Motivation and emotion/Book/2014/Amotivation

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What causes a lack of motivation
and what can be done about it?

Overview[edit | edit source]

"Motivation is almost impossible to find in many aspects of my life,

Whether it's cleaning, cooking, study, exercise, work or even socializing, I find it near impossible to find motivation.
It may not be in every single aspect of my life, but motivation is definitely difficult to find for the most part.

Please show me how to find motivation in the parts of my life where it's lacking."

A graphic example of both factors in extrinsic motivation, either avoiding punishment or chasing a reward.

What causes amotivation? What can be done about it? Theoretically, there are three broad classes that involve and help define motivation: intrinsic motivation, extrinsic motivation and amotivation. Intrinsic motivation is defined as:

"the inherent tendency to seek out novelty and challenges, to extend and exercise one's capacities, to explore, and to learn." (Deci, E & Ryan, M. 2000)

Extrinsic motivation involves undertaking an activity that results in a separable outcome, an activity that may not be inherently enjoyable or interesting. (Deci, E & Ryan, M. 2000). The concept of amotivation however, completely differs from intrinsic and extrinsic motivation, being a complete absence of both intrinsic and extrinsic types of motivation (Pelletier, 2006). On a more broad definition of motivation, involving both intrinsic and extrinsic motivation[grammar?]. Motivation can be defined as the catalyst that initiates, helps and maintains behaviors that are goal focused. Many people suffer - or have suffered from periods in which they lack the motivation to do many activities in their life. This book chapter aims to utilize psychological theory in addressing the issue of amotivation, allowing those experiencing periods of amotivation to find the cause of their lack of motivation. In doing so, helping people find the motivation necessary to live a successful and fruitful life[grammar?].

Sloth: one of the Seven Deadly Sins, where amotivation is a significant factor.

Amotivation in terms of amotivational syndrome[edit | edit source]

The flag of the World Health Organisation (WHO), which denounces the notion of amotivation existing as a specific psychiatric condition

Amotivation is a fairly well established notion, the existance of a so-called "amotivational syndrome" as a genuine psychiatric condition however is somewhat debatable. The World Health Organization (WHO) does not agree with the notion of a specific amotivational syndrome as a psychiatric condition, claiming that:

"The evidence for an "amotivational syndrome" among adults consists largely of case histories and observational reports (e.g. Kolansky and Moore, 1971; Millman and Sbriglio, 1986). The small number of controlled field and laboratory studies have not found compelling evidence for such a syndrome (Dornbush, 1974; Negrete, 1983; Hollister, 1986)... (I)t is doubtful that cannabis use produces a well defined amotivational syndrome. It may be more parsimonious to regard the symptoms of impaired motivation as symptoms of chronic cannabis intoxication rather than inventing a new psychiatric syndrome." (Barnwell et. al, 2006)

In their statement, the World Health Organisation, rejected the description of an amotivational syndrome being a psychiatric condition. Despite this, it is doubtless that amotivation does in fact exist as a feeling, if not a psychiatric condition. Everybody will - or has, experienced periods of amotivation, whether short or long, in specific parts of their lives or as a reoccurring factor that presents itself in many aspects of day-to-day life. Amotivation may not exist as an amotivational syndrome but it is certainly a significant part of life for many people being felt towards many activities.

If you are experiencing periods of amotivation towards certain activities in your life, it is unlikely that you are experiencing the effects of an "amotivational syndrome". This is due to the fact that the notion of a specific amotivational syndrome existing as a psychiatric condition has been disproved and discredited by the World Health Organisation (WHO). It is therefore not necessary to treat periods of amotivation as a psychiatric condition but to tackle aspects of amotivation through different activities and approaches, which will be addressed under the "finding motivation" and the "preventing amotivation" topics of this self-improvement book chapter.

Causes of amotivation[edit | edit source]

Self-efficacy theory in the causes of amotivation[edit | edit source]

Self-efficacy is the belief in one's self about his/her ability to achieve certain goals or deal with certain situations. If one holds a generally high level of perceived self-efficacy, it is expected that they will experience a lower level of avoidance behavior and anxiety arousal when attempting to achieve a goal or deal with a situation. In Albert Bandura's understanding of self-efficacy shown in his social cognitive theory, individuals observing others undertaking a task will experience similar levels of enjoyment or distress when they undertake the task themselves. This theory emphasizes the effect that external social factors have on self-efficacy (Bandura & Adams, 1977). In relation to amotivation, it can be seen that a lack of perceived self-efficacy is one of the underlying causes of amotivation. External social effects can also have an impact on amotivation as seen in Albert Bandura's social cognitive theory. Where an individual may observe another person that is unable to undertake a task, therefore creating amotivation through a perceived lack of self-efficacy in the observing individual.

Self-efficacy, as observed by Bandura is generally affected by four factors; experience, modelling, social persuasion and physiological factors.

