J. Stacy Adams (1925), who found that equity exists when people consider their compensation equal to the compensation of others who perform similar work, which is an external standard. People judge equity by comparing inputs (such as education, experience, effort, and ability) to outputs (such as pay, recognition, benefits, and promotion). It can also relate to internal standards when people compare how hard they are working with what they are getting in return.

If people perceive a discrepancy between the inputs and outputs, then they are unhappy. When the ratio is out of balance, inequity occurs. And inequitable pay can create an impossible situation when implementing salary and incentive systems. According to Richard L. Daft (2003), individuals will work to reduce perceived inequity by doing the following:

  • Change inputs: Examples include increasing or reducing effort
  • Change outcomes: Such as requesting a salary increase or improved working conditions
  • Distort perceptions: This occurs when individuals cannot change their inputs or outcomes; one example is artificially increasing the importance of awards
  • Leave the job: Individuals might do this rather than experience what they perceive to be continued inequity

When administering compensation and incentive programs, managers must be careful to ensure that the rewards are equitable; if programs are not perceived as equitable, then they will not contribute to employee motivation.


Reinforcement theory is based on the relationship between behavior and its consequences. In the workplace, reinforcement can be applied to change or modify on-the-job behavior through incentives and rewards and, to some extent, punishments.

B. F. Skinner (19041990), a professor at Harvard University, was a highly controversial behavioral psychologist known for his work in operant conditioning and behavior modification. His reinforcement theory takes into consideration both motivation and the environment, focusing on stimulus and response relationships. Through his research, Skinner noted that a stimulus will initiate behavior; thus, the stimulus is an antecedent to behavior. The behavior will generate a result; therefore, results are consequences of behavior.

According to Thomas McCoy:

The quality of the results will be directly related to the quality and timeliness of the antecedent. The more specific the antecedent is and the closer in time it is to the behavior, the greater will be its effect on the behavior. The consequences pro vide feedback to the individual.(1992, p. 34)

Therefore, the individual more easily associates the behavior with the stimulus.

The four types of reinforcement are:

  1. Positive reinforcement: The application of a pleasant and rewarding consequence following a desired behavior, such as giving praise. When a behavior is positively reinforced, the individual is more likely to repeat the behavior. People tend to have an intrinsic (internal) need for positive reinforcement. Other examples of positive reinforcers are recognition of accomplishments, promotion, and salary increases.
  2. Negative reinforcement: The removal of an unpleasant consequence following a desired behavior. This reinforcement is also called avoidance. An example of negative reinforcement is when workers return promptly from a lunch break to avoid being reprimanded by their supervisor or when a manager no longer reminds workers about a weekly deadline when workers meet the deadline. Negative reinforcement causes the behavior to be repeated.
  3. Punishment: The application of an unpleasant outcome when an undesirable behavior occurs to reduce the likelihood of that behavior happening again. This form of reinforcement does not indicate a correct behavior, so its use in business is not usually appropriate. Punishment, however, might be an oral reprimand for coming to work late or a demotion for inferior work performance.
  4. Extinction: The absence of any reinforcement following a behavior. Usually extinction occurs in situations where positive reinforcement was formerly applied. If the behavior is no longer positively reinforced, then it is less likely to occur in the future and it will gradually disappear. And when a behavior is ignored, the behavior tends to go away or become extinct.

In the workplace, positive reinforcement is the preferred approach for increasing desirable behavior and extinction is the preferred approach for decreasing undesirable behaviors. Continuous reinforcement can be effective in the early stages of behavior modification, but partial reinforcement is more commonly used. Reinforcement is most powerful when it is administered immediately.

The appropriateness of a reward depends on the situation. But for managers to apply rewards appropriate for work performance, it is necessary to understand what constitutes a reward. And no single reward will be perceived as positive by all employees. Rewards, however, are important in behavior-based incentive plans because they reward employee behavior that is desirable for the company. Both incentives and recognition provide a reward; nevertheless, incentives drive performance while recognition is an after-the-fact display of appreciation for a contribution.

Financial rewards are certainly important in compensation programs. Social recognition provides employees with a sense of self-worth by acknowledging the contributions they have made. This recognition could be given in the form of a ceremony that helps to validate and is an important compensationand one that probably costs a company very little in relationship to the benefit to employees.


The application of motivation theories can help managers to create work situations and employee recognition systems that help workers fulfill their needs. As Maslow wrote, "man has a higher nature and this higher nature includes the needs for meaningful work, for responsibility, for creativeness, for being fair and just, for doing what is worthwhile and for preferring to do it well" (1998, pp. 244245).

