Motivation and emotion/Book/2013/Motivational contagion

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Motivational contagion:
Are motivations contagious? How does one's motivations "rub off" on others?

Overview[edit | edit source]

Motivation IS contagious

Have you ever jumped onto YouTube and watched a video of your favorite sport, music video, or performance? What were you feeling while these were playing? What were you thinking as this video came to an end? Well, if you are any like me, you were probably thinking that in comparison, your life is quite boring, and that you were motivated to get out and experience a more of what life has to offer.

Motivational contagion draws on from this and is the process of passing on your passion and knowledge to a person or group who are willing to immerse themselves in the task at hand. Motivational contagion can come in many shapes and sizes and influence us at many different times. The video you were just watching may make you want to go out for ride, train that little bit harder, study that little bit longer or perform that little bit better.

Motivational contagion affects everybody, everywhere. Savvy businesses even go so far as to use motivational contagion as part of their brand slogans and brand recognition. One of the most well known examples of using motivational contagion in advertising is Red Bull Gives You Wings. Aside from Coca Cola, Red Bull is one of the most recognisable brands, and utilises motivational contagion extremely well in their ad campaigns. Recent campaigns have had a very strong message of motivating people to go out there and give you ideas and your dreams, wings.

"I want to wake up every morning with a passion. I want to wake up with a smile on my face and be able to say I love what I do. You can dream about it, or you can go out and make it happen" - Red Bull, 2012

Types of motivation[edit | edit source]

We are motivated to perform a number of behaviours in our lifetime. These behaviours may consume a significant part of our life - training for a sporting event or preparing our notes in preparation for your final exams. Internal and external forces govern the reason why we initiate behaviours on a day to day basis. These motivations then form the foundations for the behaviours we will exhibit days, months, even years down the road.

Intrinsic motivation[edit | edit source]

Developmental psychologists believe that children are active, inquisitive, curious and playful even in the absence of specific rewards (Ryan & Deci, 2000b). Intrinsic motivation is the natural inclination towards spontaneous interest and exploration, essential to social development that presents a source of enjoyment throughout life (Ryan & Deci, 2000b).
Babies are naturally playful and inquisitive.
  • Persistence-

If you are intrinsically motivated to perform a task, you will have greater persistence. For example, you notice winter is drawing to a close, and you realise you want your summer body back, you are more likely to persist with an exercise regime to regain your fitness, if you are intrinsically motivated to start (Frederick-Recascino, & Schuster-Smith, 2003). Further, if parents and teachers were able to instill a sense of intrinsic motivation in students, they would be more motivated to attend and perform well in school (Hardre, & Reeve, 2003). However this debate is ongoing as researchers believe that with each advancing grade, intrinsic motivation becomes weaker (Ryan, & Deci, 2000a).

  • Creativity-

Intrinsically motivated behaviour leads to an increase in personal enjoyment and an increase in creativity. Conversely, though, creativity is often hindered when you are being evaluated, bossed or rewarded (Amabile, 1979; Amabile, Hennessey, & Grossman, 1986). This finding alludes to the idea that people who are intrinsically motivated to design a new energy source, or build a cubby house for their children, are more likely to discover interesting ways that they can go about things, than people who have been extrinsically motivated. The Intrinsic Motivation Principle of Creativity was proposed when studies showed that being intrinsically motivated greatly enhances creativity (Amabile, 1996). This concept builds on the aforementioned information noting that the interest, enjoyment, and challenge of work itself will lead people to be at their most creative.

  • High-quality learning-

Intrinsic motivation equally enhances your conceptual understanding of a topic. A high level of intrinsic motivation allows for greater flexibility in your way of thinking allowing for more conceptual learning (Benware, & Deci, 1984). Further, ideas that have been initiated through intrinsic motivation have the tendency to be more flexible, allowing individuals to be more open to motivation expressed by others - contagion.

  • Functioning and well-being-

Being intrinsically motivated to pursue goals leads to better functioning and higher psychological well being. Intrinsic motivation is also associated with higher-quality interpersonal relationships, increase in self esteem and a lowering of TV viewing hours. Further, people who are intrinsically motivated are more likely to say things like:

I feel energized
I look forward to each day - (Moller, Deci, & Ryan, 2006)

In his 2012 book entitled A Survival Guide for Life Bear Grylls wrote: chase the goal, not the money, alluding to the intrinsic motivators present behind every goal.

