Motivation and emotion/Book/2014/Psychodynamic perspective of motivation

From Wikiversity
Jump to navigation Jump to search
Psychodynamic perspective of motivation:
What is the psychodynamic perspective of motivation?

Overview[edit | edit source]

What motivates our behaviour? To what extent are we aware of and able to identify the true motivations of our behaviour? If our motivational processes are not consciously intended how are they accomplished?

The psychodynamic perspective on motivation emphasises the role of the unconscious and underlying mechanisms on our mental processes including motivation. Traditional views of motivation propose that individuals consciously choose to perform behaviour to achieve a specific goal (Kihlstrom, 2008). The psychodynamic perspective questions this simple view of human motivation and states the role of the unconscious is fundamental to understanding why one behaves they way they do and how behavioural motivation effects daily functioning and quality of life. Human motivation and behaviour is a result of multiple goals and constructs including an individuals personality, experiences, their environment and the people around them (Kihlstorm, 2008). The psychodynamic perspective proposes that motivation is a mixture of conscious and unconscious constructs (Westen, 1998). If all motivations were conscious and an individual was aware of these, goal-directed behaviour would inevitably be disrupted and negatively influence daily functioning (Westen, 1998).

The psychodynamic perspective differentiates between explicit and implicit motivation. Explicit motivation is the conscious representation of an individuals mental state (Kihlstrom, 2008). Implicit motivation is changes in experiences, thoughts and behaviour as a consequence of our motives without our conscious awareness (Kihlstrom, 2008).

The psychodynamic perspective has five fundamental foundations. They are as follows (Westen, 1998):

  1. The majority of an individuals mental life is unconscious, including ones thoughts, feelings and motives.
  2. Mental processes including affective and motivational processes operate in parallel, we have conflicting thoughts and ideas that lead us to compromise.
  3. Personality patterns and traits begin to form in infancy, these are stable and play a key role in our development as an individual.
  4. Mental representations of ourselves, others and the environment guide our interactions and relationships.
  5. Personality development involves our ability to control thoughts and feeling in order to develop from an immature and dependent individual, to a mature and dependent one.

The psychodynamic perspective proposes that the most significant human experiences occurs in childhood and in turn effects the individual, is the way they relate to others and their behavioural motivation (Westen, 1998)[grammar?]. Research by Hodges (1993) proposes that an individuals gut feelings or instincts are often a better predictor of ones behaviour. Furthermore, behaviour that is attributed to instincts proves to be more satisfying to the individual then consciously decided behaviour (Hodges, Klaaren, LaFleur, Lisle, Schooler, & Wilson 1993).

Freud's psychoanalytic theory[edit | edit source]

The unconscious emphasis on psychological processes is generally associated with Sigmund Freud and his Psychoanalytic Theory. Freud’s emphasis on the unconscious laid the foundation for future psychodynamic perspectives and the focus on unconscious motivations in the field of psychology as a whole.

Freud established his theory of Psychoanalysis in the late 1800s combining aspects of neurology, physiology, philosophy, psychology and evolution (Greenberg, 1983). Freud’s psychoanalysis emphasises the role of the unconscious on an individuals conscious functioning (Westen, 1998). Freud’s psychoanalytic theory is unique as he established his perspective and worked alone for 10 years before being joined by peers, at which point he had firmly established his vision (Greenberg, 1983). The essence of Freud’s perspective is the drive model, he believed drive is a source of energy for the individual and activate the psyche (Greenberg, 1983).

Before Freud the focus of psychology was organic and biological explanations of behaviour and motivation. However, Freud believed that the human unconscious influenced and caused conscious behaviours and processes both directly and indirectly (Shevrin, 1996). Freud stated that individuals can feel things without realising and act on these feelings without having any conscious awareness (Westen, 1998). An example is someone who possesses feelings of hostility and anger towards people who are different to them, in turn they treat these people differently because of their underlying feelings. This behaviour and the feelings that motivate it are often outside of conscious awareness and so someone may not even realise why they are behaving that way (Westen, 1998). Psychoanalysis suggests that these unconscious processes can be observed in the individual through their facial expressions, posture, sighing and the way that they speak (Westen, 1998).