  • Experience: Success raises self-efficacy, while failure lowers it.
  • Modelling: Seen in Bundera's social cognitive theory, self-efficacy is raised when an individual sees others achieve but self-efficacy can be lowered when an individual sees others fail.
  • Social Persuasion: Encouragement increases self-efficacy, while discouragement can lower it.
  • Physiological factors: Observing physical signs of stress can lower self-efficacy.

These factors can cause amotivation individually as well as collectively. If an individual has constantly experienced failure, observed others fail, experienced discouragement from their peers or noticed physical signs of stress, a higher level of amotivation will generally follow (Bandura & Adams, 1977).

Psychological research in self-efficacy theory[edit | edit source]

In studies observing self-efficacy theory and motivation undertaken by Bandura, it was observed that the self-efficacy of individuals directly influenced their level of expended effort as well as the activity choices and behavioral changes of these individuals[factual?]. Self efficacy was also found to affect the length and level of persistence in the face of difficult circumstances[factual?]. Higher levels of self-efficacy before an activity has taken place or even during that activity will generally result in a longer duration of expended effort in that activity[factual?].

In one of Bandura's studies on self-efficacy, individuals with lives largely affected by snake phobias were recruited to participate. In a series of 29 tasks, each increasingly involving a snake, the subjects were required to interact with the snake, eventually allowing the snake to crawl in their laps with their hands by their sides. In doing so, helping subjects feel more at ease with snakes and more adept at facing snakes in their life (Bandura & Adams, 1977). This study influences self-efficacy theory in the sense of desensitization through introducing the fact that desensitization in phobias can help increase self-efficacy levels in individuals. With higher self-efficacy levels, these subjects will feel a higher level of motivation and put in more effort when it comes to engaging in tasks that involve snakes. On a more motivational-based approach, the idea that familiarizing oneself with a task can increase levels of self-efficacy and therefore, a lack of familiarity with a task will generally reduce self-efficacy levels - reducing initial motivation and expended effort in undertaken tasks.

Approach and avoidance motivation in the causes of amotivation[edit | edit source]

For over two thousand years, scholars have understood and made use of the distinction between approach and avoidance,[grammar?] first being recorded by the Greek philosopher Democritus (460 - 370 BCE). Democritus coined this theory by prescribing the pursuit of pleasure and the avoidance of pain as the basis of human action. This view of approach and avoidance in human behavior can directly be related to the motivation of humans, in viewing that people are either motivated to avoid a consequence or motivated to achieve a reward. In a psychological history of approach-avoidance theory, William James in his literature, Principles of Psychology (vol. 2) written in 1890, noted pleasure and pain to be the springs of action, describing that pain is a tremendous inhibitor and pleasure is a tremendous enforcer (Elliot, A. J. 1999). Approach-avoidance motivation and behavior theory has appeared in many pieces of psychological literature since then through the likes of Freud (1915), Elliot (1999) and Covington (2001).

Approach motivation and avoidance motivation differ in terms of whether a person is drawn to an activity or drawn away from an activity by either positive or negative factors. This theory is best illustrated in describing that:

"Approach and avoidance motivation differ as a function of valence: In approach motivation, behavior is instigated or directed by a positive or desirable event or possibility, whereas in avoidance motivation, behavior is instigated or directed by a negative or undesirable event or possibility." (Elliot, A. J. 1999)

From this definition, it can be understood that negative or undesirable events can draw a person away from an activity, as seen in avoidance motivation. In other words, someone may be motivated to avoid an activity through the theory of avoidance motivation, therefore becoming avoidance behavior. This in turn allows the theory of avoidance motivation to be deemed as another significant cause of amotivation. Avoidance behavior is also a significant factor in the causes of amotivation. Avoidance behavior occurs when a person is met with an unpleasant task and wishes to avoid this task. In terms of motivation and amotivation, avoidance behaivor may case a person to feel a reduced or a complete lack of motivation if a seemingly unpleasant or painful task is presented. Examples of avoidance behavior may include pain and breathlessness as a factor in avoiding exercise or stress and boredom as a factor in avoiding work.

The effect of depression on amotivation[edit | edit source]

One of depression's many symptoms include a reduction or complete loss in a person's motivation. In people suffering from depression, their whole outlook and behavior undertakes a radical change. In terms of motivation specifically, depression causes the 'belief-desire' profile of a person to undergo:

"Changes such that the relevantly motivational propositional attitudes - desires - have dropped away. This is held to explain the lack of absence of motivation in depression." (Smith, 2013)

It can therefore be concluded that in removing the motivation and appeal in the desires of a person, depression actively causes amotivation in not only intrinsic - seen through the loss of motivation in activities desirable to a person - but extrinsic motivation as well.