Extrinsic motivation[edit | edit source]

When someone has been motivated to do something due to environmental influences or incentives, they have been extrinsically motivated. These environmental influences can come in many forms, ranging from money, to fame, even candy.

Do this to get that

Extrinsic motivation is colloquially referred to at the "do this to get that" motivation, where the offering (money, candy) or the removal (criticism, bad reviews) is used to persuade people to initiate in behaviours or plans. In order for extrinsic motivation to continue to work for the participant, there must be continual reward, as such, if the reward dries up a small amount or all together, the initial behaviour or plan will cease as well.


Although extrinsic motivation is the root motivation for the majority of life's pleasures, motivational contagion is more centered around intrinsic motivation. People who are engaging in an activity because it generates pleasure, have grown accustomed to the environment or have built strong bonds with their fellow participants, are more likely to be motivated by the people around them.

Money is a very common form of extrinsic motivation.

Real world applications of motivational contagion[edit | edit source]

Teachers and students[edit | edit source]

Many school teachers and psychologists are often asked questions relating to motivating children and students. Although there are many different theories detailing how to tackle such a question, Jere Brophy in his 2010 book Motivating Students to Learn takes a more academic and theoretical approach. Brohpy (2010) claims that students are motivated when they believe they are able to succeed at a given task, and when they understand the value and the outcome of the task. It was therefore hypothesized that teachers need to emphasize the reasons for the lessons, and convince students that they can be successful (Brophy, 2010).
Students are motivated when they believe they are able to succeed at a given task
This emphasizing on the teachers part is reinforcing in the child that they can achieve, in turn motivating the child even further (Brophy, 2010). Brophy (2010) further emphasizes the need for a positive approach to learning and motivation, being an overarching theme of the majority of the chapters. Teachers have an extremely influential impact on the learning outcomes of children (Brophy, 2010). Brophy (2010) addresses the need to focus more on the aim of achieving success rather than on avoiding failure, and outlines that informative feedback best motivates the students.

Students are able to be motivated at a greater rate if teachers focus on explaining the areas that they did well as well as the areas they did not (Brophy, 2010). The curriculum of the school to which the child attends also plays a large role on how well teachers can motivate students. Making the curriculum more intrinsically rewarding by focusing on student autonomy and competence, emphasizing the relevance of subjects, will aid in the transference of motivation from staff to students (Brophy, 2010).

Coaching and athletes[edit | edit source]

Coaches have long been defined as playing a critical role in teaching an athlete the skills (Smith & Smoll, 1997). It is well known that elite athletes sacrifice a desirable social life for the demands of a high performance sport. What pushes these athletes to strive for these goals? Ryan and Deci (2000) discussed the importance of motivation and how it can influence the way in which athletes think, feel and behave. The relationship between coaches and elite athletes must therefore mimic this idea while taking into consideration that people are moved to act by very different types of factors.
Guus Hiddink leads Australia to the World Cup in 2006 after a 30 year hiatus

Motivation is an essential part of the human personality, and has the power to make activity more or less dynamic (Khan, 2011). Khan (2011) also detailed that our basic psychological need and factors – physical preparation, technique, and lifestyle - do not outweigh the desire to succeed. Thus, it can be concluded that the coach's responsibility is to ensure personal desire by maintaining a motivational environment for the athlete.

Coaching styles[edit | edit source]

Which motivational style to choose?[edit | edit source]

Autonomy-supportive motivational style[edit | edit source]

A coach who is willing to take another's perspective and who values personal growth opportunities during training is said to have an autonomy-supportive motivational style (Gillet, Vallerand, Amoura, & Baldes, 2010). Environmental conditions - which are vital to an athlete succeeding, and activity regulation can be fostered when the perspective of another is taken (Gillet, Vallerand, Amoura, & Baldes, 2010). Coaching techniques displayed by Coach Boone in Remember the Titans - based on real events, and by Tony D'Amato in Any Given Sunday highlight the effectiveness of the autonomy-supportive coaching style. These two coaches were able to take on the perspective of their team and foster environmental conditions which are conducive to motivational contagion.

Controlling motivational style[edit | edit source]

Coaches who use social influences to pressure athletes towards a certain goal is considered to be using a controlling motivational style. A well known example of someone who uses a controlling motivation style is a drill instructor in the Defence Force. This technique focuses on the use of social influences driving motivation and regulating activity.

But which is right??