Freud emphasised the role of childhood experiences and the impact they have on ones development, their relationships, behaviour and motivation in later life. Freud initially theorised that childhood experiences lead to the development of a personality trait or characteristic which persists into adulthood. (Westen, 1998). Freud proposed that childhood experiences can have delayed effects and established traits in childhood may manifest themselves in various ways over different stages of life (Shevrin, 1996). These traits can interact with an individuals environment and take on different roles. Freud was particularly interested in the role of childhood attachments with caregivers and parents and how they effect psychopathology of undesirable behaviour in later life (Westen, 1998). Freud proposed three characteristics that make up ones psyche; the conscious, feelings and motivations we are currently aware of, the preconscious, mental content that can be accessed under certain conditions and the unconscious or mental content that we aren't aware of and will not be able to access regardless of circumstances (Greenberg, 1983). These constructs influence one another to produce motivation. Freud’s theory of psychoanalysis has been examined, questioned and criticised. Many theorists question the validity and applicability of the theory to ones daily motivational lives. However, regardless of the limitations and criticisms of Freud’s work there is no doubt that he played a key role in establishing a focus on the unconscious and the role that it plays.

Case study: Racism and unconscious motivation[edit | edit source]

In 1948 Charles is sitting in his kindergarten classroom at his private school New York City school. Charles has been enrolled by his high achieving parents who unlike him both attended segregated schools in Mississippi in their youth (Lawrence, 1987). Charles' parents have moved him to this progressive school to escape the segregation and poverty found in the local public school in their area. It’s story time and Charles’ teacher is reading the the Little Black Sambo (Lawrence, 1987). As she begins to read the ‘comical’ story of a young African child being chased around by a tiger, the class laughs at his misfortune. However Charles begins to feel panic and shame at the laughter. As the only African-American child in the class he identifies with the character and he realises that his classmates are not only laughing at the book, but him as well. Charles knows that his teacher is not trying to be intentionally hurtful, that she doesn't understand the effect the story is having on him and that she probably did not think twice about it (Lawrence, 1987). A dozen years later Charles is a student at Harverford college and again is one of the few African-American students. A friend says to him “I don’t even think of you as black”. Although he understands his well meaning friend, Charles feels shame (Lawrence, 1987).

Neither his teacher or friend understood the effect their words had on Charles, but they influenced him and his perception of himself. These attitudes and actions were unconsciously motivated and were undertaken without releasing their meaning, or the reasoning behind their words and actions (Lawrence, 1987).

Lawrence (1987) states there are two fundamental reasons racism can be considered an unconscious motivation. Firstly, Freud’s theory states that through defence mechanisms the human mind protects itself against guilt through the denial of ideas, values and beliefs that contradict what an individual believes is moral and right (Lawrence, 1987). Secondly, cultural beliefs and norms are so prevalent that they become part of an individuals perception of the world around them. (Lawrence, 1987) For us to require conscious or overt motivation to describe our behaviour ignores what we understand about the human mind and the effects of racism on the individual and collective unconscious.

The unconscious[edit | edit source]

The unconscious is a construct that, although is an influential and significant part of an individual, is difficult to define and measure. The psychological unconscious is defined as "states, process or motivations that underlie ones behaviour that is either temporarily inaccessible or permanently unavailable to an individual conscious awareness or control" Kihlstrom, (2008). According to psychodynamics the unconscious expresses itself through ones behaviour (Kihlstrom, 2008). Unconscious thoughts have been described as feelings of ‘knowing’ that are driven by a mental representation rather than previous experiences or memories (Kihlstrom, 2008).

The human unconscious has a long history within the psychodynamic perspective. The unconscious was originally used in the 1800s to describe hypnotically induced behaviour whose motivations and reasoning was not consciously apparent to them (Bargh & Morsella, 2008). Charles Darwin used the term unconscious selection in the natural environment to describe processes that countered the intentional development of a species to produce a desired result (Bargh & Morsella, 2008). Freud then developed his theory of psychoanalysis and built on Darwin’s definition to define the unconscious as an influencer of human behaviour that was not intentionally motivated (Bargh & Morsella, 2008). Freud further proposed that these motivations and causes of behaviour were often unknown to the individual until intentionally explored (Bargh & Morsella, 2008). Across the different definitions and theories regarding the unconscious and its role there is one thing in common, the unconscious describes the unintentional nature of behaviour and the lack of awareness of the unconscious by the individual (Bargh & Morsella, 2008).