Motivation is the key to performance improvement. Some aspects of all jobs may be routine or mundane, but other aspects can be developed to promote job satisfaction and increased productivity. The sharing of responsibility can provide opportunities for growth, renewal, and achievement. This empowerment of workers can heighten employee motivation and improve morale. Both long-term and short-term incentive programs are needed for the employee commitment and effectiveness necessary to achieve organizational objectives. And in all instances, workers must be treated fairly and equitably.

see also Behavioral Science Movement ; Management ; Management/Leadership Styles


Beck, Robert C. (2004). Motivation: Theories and principles. Upper Saddle River, NJ: Pearson Education.

Bruce, Anne, and Pepitone, James S. (1999). Motivating employees. New York: McGraw-Hill.

Daft, Richard L. (2003). Management (6th ed.). Mason, OH: Thomson South-Western.

Hellriegel, Don, Jackson, Susan E., and Slocum, John W. (2002). Management (9th ed.). Cincinnati: South-Western.

Maslow, Abraham H. (1998). Toward a psychology of being (3rd ed.). New York: Wiley.

McCoy, Thomas J. (1992). Compensation and motivation: Maximizing employee performance with behavior-based incentive plans. New York: Amacom.

Nelson, Debra L., and Quick, James Campbell (2002). Understanding organizational behavior: A multimedia approach. Cincinnati: South-Western.

Patricia R. Graves


views updated May 21 2018



The history of motivation research from the prescientific era to the present has seen a radical diversity in conceptualizations of motivation, and subsequently a vast range of perspectives on the domain of motivational explanation (Bolles 1967). Perhaps the most comprehensive way of characterizing motivation is as a state or process that determines the direction, intensity, and persistence of behavior and thought. Motivational states generally have distinctive activation and deactivation conditions (e.g., hunger and satiety), but their duration can range broadly from a momentary urge to the drive of a super-marathon runner to the indefinite toiling of an author in the completion of a novel. Some motivational states express ones capacity for self-control, whereas others are seen as lapses of will or compulsions. Across the social sciences, motivated beings have been regarded as agents with needs to control themselves and their environments, as agents with motivational dispositions constitutive of their personality profiles, and as agents with preferences governed by the temporal proximity of benefits.

Substantial effort has been devoted to understanding the relationship between beliefs about ones capacity for control and the motivation to control a given phenomenon, be it the self, other people, or some environmental process. One assumption underlying research into personal control is that humans are intrinsically motivated to explore their capacities and master their environments (Gecas 1989). Common tools for measuring personal control include the Rotter I-E scale and the Pearlin personal mastery scale.

The Rotter I-E scale consists of twenty-three questions used to determine where an individual locates the causes responsible for experienced reinforcements and outcomes. An internal locus of control is a source of causal efficacy within an individual, whereas an external locus of control is attributed to social and environmental forces, including luck. Each question on the Rotter I-E scale consists of two generalizations. One statement suggests that a person or groups circumstances are to be explained via an appeal to an external locus of control, the other an internal locus of control. The respondent is instructed to pick the most agreeable statement. Higher scores suggest that a respondent is a more external individual. Effective applications of the Rotter I-E scale account for individual differences in risk-taking behavior, where lower scores signal lower risk aversion. Several variations on the Rotter I-E scale have been proposed (Lefcourt 1991).

The Pearlin personal mastery scale was developed to study coping strategies in commonplace stressful situations (Pearlin and Schooler 1978). Mastery is the extent to which one judges that opportunities fall under ones own control, a concept Leonard Pearlin and Carmi Schooler contrasted with fatalism (which is comparable to external control). Coping in this framework is construed as any behavior aimed at reducing, avoiding, or controlling emotionally distressing environmental circumstances (often social situations in particular). A higher self-rating of personal mastery was found to predict a lower rating of emotional distress in a personally meaningful circumstance.

The scale itself consists of seven statements with four response categories specifying how strongly the respondent agrees or disagrees. Such statements include There is really no way I can solve some of the problems I have and I can do just about anything I really set my mind to. Higher scores indicate that the respondent has greater confidence in having mastered an environment. Pearlin and colleagues (1981) found that challenges in the workplace affect job stress through personal mastery.

Questions linger concerning the relation between locus of control, personal mastery, and related concepts such as self-efficacy (Bandura 1980), all of which generally fall under the heading of personal control. It may be that the locus-of-control concept subsumes personal mastery (Lefcourt 1991), but this point is debatable (see Pearlin and Pioli 2003).