Choosing your desired motivational style is largely based on the situation at hand. Drill instructors have used the controlling motivation technique, and have done so for many years, resulting in many members of Defence forces leading very rigid and organised lives. On the other hand, the autonomy-supportive motivation has been widely used among top sports coaches and athletes, and provides excellent learning conditions for all involved (Gillet, Vallerand, Amoura, & Baldes, 2010).

Motivational contagion in the military[edit | edit source]

Motivation in the military[edit | edit source]

  • Why is motivation important?
Motivation plays an important role in the Defence Force

Soldiers in the military endure some of the worst conditions under some extreme circumstances that most civilians seldom experience. Maintaining soldier motivation in these scenarios has long been recognised as an important determinant of combat effectiveness (Lawrence, 1992; Savell, 1995; Thomas, & Jansen, 1996; Starkey, 1999). Motivation plays a large role in deciding the outcome of a life or death situation. Highly motivated forces may be able to overcome a powerful opponent, even if they are poorly supplied and outnumbered (Lawrence, 1992). This phenomenon is referred to as a force multiplier (Lawrence, 1992). However, it is important to note, that even if your force has top of the line equipment, unmotivated soldiers are more likely to perform ineffectively in combat, resulting in an enemy of considerably inferior size prevailing (Lawrence, 1992). One of the most recognisable examples here is King Leonaidis and his force of 300, highly motivated soldiers who held off the vastly superior Persian forces at Thermopylae.

As motivation has been marked as a vital factor in military success (Lawrence, 1992; Starkey, 1999; Thomas, & Jansen, 1996) it is vital that army leaders learn as much as they can about how to keep their soldiers motivated (Lawrence, 1992). Initial enlistees often join the army with grand aspirations and are extremely motivated to do well. Extrinsic motivators can be seen as initial motivators, yet intrinsic motivators such as: patriotism, enjoying physical and outdoor activity, wanting to feel worthwhile and wanting to be a contributing member to society, soon outweighs the extrinsic motivators (Lawrence, 1992; Thomas, & Jansen, 1996). Unless a soldier wants to perform well, they will not (Lawrence, 1992). Sources of motivation in the army can stem from a variety of different locations: good leadership, having a sense of purpose, the adequacy of information, and physical factors (Lawrence, 1992).

Sources of motivation[edit | edit source]

  • Leadership

The study conducted by Lawrence (1992) concluded that soldiers spoke highly of leaders whom they felt to be concerned about their welfare, resulting in soldiers often going out of their way to help the leader. As a result, it was concluded that it was essential for unit motivation that somewhere in the leadership structure, is a leader who is concerned with the welfare of the individual soldiers (Motowidlo, & Borman, 1978; Lawrence, 1992). Lawrence (1992) further found that essential to the bond of leadership is the word of mouth of the soldiers and renouncing personal convenience or risk their own lives in favour of the soldier.

  • Sense of purpose

It was concluded that squad members felt enthusiastic and motivated for roles which they felt well trained for and with a clear set of goals (Lawrence, 1992). Soldiers believed that they needed to feel a sense of purpose to what they were doing as well as feeling that they were valued – both as an individual and as a soldier (Lawrence, 1992).

  • Adequacy of information

Soldiers are put through extreme mental and physical hardships when deployed. Soldiers that were told more detail about the mission at hand – the length and intensity of the task, remained motivated for longer (Motowidlo, & Borman, 1978; Lawrence, 1992). Similarly, soldiers were also recorded as coping with their anxiety better if they were told more information, allowing for a better allocation of cognitive and emotional resources (Lawrence, 1992). Lawrence (1992) concluded that the adequacy of information was vital not only for maintaining soldier motivation, but also with maintaining the long term health of the soldier.

  • Physical factors

Physical conditions that soldiers experience when deployed are seldom experienced by many others. The physical fitness and toughening of the soldier are critical for their performance (Lawrence, 1992). Increased attitude and self-image was recorded after basic training, growing even stronger the longer a soldier was in the army (Lawrence, 1992). Further, it was concluded that an effort by the leader to obtain food, water or shelter, even if unsuccessful enhanced soldier motivation (Motowidlo, & Borman, 1978; Lawrence, 1992).

On a concluding note, a soldier who is well disposed toward the army and is trying to do a good job will outperform a soldier who does not share these aspirations (Lawrence, 1992).

