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Overview[edit | edit source]

What motivates people's behaviour? Why is this person so keen on mountain bike riding?

The study of motivation is concerned with understanding psychological processes that drive and direct behaviour. Psychologists study motivational forces to help understand and explain patterns and changes in individual human behaviour.

Key questions in the study of motivation include:

  1. Why do we do what we do?
  2. How can we change what we do?
  3. What causes behaviour? What starts, maintains, and stops behaviour?
  4. Why does behaviour vary in its intensity?

Motivational concepts serve several functions, including:

  1. helping to explain pathways between biology and behaviour
  2. accounting for behavioural variability
  3. making inferences about private states from public acts
  4. assigning responsibility for actions, and
  5. explaining perseverance despite adversity.[1]

Understanding motivation is also important for understanding individual differences more generally. According to motivational theorists, motivation and emotion together govern human behaviour. Much empirical attention has been given to determining different aspects, or factors, of motivation.

What is motivation?[edit | edit source]

Motivation is about the drive that pushes people towards goals.
Look up Motivation in
Wiktionary, the free dictionary.

If you asked different people "What is motivation?" what sorts of responses do you think you'd get? Most lay people probably think of motivation as a personal quality which gives you energy and direction to get things done. Some people are highly motivated. Many are somewhat motivated. Some people are particularly unmotivated.

The psychological understanding of motivation is similar to lay understandings, but goes further and deeper. Motivation refers to processes involved in initiating, maintaining and ceasing goal-orientated behaviour. Motivation is about why we do things. Motivational psychology understandings behaviour as effort to satisfy physiological, psychological, and social needs and goals. Furthermore, motivational psychology seeks to use motivational concepts to account for variations in the intensity of behaviour between situations, species and individuals.

Thus, two perennial motivational questions are (Reeve, 2009):

  1. Why do organisms behave the way they do? (What motivates behaviour?) and
  2. Why does the intensity of behaviour vary (between situations, species, and individuals)?

Motivation is a theoretical psychological construct about:

  1. that which moves one into action (Deckers, 2005[2]);
  2. the force within individuals that energises, maintains and controls their behaviour (Westen, Burton, & Kowalski, 2006);
  3. that which arouses, directs, and causes persistence of behaviour;
  4. “the driving force behind behaviour that leads us to pursue some things and avoid others” (Westen et al., 2006[3]);
  5. goal-directed behaviour (desire to achieve an objective, combined with the energy to work towards that goal).

The term "motivation" derives from the Latin verb movere (to move), so the origins of the word imply moving into action.

Four aspects of motivation are suggested by Hattie et al. (2020)[4]

  1. self
  2. social
  3. cognitive
  4. task values

A visual model of Hattie et al.'s (2020) four dimensions of motivation. This model shows how individuals may be motivated to complete certain behaviours.

These areas of motivation help to identify internal and external factors that help an individual achieve a desired behaviour.

Definitions by renowned people

"Motivation is the art of stimulating someone or oneself to get a desired course, to push the right button to get the desired course of action." - Michael J. Jucius

"Motivation is a general term applying to the entire class of drives, desires, needs and wishes and other similar forces that induce an individual or a group of people to work." - Koontz and O'Donnell

Questions about motivation[edit | edit source]

Here are some scenarios or questions which motivational psychology could help to understand and explain. Feel free to add questions or theories of your own:

  1. Why do some people try to climb Mount Everest or cross the Atlantic in a balloon? (See sensation-seeking?)
  2. Why are some people obsessed with gambling while others rarely if ever place a bet? (See risk taking)
  3. Why do most of us (or all of us?) fall in love? (See social motivation)
  4. Why are some people heterosexual, some bisexual, and some homosexual? (See sexual motivation)
  5. Why do some people attend university? (See educational motivation)
  6. Why do some strive so hard at work whilst others seem to be motivated to work as little as possible? (See achievement motivation)
  7. Why do some people volunteer to help others, seemingly without reward? (See volunteer motivation)

Importance of motivation[edit | edit source]

  1. Guarantees high level of efficiency
  2. Overcomes the resistance to change
  3. Builds cordial human relations
  4. Creates willingness to do work
  5. Creates sound corporate image
  6. Attracts talented, skilled and promising employees
  7. Helps to realize organizational objectives
  8. Improves and boosts employee morale
  9. Inculcates a feeling of belongingness among employees

Motivation themes[edit | edit source]

  • Motives direct attention
  • Motives are intervening variables
  • Motivation benefits adaptation
  • Motive strengths vary over time and influence the stream of behaviour
  • Types of motivation exist
  • We are not always consciously aware of motives
  • Motivation study reveals what people want
  • To flourish, motivation needs supportive conditions
  • When motivating others what is easy rarely works
  • There is nothing so practical as a good theory

Motivational theories[edit | edit source]

Historical perspectives[edit | edit source]

Learning theories[edit | edit source]

Cognitive theories[edit | edit source]

Positive theories[edit | edit source]

See also[edit | edit source]

References[edit | edit source]

  1. Gerrig, R. J., Zimbardo, P. G., Campbell, A. J., Cumming, S. R., & Wilkes, F. J. (2008). Psychology and life (Australian edition). Sydney: Pearson Education Australia (pp. 370-371)
  2. Deckers, L. (2005). Motivation: Biological, psychological, and environmental (2nd ed.). Boston: Pearson Education.
  3. Westen, D., Burton, L., & Kowalski, R. (2006). Psychology (Australian and New Zealand Edition). Milton, Queensland: John Wiley & Sons, p. 370
  4. Hattie, J., Hodis, F. A., & Kang, S. H. K.(2020). Theories of motivation: Integration and ways forward. Contemporary Educational Psychology, 61(1), 1-8.

Reeve, J. (2009). Understanding motivation and emotion (5th ed.). Hoboken, NJ: Wiley. Amazon. Kindle. Google Books.