Research suggests that the connection between personal control and stress is culturally variable. Jaya Sastry and Catherine Ross (1989) studied the relation between personal mastery self-assessments and stress in Asian (Japanese, South Korean, Chinese, and Indian) and Asian American populations. Their finding was that Asians and Asian Americans report lower levels of perceived control than non-Asians. However, lower perceived control has less of an effect on distress. The authors attribute the difference to contrasting individualistic and collectivist value systems. Other work on self-efficacy suggests significant differences between Asian and European or North American populations. For example, Hazel Markus and Shinobu Kitayama (1991) found that subjects in the United States attribute poor academic performance to lack of ability, whereas Japanese subjects attribute such performance to lack of effort. Markus and Kitayama suggest that such differences stem from divergences between Asian and Western self-conceptions.

Setting aside cultural differences, individual differences in motivation may be attributable generally to trait differences beyond personal control. For example, the five-factor model defines distinct dimensions of affective tendencies, such as openness, conscientiousness, extraversion, agreeableness, and neuroticism. In the model, neuroticism is constituted by a spectrum leading from a calm, contented, and unemotional disposition to an anxious, emotional, and moody disposition (John 1989). The actualizations of these affective tendencies are sensibly regarded as responses toward the status of ones goals (see Lazarus 2001). Goals, the direction-determining component of motivational states, are then related to action selection and persistence via traits. For example, Gerald Matthews (1999) notes that nonanxious individuals maintain task performance better when lack of environmental controllability and severity of threat otherwise tend to discourage task focus (see also Lazarus and Folkman 1984). Thus the perceived capacity for control interacts with personality in determining task motivation within an individual.

Research on personal control largely assumes that beliefs concerning ones capacities combine with needs in order to determine behavior. Such needs may be regarded as the determinants of a preference ranking over plans for action. Abraham Maslow (1954) famously proposed a hierarchy of needs, where needs themselves were prioritized. In a related vein, goal theory countenances an explicit ranking of goals, where a goal whose achievement has a higher perceived difficulty tends to outrank a goal whose attainment poses a lesser challenge. One explanation of the ranking is that such goals are associated with more profitable outcomes (Locke and Latham 1990). How to taxonomize the goals that figure into a hierarchy remains a contentious issue (see Chulef, Read, and Walsh 2001).

In assessing needs and goals, we recognize greater and lesser urgency modulating action preferences. In learning theory, the matter is framed in terms of the balance between preferences for smaller, temporally proximal rewards and preferences for greater but temporally distant rewards. The classic economic representation of these aspects of motivation is found in the discounted utility (DU) model of intertemporal choice. In the DU model, agents are expected to employ the same discount factor consistently when weighing future benefits at varying temporal intervals from the present. Appeal to an agents discount factor has been used to explain addictive consumption and self-defeating behavior. For example, when an agent selects an action with a low short-term expected benefit and high long-term expected cost (e.g., indulging a cocaine addiction), the choice of the indulgence over abstinence is attributed to the agents setting immediate benefits (e.g., withdrawal relief) at a much higher priority than distant benefits (e.g., the greater net benefits from sobriety). Both this kind of explanation and the DU model have undergone sustained attack regarding agents consistency in temporal discounting (Bickel and Marsch 2001; Ainslee 2001).

Researchers have attempted to coordinate economic and psychological approaches to motivation with the methods of neuroscience in a field called neuroeconomics (Camerer, Lowenstein, and Prelec 2005). Early results indicate that distinct neural circuits encode estimated value functions, that is, contingencies between actions and benefits summed over a temporal interval (Montague and Berns 2002). Neuroeconomics synthesizes the optimization assumptions of expected utility models and self-regulation approaches to motivation with the parallel processing concepts of computational neuroscience and the attention to bounded rationality prominent in behavioral decision theory (see Carver and Scheier 1998). Greater cross-disciplinary collaboration in motivation research can be expected in the future.

SEE ALSO Diathesis-Stress Model; Guttman Scale; Locus of Control; Maslow, Abraham; Neuroeconomics; Overachievers; Rationality; Rotters Internal-External Locus of Control Scale; Scales; Stress; Stress-Buffering Model; Underachievers


Ainslie, George. 2001. Breakdown of Will. New York: Cambridge University Press.

Bandura, Albert. 1980. Gauging the Relationship between Self-Efficacy Judgment and Action. Cognitive Therapy and Research 4: 263268.