Squad leaders and squad members[edit | edit source]

The bond between a squad leader and a squad member in the army is strong, due to the potentially life threatening situations they find themselves, and a desire to not let their squad down (Savell, 1995). As aforementioned, the importance that defence organisations around the world place on soldier motivation is paramount. Numerous manuals have been published detailing the three key roles of an army leader, with three key roles being prominent: provide motivation, provide purpose, and provide direction (Lawrence, 1992; Savell, 1995; Thomas, & Jansen, 1996; Starkey, 1999)

The latter two serve to enhance the motivation squad members bring to a situation (Savell, 1995). The way in which a squad leader communicates to a squad member will affect the way that the task is viewed and the motivation they give themselves to do, with high enough levels of motivation required to perform a mission effectively not always being found. When asked, US soldiers if they felt ‘very personally involved’ in the work they were completing only half the participants responded with a ‘yes.' Similarly, when asked if it really mattered that they do well in a training exercise, nearly half the participants responded ‘no’ (Savell, 1995).

  • Building toward motivational contagion

As with trust, the bond between squad members and squad leaders takes time. The longer that a squad leader has been working with squad members, the greater amount of motivation was able to flow between the two parties (Savell, 1995). As time spent with the squad members grew, the amount of motivation that the squad leader was able to pass on increased, with a notable change in the way that squad members became motivated after the 13th month of interaction. From the 13th month there was a greater transference of motivation from the squad leader to the squad members, resulting in motivation becoming contagious. This contagion was further strengthened when demanding environmental characteristics presented themselves, with the squad members working off the relationship and the motivation emanating from the squad leader (Savell, 1995). Squad member motivation is therefore clearly derived from the actions that are portrayed by the squad leader (Lawrence, 1992; Starkey, 1999; Thomas, & Jansen, 1996).

Motivation in the media[edit | edit source]

Red Bull: gives you wings.

When you hear the product name: Red Bull, what do you think of? In recent years Red Bull has become synonymous with energy drinks and extreme sports. However, Red Bull is associated with so much more. Their slogan "Red Bull gives you wings" alludes to a deeper drive behind the Red Bull name.

Giving wings to people and ideas

Red Bull has become a trusted name in the extreme sport and adventure seeking department in recent years. With two YouTube channels, over 2.5 million subscribers and over 4,000 videos, millions of people globally turn to them for motivation, inspiration and awe-inspiring cinematography. Growing up, children are naturally inquisitive. Every young boy wants to grow up to either be a pilot, an astronaut, a race car driver or a professional sports player. Their dreams are shaped as they grow up by hearing names such as Mark Weber, Sebastian Vettel, Felix Baumgarter, Kirby Chambliss or Travis Rice, as well as seeing a brand: Red Bull. Associating this name with their idols instills a sense of trust between the individual and the brand, allowing for motivation to emanate from Red Bull and be "caught" by the individual. Red Bull sponsors hundreds of athletes around the world "giving wings" to their dreams, allowing them to spread their love of the profession to a large audience. Athletes like:

  • Denny Pham, Skateboarding: The best thing with skateboarding, is the feeling of freedom
  • Sebastian Vettel, Formula 1: Formula 1 is an incredible race. The power and the G forces are beyond description
  • Mariana Pajon, BMX: Whatever happens, I know I will always enjoy racing
  • Chris Pfeiffer, Stunt rider: I am scared of snakes and trains, but never of stuntriding
  • Johnny Aubert, Enduro MotoX: I cant imagine life without racing

All of the above athletes are intrinsically motivated to continue their profession choice. Every one of them would wake up in the morning with a passion, loving what they do.

Piecing it all together[edit | edit source]

If we extrapolate the above results to our everyday lives, we are able to see that our motivation for a task can be caught from a few key people we associate ourselves with – as Epictetus said:

Such people we look up to: coaches, teachers, peer group members, and mentors, all have the ability to push their motivation for certain behaviours onto you. However the question remains: are you willing to ‘catch’ their motivation?

There is no doubt that motivation in its simplest form, can 'rub off' on others. Everyone has passions, everyone has dreams. T. E. Lawrence wrote:

Motivation = enthusiasm. Bear Grylls, in his book A survival Guide for Life writes: enthusiasm so often makes the critical difference: it sustains you when times are tough, it encourages those around you, it is totally infectious and it rapidly becomes a habit.