Recent research by Carvallo and colleagues has explored peoples unconscious views about themselves and how this influences their judgement, motivations and behaviour (Carvollo, Jones, & Pelham, 2010). This is referred to as implicit egotism and theorises that an individual has an unconscious tendency to prefer things that resembles ones self (Carvollo, Jones, & Pelham, 2010). They propose that these tendencies will effects ones major life decisions including where one lives and what career path they chose (Carvollo, Jones, & Pelham, 2010). Research showed that personal details about ones self (such as their name or date of birth) was linked to an individuals city in which they lived. For example people who were born on the 2nd February were more likely to live somewhere with the word ‘two’ in it (Carvollo, Jones, & Pelham, 2010). Often the participants did not identify the motivation behind their choice as something that is personally relevant to them (Carvollo, Jones, & Pelham, 2010). Carvallo and colleagues found that implicit egotism is most likely to occur when ones ego and self-concept is threatened or when people are forced to identify their own personal weaknesses (Carvollo, Jones, & Pelham, 2010). This research provides evidence for the role of unconscious motivation in making important personal decisions within ones life.

Ego development[edit | edit source]

Figure 2. Freud's id, ego and superego

The ego is an essential component of the individuals development and unconscious motivation. Freud originally defined the id, ego and superego in his psychoanalytic theory, however since his initial proposal of these constructs the ego has gone through various stages of transformation in the psychodynamic perspective.

Freud proposed that the id was the construct the encompassed mental representations of an individuals instinctual drives (Shevrin, 1996). The id is often referred to as the pleasure principle and deals with the primary processes of an individual desires (Freud, 1936). The ego is described as reality based construct that regulates the id and superego and integrates the different components for an individual (Shevrin, 1996). The superego establishes and maintains ones ideals, values and conscience (Shevrin, 1996). The superego evaluates oneself and compares the current self with the ideal self and punishes and praises oneself based on the comparison (Shevrin, 1996). Anna Freud (1936) proposed that the primary field the psychodynamic perspective functions in is that of the ego. Through the ego, clinicians can observe the actions of the id and superego as the ego aims to produce a sense of balance between the id and ego within the individual (Freud, 1936). The ego aims to permanently silence the id’s gratification seeking behaviour through unconscious defence mechanisms (Freud, 1936).

Ego development states that the ego should not be viewed as a single construct, but a process of fluid change involvement in an individuals motivational development. Loevinger (1966) was an influential figure in the field of psychodynamics, particularly the role of ego development. The emphasis in ego development is the differentiation between ego, psychosexual and intellectual development (Loevinger, 1966). Loevinger (1966) proposed six stages of ego development. In each stage the individual faces challenges regarding ones impulse control, motives and character development. Each stage has the potential for growth and the potential for maladjustment (Loevinger, 1966).

Defence mechanisms[edit | edit source]

An individuals experience's various situations and environments every day which can have both positive and negative effects on ones mental state and behaviour. To reduce pain and increase satisfaction, the ego makes use of defensive motivational processes (Westen, 1998). Defence mechanisms occur when an individual holds favourable views of themselves and in order to sustain these views the ego must defend itself against threats to self perceptions (Baumeister, Dale, & Sommer, 1998). Defence mechanisms are unconscious processes driven by the desire protect oneself and ones state of mind (Baumeister, Dale, & Sommer, 1998). An individual is often unaware that these defence mechanisms have occurred, which is why they are referred to as unconscious. There have been various defence mechanisms proposed in the psychodynamic perspective. The following table describes those that are particularly relevant when discussing motivation:

Table 1. Defence mechanisms.

