Motivation and emotion/Book/2016/Validation seeking motivation

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Validation seeking motivation:
What is validation seeking and what are its consequences?

Overview[edit | edit source]

Seeking Validation will keep you trapped. You don't need anyone or anything to approve of your worth. When you understand this you will be free.

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Key Learning Objectives

  • What is validation seeking?
  • What are the consequences of validation seeking?
  • What motivates validation seeking?
  • How to improve everyday life through self validation?

Henry Murray, a renowned psychologist, proposed that the study of individuals could never lead to a comprehensive understanding of human motivation. It was suggested that, beyond analysis of the individual it is vital that interpersonal relationships are also examined (1938). In other words, individual actions should not be the central subject of inquiry, rather motivational science should adopt a holistic approach of inquiry in which considers the individuals interactions with its environment. In light of this, this chapter will explore the concept of validation seeking motivation. Validation seeking behaviour involves the process of interaction with one's environment for the pursuit of attaining social approval (Reeve, 2015). As you read this chapter you will be presented with an array of concepts and theories which will broaden your understanding of human motivation.

To assist you in gaining practical application of the motivational concepts and theory presented in this chapter, please keep in mind the case study of Amy.

Case Study

Amy arrives at her first college party, as she interacts with the people at the party she cannot help but wonder what others at the party think of her. Many questions run through her mind. Do they think I am funny? Do they think I am smart? Do they think I am pretty?

In attempts to seek validation, Amy begins to tell funny stories to a group of people. Her stories are well received with laughter and she feels a sense of accomplishment. Amy then continues to tell them that she aspires to become a doctor, and her peers applaud her for her academic goals. However, Amy’s sense of self-worth quickly diminishes when she notices that no one had complimented her on her appearance for the whole night. Amy felt that she was the ugliest girl at the party and left the party feeling worthless.

What is Validation Seeking[edit | edit source]

Figure 1.Conditions of worth are formed over a lifetime of social interactions

Validation seeking behaviour can be understood as the process by which individuals engage in social interactions for the pursuit of attaining social approval (Reeve, 2015). Social approval can be displayed via tangible items such as certificates or monetary rewards but is most commonly displayed through intangible measures such as verbal appraisal (VandeWalle, 2003).

According to Dykman, individuals who engage in this behaviour and are focused on the need to prove ones[grammar?] competence, self-worth and likability have a validation seeking goal orientation. Comparatively, growth seeking orientated individuals are focused on learning, self-improvement and realising ones true potential (Horvath & Wambolt, 2005).

Validation can be understood as approval gained from within the individual’s environment such as from work colleagues, classmates, family and friends. Individuals engaging in validation seeking behaviour attempt to gain a sense of worth based on societal conditions. In other words, the individual attempts to gain a sense of self-worth in accordance to their perception of what their society deems as socially desirable. In light of this, societal conditions of worth differ based on the norms within the given society. At times, societal conditions of worth can be conflict with an individual’s personality (Ryan & Deci, 2000). For example, an individual may generally identify as being introverted. However, this individual may face external environmental pressures to be more extroverted. The individual may engage in behaviour which makes the individual feel uncomfortable for the trade-off of feeling socially accepted (Hodgins & Knee, 2002).

Let us reflect back to our case study to revisit concepts we have covered. Amy felt the need prove to the people at the party that she was funny and smart. Amy considered these traits to be highly desirable in the party environment. Amy sought validation by telling jokes and telling people at the party that she wanted to become a doctor. Amy however, does not want to become a doctor rather, she enjoys architecture. However, Amy felt external pressures to tell them that she wanted to be a doctor so she could prove that she is smart and worthy enough to hang out with them. Amy’s situation at the party is an example of an individual engaging in validation seeking behaviour.

The next part of this chapter will present factors in which may predispose an individual to a validation seeking goal orientation. ]}

Predispositions for Validation-Seeking[edit | edit source]

At the beginning of a child's life they learn "conditions of worth", the process in which their behaviours are regarded as positive or negative and are either accepted or rejected. A child's perception of self worth is predominately[spelling?] shaped by parental conditions of worth (Reeve, 2015). When a parent provides unconditional positive regard, they demonstrate acceptance and love towards the child irrespective of the child's actions and behaviours. This type of parenting is associated with children that[grammar?] tend to adopt a growth seeking goal orientation in later adulthood (Bozarth, 2007). However, parents who restrict love and acceptance in response to undesirable behaviour are describe[grammar?] to provdide[spelling?] conditional positive regard. Research suggests that exposure to conditional positive regard from parents is a factor which promotes validation seeking motivation (Friedman, Cooper, Chladek, & Rudy, 2007). A review of research presents parental relationships as the strongest pre-determinant for validation seeking (Assor & Tal, 2012). It should also be noted, however, that as a child develops into adulthood they are exposed to other conditions of worth such as societal conditions of worth which are shaped by the societal norms in which the individual exists. Individuals who strongly identify and internalise societal conditionals of worth are likely to seek social approval through engaging in validation seeking. Lastly, validation seeking is strongly correlated with the need to overcome feelings of inferiority (Gilbert, et al., 2007)[explain?].