So, are you going to allow yourself to be strengthened by the motivation that is being generated from the people around you? Are you going to allow this motivation to be caught, allowing you to start living life to the fullest? You hold the key to your life's dreams and aspirations. Be bold, accept the contagion.

Quiz - Have you been infected?[edit | edit source]

1 Intrinsic motivation is best for fostering an environment conducive to creating motivational contagion?


2 When do students feel most motivated?

When surrounded by their peers
When they believe they will succeed at a given task
In the first or last class of the day
Right after lunch

3 One main role of the coach is to...?

Ensure personal desire by maintaining a motivational environment
Provide negative feedback to an athlete
Have little interaction with an athlete
Talk down to an athlete

4 What are the main sources of motivation for soldiers?

Sense of purpose
Adequacy of information
Physical factors
All of the above

5 The longer a squad leader spent with his squad members, the greater the change of generating motivational contagion.


See also[edit | edit source]

Workplace motivation
Body modification and motivation
Goal Setting

Motivate me![edit | edit source]

References[edit | edit source]

Amabile, T. M. (1979). Effects of external evaluation on artistic creativity. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 37(2), 221-233. doi:10.1037/0022-3514.37.2.221

Amabile, T. M., Hennessey, B. A., & Grossman, B. S. (1986). Social Influences on Creativity: The Effects of Contracted-for Reward. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 50(1), 14-23. doi:10.1037/0022-3514.50.1.14

Amabile, T. (1996). Creativity and Innovation in Organizations. Harvard Business School,9(396-239). Retrieved from

Benware, C. A., & Deci, E. L. (1984). Quality of Learning with an Active versus Passive Motivational Set. American Educational Research Journal, 21(4), 755-765. doi:10.2307/1162999

Brophy, J. E. (2010). Motivating students to learn (2nd ed.). New York, U.S.A: Routledge.

Gillet, N., Vallerand, R. J., Amoura, S., & Baldes, B. (2010). Influence of coaches' autonomy support on athletes' motivation and sport performance: A test of the hierarchical model of intrinsic and extrinsic motivation. Psychology of Sport and Exercise, 11(2), 155 - 161. doi:10.1016/j.psychsport.2009.10.004

Grylls, B. (2012). A Survival Guide for Life. London, Great Britain: Transworld Publishers.

Hardre, P. L., & Reeve, J. (2003). A Motivational Model of Rural Students' Intentions to Persist in, Versus Drop Out of, High School. Journal of Educational Psychology, 95(2), 347-356. doi:10.1037/0022-0663.95.2.347

Khan, Z., Haider, Z., Ahmad, N., & Khan, S. (2011). Sports Achievement Motivation and Sports Competition Anxiety: A Relationship Study. Journal of Education and Practice, 2(4), 1-6.

Moller, A. C., Deci, E. L., & Ryan, R. M. (2006). Choice and Ego-Depletion: The Moderating Role of Autonomy. Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin, 32(8), 1024-1036. doi:10.1177/0146167206288008

Motowidlo, S. J., & Borman, W. C. (1978). Relationships between military morale, motivation, satisfaction, and unit effectiveness. Journal of Applied Psychology, 63(1), 47-52. doi:10.1037//0021-9010.63.1.47

Red Bull Website. Red Bull Athletes. Retrieved from

Ryan, R. M., & Deci, E. L. (2000a).Intrinsic and extrinsic motivations: Classic definitions and new directions. Contemporary Educational Psychology, 25, 54-67. doi:10.1006/ceps.1999.1020

Ryan, R. M., & Deci, E. L. (2000b). Self-determination theory and the facilitation of intrinsic motivation, social development, and well-being. American Psychologist, 55(1), 68-78. doi:10.1037//0003-066X.55.1.68

Savell, J., Teague, R., & Jr., T. R. (1995). Job Involvement Contagion Between Army Squad Leaders and Their Squad Members. U.S. Army Research Institute for the Behavioural and Social Sciences, 1-23. doi:10.1207/s15327876mp0703

Smith, R.E., & Smoll, F.L. (1997). Coach-mediated team building in youth sports. Journal of Applied Sport Psychology, 9, 114-132.

Starkey, B. J. (1999). U.S Army Incentive Program: Incentives that Motivate Recruiters. Naval Postgraduate School, 1-57.

Thomas, K., & Jansen, E. (1996). Intrinsic Motivation in the Military: Models and Strategic Importance. Naval Postgraduate School, 1-27