Defence Mechanism Definition Example
Reaction Formation Converting unacceptable feelings or motives into the opposite An individual possesses prejudiced attitudes, because these are undesirable they adopt the opposite attitudes and behave in an accepting manner.
Projection Recognising traits in others in order to distract ourselves from that same undesirable trait we possess An individual may feel angry at a friend, however they view these feelings as unacceptable and therefore assume that their friend is the angry one.
Displacement We alter the target of an impulse to ensure the target is socially acceptable. Frustration towards ones parents is instead directed towards other authority figures, such as teachers.
Denial Realities or the consequences of realities are ignored. Dismissing criticism or negative feedback from others because we don't like or enjoy it.
Regression Stress of anxiety causes one to return to an earlier developmental stage. When experiencing stress as an adult one returns to their parents for reassurance and support.
Rationalisation Justifying an undesirable thought or feeling through the use of logic. An individual with previous abusive relationships may struggle to form new meaningful relationships.
Sublimation Expressing an instinct in an alternative way to show no relationship with it original motivation. Aggression is channeled into acceptable behaviours, such as boxing rather then fighting.

(Baumeister, Dale & Sommer, 1998)

Object relations theory[edit | edit source]

Figure 3. Relationship between child and caregiver influences relationship motivation in later life

Object Relations Theory was borne out of the psychoanalytic tradition to emphasise the relations between individuals, particularly between an individual and their primary caregiver and how this influences ones relationships and motivations in later life (Greenberg, 1983). According to the psychodynamic perspective, childhood experiences can have a substantial impact on the motivation and formation of relationships in later life (Westen, 1998). Significant relationships and interaction with others early in life affects us more than we may realise, they are internalised and shape our attitudes, perception and motivation regarding the world around us (Greenberg, 1983). An object is what an individual relates to. This object can be internal (such as a mental representation) or external (such as a person or environment) (Westen, 1998). In object relations theory the object is generally another person and the emphasis is on the relationship with ones primary caregiver (often the mother). Relations refer to the relationship between the individual and the object or environment (Greenberg, 1983).

Relationships between an individual and objects in their childhood produce an internal mental representation which includes both the true external relationships and the relationships capacity to trigger a response within us as individuals (Greenberg, 1983). An individuals expectations of the external world and their relationships along with their view of themselves combine to create our thoughts, motivation and behaviour (Greenberg, 1983). Melanie Klein was a key figure in the development of object relations theory (Greenberg, 1983). Klein took Freud’s work with children and his emphasis on the unconscious and elaborated on these ideas to propose object relations (Boekamp, Klepser, Lifton, Ruffins, Silverman, & Westen, 1991). Klein’s goal through object relations was to emphasise interpersonal behaviour and cognitive processes that mediate ones ability to relate to others (Boekamp et al, 1991). The psychodynamic perspective on motivation makes use of object relations theory to explain an individuals motivation when relating to others. Furthermore, how an individual's childhood relational experiences with their caregivers affects the ability to form meaning flu relationships in later life.

if your reading this, this is why you should not quote wiki! anyone can put any information up! please follow the reference list at the bottom! yours sincerely the girl at uni.

Attachment[edit | edit source]

Bowlby explored the motivation of attachment, separation and loss and the process through which an individual forms bonds with others (Hazan & Shaver, 1987). Bowlby’s theory of attachment was influenced by object relations and the foundations of psychoanalysis. Bowlby aimed to explore infants attachment to their primary caregivers and the distress that results from the separation of the caregiver (Bowlby, 1973). According to Bowlby, this separation influences the infant in later life, particularly within their motivation to form meaningful relationships (Hazan & Shaver, 1987). The theory of attachment was founded on the observations of young children who were separated from their mothers for different periods of time, Bowlby stated that an infant goes through a predictable series of emotional reactions including protest, despair and detachment (Hazan & Shaver, 1987). The theory of attachment is based on three main propositions (Bowlby, 1973):

  1. If an individual is confident that their caregiver will be accessible to them whenever they desire then the individual will be less likely to have strong emotional reactions to objects, people and environments
  2. Confidence in the availability of caregivers is built up slowly during infancy, childhood and adolescence, this attachment persists into adulthood generally without change
  3. Varied experiences of caregivers during early life are generally accurate reflections of ones realistic experiences