With an understanding of the key pre-determinants for validation seeking, the next part of the chapter will discuss the consequences of validation seeking.

Consequences of Validation-Seeking[edit | edit source]

Figure 2. Depression[explain?]

Research has found strong positive correlations between validation seeking and anxiety suffered during social interaction, low self-esteem, poor task persistence, fear of failure, and high depression (Dykman, 1988). In other words, the more Amy engages in validation seeking the more likely she is to experience the negative mental implications. Research by Horvath, Bissix, Sumarah, Crouchman, & Bowdrey, 2008 supports previous research by Dykman. For example, a longitudinal study of growth-seeking and validation-seeking individuals finds that validation-seeking individuals demonstrated more depressive reactions in high stress conditions than growth-seeking individuals in high-stress situations.

Adopting a validation-seeking goal orientation can heighten the individuals[grammar?] level of anxiety for ego-threatening life events and increases the individual’s susceptibility to self-esteem loss, task disengagement and depression following a negative event. Validation-seeking individuals are at a higher risk for both anxiety and depression in comparison to growth-seeking individuals[factual?]. Anxious and depressive features may occur simultaneously, for example, prior to the occurrence of an ego-threatening event validation-seeking individuals may engage in the behaviour of defensive pessimism in attempts to protect their self-worth (Norem & Cantor, 1986). Defensive pessimism may facilitate negative outlooks for example expecting the worst. This results in a combination of depressive and anxious features experienced by the validation-seeking individual. An alternative perspective is that validation-seeking individuals experience anxious and depressive features simultaneously because anxiety arises from events that may happen which will threaten the individuals[grammar?] ego and depressive features may occur due to events in which have already happened.

Validation-seeking goal orientation also known as the pursuit of performance goals is not entirely negative for performance. Rather, the issue arises when the motivation for validation overrides the motivation for performance. In other words, when the individual focuses more on how they are perceived to complete the task that their motivation to complete the task (Dweck, 1999). The dominance of validation-seeking can be particularly problematic when the task at hand is complex and new skills must be learned to complete the task. Adding to this, if a task is not completed, validation seeking predicts increased dysphoria when responding to achievement setback (Lindsay & Scott, 2005). Furthermore, validation-seeking individuals are more likely to adopt self-blame and more likely to cope with stressful events by using various forms of task disengagement. Validation-seeking individuals also reported greater anticipatory anxiety in relation to future stressful events, comparatively to growth-seeking individuals. A study[factual?] found that growth-seeking individuals are more likely to use adaptive coping strategies such as planning, suppression of competing activities, active coping, acceptance, positive reinterpretation and growth.

Lastly, validation-seeking tendencies may have a role in other disorders such as compulsive personality disorder and Type A behaviour patterns[factual?]. Furthermore, the motivation to demonstrates ones[grammar?] self worth may result in the need to attain a “perfect” body image. This pursuit of the “perfect” body can lead to the development of eating disorders such as bulimia nervosa and anorexia nervosa (Dykman, 1988).

Theoretical Perspectives on Validation-Seeking Motivation[edit | edit source]

Motivation can be understood as the processes which energise, direct, and sustain human behaviour (Reeve, 2015; Deckers, 2015). Motivation is the driving force that causes an individual to engage in specific behaviours.

Motivational theories have provided insights into addressing questions such as what causes behaviour and why does behaviour vary in its intensity (Fiske, 2004). Additionally, validated theories can provide practical applications that can improve the personal growth and development of individuals (Reeve, 2015). However, motivation remains a contested phenomenon in the psychological community, with numerous conflicting explanations as to the underlying reasons and influences of motivation.