Consequences of amotivation[edit | edit source]

The dangers of amotivation[edit | edit source]

The dangers of amotivation in the mental and physical health of people are quite obvious. Amotivation can affect a person in all aspects of their life. People can experience amotivation when it comes to relationships, their career, exercise, study, cleaning and so on. Amotivation can be found in either certain, specific parts of a person's life or throughout all parts of a person's life as a whole. Amotivation towards a person's career may result in a termination of their employment. If a person experiences feelings of amotivation towards their relationships, they may drift apart from their family, put less effort into finding intimacy or miss out on or ruin friendships. The dangers of experiencing feelings of amotivation towards study may result in a person dropping their studies, therefore making them less willing to strive in bettering their education. A complete lack of motivation in exercise may cause a person to become obese and depressed, therefore experiencing a multitude of health issues. In terms of feelings of amotivation towards cleaning, a lack of hygiene may cause sickness, disease and many other issues in a person's health. From these examples of amotivation in relationships, career, exercise, study and cleaning, it can be concluded that amotivation presents itself as a serious issue in the mental and physical health of people. It can also be suggested that amotivation may lead into other mental health issues, such as depression.

Preventing amotivation[edit | edit source]

As amotivation goes hand in hand with the symptoms of depression, preventing depression can in turn directly prevent amotivation. Preventing the initial onset of depression is near impossible, but once depression is successfully treated, the recurrence of depression can be prevented. Mindfulness based cognitive theory (MBCT) is a type of meditation that is typically taught and learned in groups - also known as 'mindfulness meditation'. This form of depression prevention is recommended by the anxiety, depression and suicide awareness organisation, beyondblue. Mindfulness based cognitive therapy (MBCT) is intended to teach:

"people to focus on the very present moment, just noticing whatever they are experiencing, be it pleasant or unpleasant, without trying to change it. At first, this approach is used to focus on physical sensations (like breathing), but later it is used to focus on feelings and thoughts." (Beyondblue, 2014)

In using this approach, people are generally able to temporarily avoid thinking about thoughts of the future or past as well as being able to avoiding unwelcome feelings. This technique is meant to help in preventing depression by causing people to acknowledge feelings of sadness in their early formation before they become ingrained into, and made unnecessarily significant in their lives.

Amotivation can also be prevented by attempting to gain control of extrinsic factors of motivation, through creating rewards for oneself or even focusing on the negative outcomes brought on by displaying levels of amotivation towards certain activities. As intrinsic motivation is a more instinctual form of motivation, it is much more difficult to control than the extrinsic factors. It can therefore be concluded that controlling extrinsic factors in motivation is the most effective method of preventing and controlling amotivation.

Controlling the self-efficacy levels of individuals is also another good method of preventing and controlling amotivation. If you are experiencing low perceived levels of self-efficacy, you can focus on your successes, attempt to ignore the failures of other people undertaking the same activity, encourage yourself or focus on the encouragement by others and even ignore your owns symptoms of stress.

Finding motivation[edit | edit source]

SMART goals and goal setting[edit | edit source]

One method of finding motivation and therefore getting rid of the feeling of amotivation is by setting goals. In setting goals, we are able to visualize certain desirable outcomes and take constructive steps in achieving these outcomes. Goal setting is possibly the single most important step in gaining motivation. One method of goal setting is known by the acronym; SMART goals. This acronym is made by the words:

  • S - Simple, specific with a stretch, sensible, significant
  • M - Meaningful, motivating
  • A - Acceptable, achievable, action-oriented, accountable, as-if-now, agreed, agreed-upon, actionable, assignable.
  • R - Realistic, review able, relative, rewarding reasonable, results-orientated, relevant to a mission.
  • T - Timelines, time-frame, time-stamped, tangible, timely, time-based, time-specific, time-sensitive, timed, time-scaled, time-constrained, time-phased, time-limited, time-driven, time related, time-line, timed and toward what you want, truthful.

(Rubin, 2002)

SMART goals can be described as Specific, Measurable, Attainable, Relevant and Time-bound. This means that in the first step of goal setting, a specific goal must be set, which allows an individual to focus on a specific, outlined task. This goal must also be measurable, so the success of the individual must be fairly easy to assess. The outcome of the goal must be fairly attainable, meaning that it's unadvised to set seemingly impossible goals. In terms of the relevance of the goal, the goal must be results-orientated and rewarding to one's life. The time-bound section of SMART goals means that the goal must be set to adhere within a certain time frame, this means that the goal will not take ages to complete and eliminates the possibility of interest being lost in the goal (Rubin, 2002). Setting goals can give in individual a much greater sense of focus as they have given themselves a specific task, an ability to measure the progression of this task, a task that is attainable, relevant to their life and also set within a specific time frame. In doing this, motivation can be gained, therefore conquering feelings of amotivation.