Goal directed motivation[edit | edit source]

Recent research into unconscious motivation has emphasised the role of goal directed motivation[factual?]. According to Bargh and colleagues a goal can be triggered outside of an individuals awareness and in turn behavioural steps can be taken to produce a desired outcome and the completion of the goal without conscious intervention, willingness or guidance (Bargh, Barndoll, Gollwitzer, Lee-Child, & Trötschel, 2001). Research into goal directed motivation has shown that unconscious motivation and goals produce the same processing of goal specific stimuli and environmental cues as consciously set goals (Bargh et al., 2001). Goals are originally presented as mental representations of an individuals desire or something they wish to achieve (Bargh et al., 2001). These goal concepts eventually become capable of automatic activation and the goal representation develops an association with an environment (Bargh et al., 2001). This environmental association means that in the future the environment can automatically trigger goal activation and an individual can work towards their goals without any conscious awareness (Bargh et al., 2001).

Goal directed motivation occurs when an individual consistently chooses goals in specific situations. These eventually become an automatic and unconscious process invoked by environmental stimuli (Kihlstrom, 2008). Wenger (2007) states that goal directed pursuits are represented through networks of associations, which are activated the same way other networks are activated. This starts with the presentation of an environmental stimuli which activates the networks and this network world towards completing a goal, this process can occur without conscious awareness (Wenger, 2007). When these goal-directed networks are activated an individual is motivated to pursue this goal and in turn behave in ways that will bring one closer to the desired goal state (Bargh et al., 2001).

A research study by Wenger (2007) explored unconscious motivation in religious college students who were intrinsically motivated to pursue their religious beliefs. Participants were split into two groups. The first group was asked to recall a time where they pursued their religious interests and succeeded, the second group was asked to recall a time where they failed to pursue their religious interests (Wenger, 2007). All participants were then asked to read a short story in which the main character desires to live their life based on their religious values, but is challenged in this pursuit throughout the story (Wenger, 2007). Participants who were originally asked to recall previous failures in the pursuit of religious interests spent significantly more time reading the story then those who were asked to recall their success (Wenger, 2007). Based on results the researchers concluded that a compensatory process took place in participants that took longer to read the story (Wenger, 2007). The emphasis for the participants on their failure to complete something that was important to them activated their desire to compensate for their failure (Wenger, 2007). This need for compensation lead them to question their sense of self and their religious goals (Wenger, 2007). These results provide evidence for an individuals unconscious motivations to complete a specific task, particularly when that task is important to them.

Criticisms and limitations of psychodynamics[edit | edit source]

Although the psychodynamic perspective on motivation has added much to the field of unconscious motivation, it is not without its limitations or critics. Since the first theories proposed by Freud there has been significant controversy regarding the influence the unconscious has on the individual (Westen, 1998). The psychodynamic perspective is an inherently negative view of an individuals internal life (Westen, 1998). The theory proposes that we are unaware of the motivations that drive our behaviour and because of this we lack control over our own thoughts, motivations and behaviour. The psychodynamic perspective states that our early experiences and relationships influence us beyond our control and an individual must live with these effects for the rest of their life. The psychodynamic perspective aims to provide us with an explanation of our unconscious motivation but doesn't provide a way to change or influence our motivation. If an individual is behaving in a certain way, the psychodynamic perspective can explain the role of the unconscious in their actions, but not how one can change their behaviour or alter their motivations.

The unconscious is a difficult concept to define and measure (Westen, 1998). This is a key weakness of the psychodynamic perspective on motivation, critics argue that the research and foundations are not scientifically sound or objective (Westen, 1998). They state that the psychodynamic perspective places too much emphasis on the role of case studies, projective measurements, self-report tests and clinician inferences (Greenberg, 1983). The emphasis of these methods means that studies cannot be replicated, there is no concrete evidence for unconscious influence and research may not be measuring what it intends to measure (Greenberg, 1983).

The psychodynamic perspective may recognise that the role of the unconscious on ones motivation, however its essential to explore the relationship between the conscious and unconscious and how this influences motivation. In order to gain a robust understanding of an individuals behaviour and their underlying motivations, we must understand the role of both conscious and unconscious motivation in order to improve ones motivational quality of life.