Incentive theory of Motivation[edit | edit source]

Incentive theory of motivation perceives the processes of motivation as predominately driven by the prospect of an incentive. An incentive is an object or event that present in an individual’s external environment in which encourages the person to engage in an action that is unrelated to any underlying physiological need. Incentives can be tangible such as money or intangible such as positive appraisal from a significant person. Based on the incentive theory, motivation is predominately influenced by external events or environmental cues (Deckers, 2015). In relation to validation seeking, incentive theory suggests the social approval is the incentive in which drives Amy's behaviour. However, this theory does have limitations in explaining why individual's continually engage in validation seeking behaviour when they are continually socially rejected. Goal theory provides a more comprehensive explanation of Amy's behaviour (Pervin, 2015).

Goal Theory[edit | edit source]

At first it may be difficult to distinguish the difference between an incentive and a goal. The notable difference between an incentive and a goal is that goals are usually more complex in nature. Additionally, the pursuit to gain incentives may be a part of a goal. A goal encompasses a range of positive and negative features to be approached and avoided (Klinger, 1977). For example, social approval is the incentive for Amy to engage in validation seeking, but Amy's goal may be to feel socially worthy. To achieve the goal Amy might experience rejection in the process of gaining a sense of social worthiness.

The concept of goals as motivational constructs in understanding validation seeking has notable advantages in comparison to explanations provided by incentive concepts of motivation. Firstly, goal orientated motivation emphasises individuals’ motivation to attain a goal (a cognitive mental representation or image of a goal). Based on this, human behaviour is understood to be flexible and adaptive, in comparison to an incentive framework which depicts human behaviour as stimulus-responsive or as fixed action-plans. The concept of goals recognises that there are many routes to a goal and that the individual can engage in an array of behaviours to attain the goal.

Secondly, the concept of goals acknowledges the complex nature of motivation. It suggests that some goals are conflictual in nature and that some goals may facilitate the attainment of other goals. It highlights that not all goals produce the same level of intensity. This model of understanding motivation is far more nuanced and practical than traditional motivation theories such as reinforcement theory or expectancy-value theory (Pervin, 2015). Based on this framework, Amy is motivated to engage in validation seeking behaviour for the pursuit of attaining her goal.

Maslow’s Hierarchy of Human Needs[edit | edit source]

Figure X. Maslow's Hierarchy of Needs

An alternative perspective from external motivation theories which argue that environmental factors are the strongest motivating force is Maslow’s hierarchy of needs[Rewrite to improve clarity]. This theory of motivation suggests that human needs are best understood in a hierarchical structure as depicted in Figure X. Based on Maslow’s understanding of motivation, physiological needs are believed to be the leading source of human motivation, followed by for psychological needs such as safety, love and belongingness, esteem and self-actualisation (Maslow, 1943, 1987).

It is likely, that you have come across this understanding of motivation in an educational setting or in the workplace (Cox, 1987). Despite its popularity, there is little empirical support for a hierarchy of needs (Wahba & Bridwell, 1976).

Let's consider the motivation for validation seeking to illustrate this concept. Amy is feeling very hungry, however she does not eat any food at the party, as she would like to present the image that she is health conscious and has self-control. Despite Amy’s physiological need to eat, her motivation to gain validation dominated her behaviour.

However, derived from Maslow’s hierarchy of needs is the concept of a dual-level hierarchy (as opposed to the original concept of five level hierarchy). This dual-level hierarchy distinguishes two types of needs; growth and deficiency need, in more recent years it has gained increasing empirical support (Wahba & Bridell, 1976; Sheldon, Elliot, Kim & Kasser, 2001).

Adopting a dual-level hierarchy of needs framework in understanding motivation, validation seeking is motivated by deficiency needs. In other words, Amy is motivated to seek validation because she feels a sense of deficiency in belongingness and therefore engages in validation seeking behaviour to provide herself with a sense of self worth. The table below presents psychological needs that when an individual is deficient in can produce motivation to engage in validation seeking behaviour (Deckers, 2015).

Table 1.

Caption Goes Here[missing something?][factual?]

Psychological Need Characteristic Feeling of Each Psychological Need
Self-esteem You are a worthy person who is as good as anyone else rather than feeling like a "loser."
Relatedness You have regular intimate contact with people who care about you rather than feeling lonely and uncared for.
Autonomy You are the cause of your own actions rather than feeling external forces or pressures are the cause of your actions.
Competence You are very capable and effective in your actions rather than feeling incompetent or ineffective.

Validation from Within[edit | edit source]

Basing one's value or self worth on external validation can result in an unhealthy dependent relationship with the individual and his/her environment. Self-validation specifically refers to understanding and accepting your own internal experiences, thoughts and feelings. This process of self-validation does not however suggest that you perceives all of your and feelings to be justified, it simply allows for a process in which they can better understand yourself and at times reflect on the thoughts and feelings which surprise you and that you may later consider to be unjustified.[factual?][vague]

The process of validating your own thoughts and emotions allows you to engage in the process of self-calming and allows you to manage your emotions more effectively[factual?]. Additionally, through the process of self-validation, you will be able to better accept and understand yourself which leads to a stronger sense of identity[factual?].