Self-discrepancy theory[edit | edit source]

In self-discrepancy theory, it is suggested that there are three types of self evaluation that regulate how humans view themselves (Vaughan & Hogg, 2010). These types of self evaluation include:

  • The actual self; how we currently are.
  • The ideal self; how we would like to be.
  • The ought self; how we think we should be.

In attempting to change our actual self, we need to first observe how we would like to be as well as how we think we should be. This shows that the ideal self and the ought self play an active role when we wish to change our actual self. In observing our three levels of self evaluation, we are able to take the first step in finding motivation through the SMART goal method. we are able to measure our progress through relating back to our actual self and have a specific, attainable, relevant, time-bound goal in observing our ideal and ought selves.

Conclusion[edit | edit source]

  • Amotivation is the complete absence of both intrinsic and extrinsic types of motivation.
  • Amotivation is not a specific psychiatric condition, but it is a feeling that can be held towards certain activities, which may invoke an unwillingness or lack of motivation in people.
  • Self-efficacy is the belief in oneself about their ability to achieve certain goals or deal with certain situations.
  • Approach and avoidance involves the notion that the pursuit of pleasure and the avoidance of pain are the basis of human action.
  • Amotivation is one of the many symptoms of depression.

Test your knowledge on amotivation[edit | edit source]

1 Which organisation rejected the notion of amotivation as a psychiatric syndrome or condition?

World Health Organisation (WHO)
World Trade Organisation (WTO)
World Psychological Foundation (WPF)

2 What factors may cause a person to experience periods of amotivation towards certain things?

Lack of confidence
Fear or phobias
All of the above

3 What factors does amotivation involve?

A complete lack of motivation
Diminished feelings of motivation
Amotivation involves both of these factors

4 True or false? Amotivation has to cover all aspects of a person's life.

False, amotivation can appear in minor areas of a person's life
True, amotivation can only cover all or no aspects of a person's life

5 The first recorded distinction between the "approach and avoidance" idea in the motivation of people was created by:


6 Is amotivation an emotion or a scientifically acknowledged, psychiatric condition?

Psychiatric condition

7 Are periods of amotivation a symptom of depression?


8 What is self-efficacy?

The belief in oneself about their ability to achieve certain goals or deal with certain situations.
Periods of sadness
Feelings of uncertainty
All of the above

9 What was Democritus' understanding of approach and avoidance in motivation?

Approach and avoidance involves the notion that the pursuit of pleasure and the avoidance of pain are the basis of human action.
People approach activities differently
People avoid activities differently
All activities are initially avoided by people

10 True or false? Preventing depression can help in preventing amotivation.


See also[edit | edit source]

  • If you are interested in further understanding aspects of the notion of self-efficacy theory or avoidance and achievement motivation, have a look at this chapter on fear of failure.
  • If you are interested in understanding the effect that goal setting can have on finding motivation and therefore conquering amotivation, have a look at this chapter on goal setting and motivation.
  • If you are interested in further understanding the effect that self-confidence can have on motivation - or a lack thereof, have a look at this chapter on self confidence.

References[edit | edit source]

Bandura, A. Adams, N, E. (1977). Analysis of Self-Efficacy Theory of Behavioral Change. Cognitive Theory and Research, 1 (4), pp. 287-310. Retrieved from

Barnwell, S. S., Earleywine, M. & Wilcox, R. (2006) Cannabis, motivation, and life satisfaction in an internet sample. Substance Abuse Treatment, Prevention, and Policy, 1(2). Retrieved from

Beyondblue. (2014). Psychological treatments for depression. Retrieved October 22, 2014. From

Deci, E. L. Ryan, M. R. (2000) Intrinsic and Extrinsic Motivations: Classic Definitions and New Directions. Contemporary Educational Psychology, 25 (1), pp 54-67. Retrieved from,+Deci+00.pdf

Deci, E. L. Ryan, M. R. (2000) Self-Determination Theory and the Facilitation of Intrinsic Motivation, Social Development, and Well-Being. American Psychologist, 55 (1), pp 68-78. Retrieved from,%20Social%20Development,%20and%20Well-Being.pdf

Elliot, A, J. (1999). Approach and Avoidance Motivation and Achievement Goals. Educational Psychologist, 34 (3), pp 169-187. Retrieved from

Pelletier, Luc. (2006). Why Do High School Students Lack Motivation in the Classroom? Toward an Understanding of Academic Amotivation and the Role of Social Support. Journal of Educational Psychology, 98 (3), p 567. Retreived from

Rubin, R. S. (2002) Will the Real SMART Goals Please Stand Up?. The Industrial-Organizational Psychologist, 39 (4). Retrieved from

Smith, B. (2013) Depression and motivation. Phenomenology and the Cognitive Sciences, 12 (4). Retrieved from

Vaughan, G. M., & Hogg, M. A. (2010) Essentials of social psychology. Frenchs Forst, NSW: Pearson Publishing.