Bickel, Warren K., and Lisa A. Marsch. 2001. Toward a Behavioral Economic Understanding of Drug Dependence: Delay Discounting Processes. Addiction 96: 7386.

Bolles, Robert C. 1967. Theory of Motivation. New York: Harper and Row.

Camerer, Colin F., George Loewenstein, and Drazen Prelec. 2005. Neuroeconomics: How Neuroscience Can Inform Economics. Journal of Economic Literature 43: 964.

Carver, Charles S., and Michael F. Scheier. 1998. On the Self-Regulation of Behavior. New York: Cambridge University Press.

Chulef, Ada S., Stephen J. Read, and David A. Walsh. 2001. A Hierarchical Taxonomy of Human Goals. Motivation and Emotion 25 (3): 191232.

Gecas, Viktor. 1989. The Social Psychology of Self-Efficacy. Annual Review of Sociology 15: 291316.

John, O. P. 1989. Towards a Taxonomy of Personality Descriptors. In Personality Psychology: Recent Trends and Emerging Directions, ed. David M. Buss and Nancy Cantor, 246260. New York: Springer Verlag.

Lazarus, Richard S. 2001. Relational Meaning and Discrete Emotions. In Appraisal Processes in Emotion, ed. Klaus R. Scherer, Angela Schorr, and Tom Johnstone, 3768. New York: Oxford University Press.

Lazarus, Richard S., and Susan Folkman. 1984. Stress, Appraisal, and Coping. New York: Springer.

Lefcourt, Herbert M. 1991. Locus of Control. In Measures of Personality and Social Psychological Attitudes, vol. 1, ed. John P. Robinson, Phillip R. Shaver, and Lawrence S. Wrightsman, 413499. San Diego, CA: Academic.

Locke, Edwin A., and Gary P. Latham. 1990. A Theory of Goal Setting and Task Performance. Englewood Cliffs, NJ: Prentice Hall.

Markus, Hazel, and Shinobu Kitayama. 1991. Culture and the Self: Implications for Cognition, Emotion, and Motivation. Psychological Review 98: 224253.

Maslow, Abraham. 1954. Motivation and Personality. New York: Harper.

Matthews, Gerald. 1999. Personality and Skill: A Cognitive-Adaptive Framework. In Learning and Individual Differences: Process, Trait, and Content Determinants, ed. Phillip L. Ackerman, Patrick C. Kyllonen, Richard D. Roberts, 251275. Washington, DC: American Psychological Association.

Montague, Read P., and Gregory Berns. 2002. Neural Economics and the Biological Substrate of Valuation. Neuron 36: 265284.

Pearlin, Leonard I., and Mark F. Pioli. 2003. Personal Control: Some Conceptual Turf and Future Directions. In Personal Control in Social and Life Course Contexts, ed. Steven H. Zarit, Leonard I. Pearlin, and K. Warner Schaie. New York: Springer.

Pearlin, Leonard I., and Carmi Schooler. 1978. The Structure of Coping. Journal of Health and Social Behavior 18: 221.

Pearlin, Leonard I., Morton A. Lieberman, Elizabeth G. Menaghan, and Joseph T. Mullan. 1981. The Stress Process. Journal of Health and Social Behavior 22: 337356.

Sastry, Jaya, and Catherine E. Ross. 1989. Asian Ethnicity and the Sense of Personal Control. Social Psychology Quarterly 61 (2): 101120.

Anthony Landreth


views updated Jun 11 2018


The drive that produces goal-directed behavior.

The study of motivation is concerned with the influences that govern the initiation, direction, intensity, and persistence of behavior. Three categories of motives have been recognized by many researchers: primary or biological (hunger and the regulation of food intake); stimulus-seeking (internal needs for cognitive, physical, and emotional stimulation, or intrinsic and extrinsic rewards); and learned (motives acquired through reward and punishment , or by observation of others).

Instinct theories, which were popular early in the twentieth century, take a biological approach to motivation. Ethologists study instinctual animal behavior to find patterns that are unlearned, uniform in expression, and universal in a species. Similarly, instinct theory in humans emphasizes the inborn, automatic, involuntary, and unlearned processes which control and direct human behavior. Scientific development of the instinct theory consisted largely of drawing up lists of instincts. In 1908, William McDougall (1871-1938) postulated 18 human instincts; within 20 years, the list of instincts had grown to 10,000. Although instinct theory has since been abandoned, its evolutionary perspective has been adopted by sociobiologists considering a wide range of human behavior, from aggression to interpersonal attraction, from the standpoint of natural selection and the survival of humans as a species.