However, self-validation is not an easy process and many individuals have become accustomed to relying on their environment to define their self worth. Successful engagement in self-validation can alleviate the negative consequences associated with validation seeking (Hall, 2014). The following are tips derived from Linehan's theory of motivation which can assist in the process of engaging in self-validation.

1. Be Present

In order to effectively engage in the process of self-validation, it is important to practice the art of mindfulness. The first level of Linehan’s theory of validation is that you must be mindful of your emotions. This means to avoid dissociating or suppressing your emotions. Being present allows you to truly listen to yourself; this can be a difficult task when you are feeling the pain of sadness, hurt and or fear. Avoiding and suppressing emotions often results in negative consequences. On the other hand, accepting emotions allows the emotions to pass and helps build resiliency.

2. Accurate Reflection

This refers to the process in which you acknowledge your internal state and you perceive it in an objective manner. For example, in this process you may begin to consider the factors which triggered the cause of your emotional states. Additionally, you may reflect on the way emotions feel in your body and consider the actions that coincide with particular emotions. For example, when you experience anger do you want to confront the situation or do you try to run away from the issue? An example of accurate reflecting is when you observe and describe your internal experience without the need to make biased interpretations or assumptions. The process may follow along the lines of “I feel sad, this feeling began when I heard that my grandma is in hospital, I also have a sinking feeling in my stomach, so maybe there is a sense of worry as well”. An example which does not portray accurate reflection would be a statement such as “I am very unpopular and no one at school wants to spend any time with me”. This would not be an accurate reflection as it is not an objective perception of the situation. It is important to analyse situations without bias in order to build trust in your internal experience. When you interpret your experiences in ways that you cannot observe to be true it will lead you to create distrust in your internal experience.

3. Guessing

Whilst accurate reflection is an important process in self-validation, there will be times in which you may be unsure of what you are thinking and feeling. In situations like this, it may be helpful to attempt to adopt a viewpoint from another perspective. For example, you may say, “If my friend were in this situation how would they feel? I think they would feel anxious. Am I feeling anxious?” Another way in which you can attempt to understand your feeling is to interpret the action you would like to do. For example, if you feel like all you want to do is hide then you may be experiencing feelings of shame. Attempting to understand your emotions and thoughts based on the information you can gather will allow you to learn more about yourself.

4. Validation by History

There will be times in which you may experience particular thoughts and feelings that are based on events in which have occurred in the past. For example, you may feel afraid when people argue because in the past, arguments have led you to feeling lost and hurt. Self-validation by history would include such thoughts as, “it is acceptable and understandable that arguments make me feel afraid because when I was young, my parents would have arguments and it would hurt my feelings”.

5. Normalising

There are some individuals who do not perceive any of their emotional reactions as being normal. It is important to recognise that everyone has emotions and that no one is happy all of the time. For example, if you are sad because you did not get the job that you really wanted remember that it is a likely and normal feeling that most people would feel if they were in the same situation. It is not something that you should not be feeling simply because you do not enjoy the experience of that emotion.

6. Radical Genuineness

In regards to self-validation this means that you are honest with yourself and do not pretend to be someone you are not. This is related to growth seeking goal orientations in which one acts in line to ones’[grammar?] true growth needs. It is important to be aware that who you are as a person is different from what you have done or do. However, adjusting particular behaviors can assist in alleviating some emotional distress.

Conclusion[edit | edit source]

This chapter has explored validation seeking motivation. It defined validation seeking as the process in which individuals engage in social interactions for the pursuit of attaining social approval (Reeve, 2015). This chapter then presented key pre-determinant factors of validation seeking[explain?]. Additionally, it explored correlations between validation seeking and mental health states and found a strong relationship between validation seeking and anxiety, depression and low self esteem. Furthermore, this chapter presented various motivation theories and concepts and has highlighted different perspectives as to why individuals engage in validation seeking behaviour[explain?]. Finally, it provided a guideline of how you can learn to seek self-validation in order to improve your mental well-being.