Quiz[edit | edit source]


1 What is the role of the ego?

Unconscious pleasure seeking principle
Based in reality, regulates the id and the superego and integrates concepts for an individual
Establishes and maintains ones ideals and values
Regulates the id and superego while seeking instant gratification

2 Who were the main figures to contribute to the development of the unconscious?

Erik Erikson and Abraham Maslow
John B. Watson and Sigmund Freud
Sigmund Freud and Charles Darwin
Erik Erikson and Sigmund Freud

3 What does object relations theory propose?

The relationship between a teenager and their parents directly effects their ability to relate to their peers
The relationship between a infant and their primary caregiver influences their unconscious motivation and relationship formation in later life
An individuals relationship with their primary caregivers will influence their motivation to seek employment opportunities
An individuals attachment to objects in their childhood reduces their social skills in later life

See also[edit | edit source]

References[edit | edit source]

Bargh, J. A., Barndollar, K., Gollwitzer, P. M., Lee-Chai, A., & Trötschel, R. (2001). The automated will: nonconscious activation and pursuit of behavioral goals. Journal of personality and social psychology, 81, 1014-1027. doi:10.1037/0022-3514.81.6.1014

Bargh, J. A., & Chen, M. (1997). Nonconscious behavioral confirmation processes: The self-fulfilling consequences of automatic stereotype activation. Journal of Experimental Social Psychology, 33, 541-560. doi: 10.1006/jesp.1997.1329

Bargh, J. A., & Morsella, E. (2008). The unconscious mind. Perspectives on psychological science, 3, 73-79. doi: 10.1111/j.1745-6916.2008.00064

Baumeister, R. F., Dale, K., & Sommer, K. L. (1998). Freudian defense mechanisms and empirical findings in modern social psychology: Reaction formation, projection, displacement, undoing, isolation, sublimation, and denial. Journal of Personality, 66, 1081-1124. doi: 10.1111/1467-6494.00043

Boekamp, J., Klepser, J., Lifton, N., Ruffins, S. A., Silverman, M., & Westen, D., (1991). Object relations in childhood and adolescence: The development of working representations. Journal of Consulting and Clinical Psychology, 59, 400- 409. doi: 10.1037/0022-006X.59.3.400

Bowlby, J. (1982). Attachment and loss: retrospect and prospect. American Journal of Orthopsychiatry, 52, 664-678. doi:10.1111/j.1939-0025.1982.tb01456.x

Carvallo, M., Jones, J. T. & Pelham, B. W. (2005). Implicit egotism. In Sheldon, K.M. (2010) Current Directions in Motivation and Emotion, (pp. 90-98). Boston, MA: Pearson.

Freud, A. (1936). The ego and mechanisms of defence. The International Psychoanalytic library.

Greenberg, J. (1983). Object Relations in Psychoanalytic Theory. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press.

Hodges, S. D., Klaaren, K. J., LaFleur, S. J., Lisle, D. J., Schooler, J. W., & Wilson, T. D. (1993). Introspecting about reasons can reduce post-choice satisfaction. Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin, 19, 331-331.

Kihlstrom, J. F. (1999). The psychological unconscious. In: Handbook of personality: Theory and research ( pp. 424-442). Amsterdam: Elsevier.

Lawrence, C. R. (1987). The id, the ego, and equal protection: Reckoning with unconscious racism. Stanford Law Review, 317-388. Retrieved from

Loevinger, J. (1966). Meaning and measurement of ego development. American Psychologist, 21, 195-206. doi: 10.1037/h0023376

Shevrin, H. (1996). Conscious and unconscious processes: Psychodynamic, cognitive, and neurophysiological convergence. NYC, NY: Guilford Press.

Westen, D. (1998). The scientific legacy of Sigmund Freud: Toward a psychodynamically informed psychological science. Psychological Bulletin, 124, 333. doi: 10.1037/0033-2909.124.3.333

Wenger, J.L. (2007). The implicit nature of goal directed motivational pursuits. In Brown, L.V., Psychology of motivation (pp. 141-151). NYC, NY: Nova Science Publishers.