Drive-reduction theory, which is biologically-oriented but also encompasses learning, centers on the concept of homeostasis, or equilibrium. According to this theory, humans are constantly striving to maintain homeostasis by adjusting themselves to change. Any imbalance creates a need and a resulting drivea state of arousal that prompts action to restore the sense of balance and thereby reduce the drive. The drive called thirst, for example, prompts us to drink, after which the thirst is reduced. In drive-reduction theory, motivation is seen not just as a result of biological instincts, but rather as a combination of learning and biology. The primary drives, such as hunger and thirst, are basic physiological needs that are unlearned. However, there is also a system of learned drives known as secondary-drives that are not biological (such as the desire for money) but that prompt action in much the same way as the primary drives.

Another biologically-oriented theory of motivation is arousal theory, which posits that each person is driven to achieve his or her optimum level of arousal, acting in ways that will increase this level when it is too low and decrease it when it is too high. Peak performance of tasks is usually associated with moderate levels of arousal. Researchers have found that difficult tasks (at which people might "freeze" from nervousness) are best accomplished at moderate arousal levels, while easier ones can be successfully completed at higher levels.

Psychologically-oriented theories of motivation emphasize external environmental factors and the role of thoughts and expectations in motivation. Incentive theory argues that motivation results from environmental stimuli in the form of positive and negative incentives, and the value these incentives hold at a given time. Food, for example, would be a stronger incentive when a person is hungry. Cognitive theories emphasize the importance of mental processes in goal-directed behavior. Many theorists have agreed, for example, that people are more strongly motivated when they project a positive outcome to their actions. Achievement-oriented individuals learn at an early age to strive for excellence, maintain optimistic expectations, and to not be readily discouraged by failure. Conversely, individuals who consistently fear failure have been found to set goals that are too high or too low and become easily discouraged by obstacles. The concept of learned helplessness centers on how behavior is affected by the degree of control that is possible in a given situation.

American psychologist Abraham Maslow developed a five-level hierarchy of needs, or motives, that influence human behavior. The "lower" physiological and biological urges at the bottom of the hierarchy must be at least partially satisfied before people will be motivated by those urges closer to the top. The levels in Maslow's system are as follows: 1) biological (food, water, oxygen, sleep ); 2) safety ; 3) belongingness and love (participating in affectionate sexual and non-sexual relationships, belonging to social groups); 4) esteem (being respected as an individual); and 5) self-actualization (becoming all that one is capable of being).

In addition to individual motivations themselves, conflicts between different motivations exert a strong influence on human behavior. Four basic types of conflict have been identified: 1) approach-approach conflicts, in which a person must choose between two desirable activities that cannot both be pursued; 2) avoidance-avoidance conflicts, in which neither choice in a situation is considered acceptable and one must choose the lesser of two evils; 3) approach-avoidance conflicts, where one event or activity has both positive and negative features; and 4) multiple approach-avoidance conflicts involving two or more alternatives, all of which have both positive and negative features.

See also Cognitive development; Environment; Ethology

Further Reading

Hoffman, Edward. The Right to be Human: A Biography of Abraham Maslow. Los Angeles: Tarcher, 1988.


views updated May 23 2018

motivation The internal conditions responsible for temporary reversible changes in the responsiveness of an animal to external stimulation. Thus an animal that has been deprived of food will accept less palatable food than one that has not been deprived: the difference is attributed to a change in feeding motivation. Changes in responsiveness due to maturation, learning, or injury are not usually readily reversible and are therefore not considered to be due to changes in motivation. Early attempts to describe motivation in terms of a number of separate drives (e.g. food drive, sex drive) have not found general favour, partly because drives interact with one another; for example, water deprivation often affects an animal's willingness to feed.


views updated May 14 2018

motivation The cause for a spontaneous change in the behaviour of an animal which occurs independently of any outside stimulus, or of a change in the threshold of responsiveness of an animal to a stimulus, and which is not due to fatigue, learning, or the maturation of the animal.


views updated Jun 08 2018

motivation The cause for a spontaneous change in the behaviour of an animal that occurs independently of any outside stimulus, or of a change in the threshold of responsiveness of an animal to a stimulus, and that is not due to fatigue, learning, or the maturation of the animal.

About this article


All Sources -
Updated Aug 24 2016 About content Print Topic