Test your Knowledge[edit | edit source]

Test your knowledge of the content presented in this chapter with the following questions

1 Henry Murray believes that individual action should be the central point of analysis in motivation studies


2 Despite popular use of Maslow's hierarchy of needs, there is little scientific evidence to support the concept of a five level hierarchy


3 Validated motivation theories....................

can provide an array of practical applications that can improve the personal growth and development of individuals
are virtually useless in providing an practical applications to improving personal growth and development of individuals

4 People who adopt a validation seeking goal orientation tend to be happier than individuals with a growth seeking goal orientation


5 You can learn to seek validation from within


6 Motivation is a straightforward concept and any one of the theories presented in the chapter can sufficiently explain human motivation


See also[edit | edit source]

References[edit | edit source]

Assor, A., & Tal, K. (2012). When parents’ affection depends on child’s achievement: Parental conditional positive regard, self-aggrandizement, shame and coping in adolescents. Journal of Adolescence, 35(2), 249-260

Bozarth, J. (2007). Unconditional positive regard. The handbook of person-centred psychotherapy and counselling, 182-193.

Cox, R. (1987). The rich harvest of Abraham Maslow. In A. Maslow, Motivation and personality (3rd ed., pp. 245-271). New York; Harper & Row.

Deckers, L. (2015). Motivation: Biological, psychological, and environmental. Psychology Press.

Dweck, C. S. (1999). Caution--Praise Can Be Dangerous. American Educator, 23(1), 4-9.

Dykman, B. M. (1998). Integrating cognitive and motivational factors in depression: initial tests of a goal-orientation approach. Journal of personality and social psychology, 74(1), 139.

Fiske, S. T. (2004). Intent and ordinary bias: Unintended thought and social motivation create casual prejudice. Social Justice Research, 17(2), 117-127.

Fiske, S. T. (2004). Mind the gap: In praise of informal sources of formal theory. Personality and Social Psychology Review, 8(2), 132-137.

Friedman, R. S., Cooper, M. L., Chladek, M. R., & Rudy, D. (2007). Investigating the link between validation seeking and lay dispositionism. Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin, 33(4), 463-475.

Gilbert, P., Broomhead, C., Irons, C., McEwan, K., Bellew, R., Mills, A., ... & Knibb, R. (2007). Development of a striving to avoid inferiority scale. British Journal of Social Psychology, 46(3), 633-648.

Hall, K. (2014). Self validation. Psychology Today. Retrieved from <>

Hodgins, H. S., & Knee, C. R. (2002). The integrating self and conscious experience. Handbook of self-determination research, 87-100.

Horvath, P., & Wambolt, P. (2009). Moderation of Success and Failure Feedback by Validation Seeking on Affect Change: Implications for Theories of Cognitive Adaptation and Self‐Worth Regulation. Journal of Applied Biobehavioral Research, 14(4), 145-164.

Horvath, P., Bissix, G., Sumarah, J., Crouchman, E., & Bowdrey, J. (2008). Motivational orientation, expectancies, and vulnerability for depression in women. Journal of prevention & intervention in the community, 35(2), 19-32.

Klinger, E. (1977). Meaning and void: Inner experience and the incentives in peoples lives. U of Minnesota Press.

Lindsay, J. E., & Scott, W. (2005). Dysphoria and self-esteem following an achievement event: Predictive validity of goal orientation and personality style theories of vulnerability. Cognitive Therapy and Research, 29, 769–785.

Maslow, A. H. (1943). A theory of human motivation. Psychological Review, 50, 370-396.

Maslow, A. H. (1987). Motivation and personality (3rd ed.). New York; Harper & Row.

Norem, J. K., & Cantor, N. (1986). Defensive pessimism: harnessing anxiety as motivation. Journal of personality and social psychology, 51(6), 1208.

Pervin, L. A. (Ed.). (2015). Goal concepts in personality and social psychology. Psychology Press.

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Robinson, M. D., Moeller, S. K., & Ode, S. (2010). Extraversion and reward-related processing: Probing incentive motivation in affective priming tasks. Emotion, 10(5), 615-626. doi:10.1037/a0019173

Ryan, R. M., & Deci, E. L. (2000). Intrinsic and extrinsic motivations: Classic definitions and new directions. Contemporary educational psychology, 25(1), 54-67.

Sheldon, K., M. , Elliot, A. J., Kim, Y., & Kasser, T. (2001). What is satisfying about satisfying events?: Testing 10 candidate psychological needs. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 80, 325-339.

VandeWalle, D. (2004). A goal orientation model of feedback-seeking behavior. Human Resource Management Review, 13(4), 581-604.

Wahba, M A., & Bridwell, L. G. (1976). Maslow reconsidered: A review of research on the need hierarchy theory. Organizational Behavior and Human Performance, 15, 212-240