Motivation and emotion/Book/2019/Motivation measurement

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Measuring motivation:
How can motivation be measured?

Overview[edit | edit source]

Motivation is a process in which activities begin, are directed, and sustained to meet the needs of an individual (Touré-Tillery & Fishbach, 2014). Intrinsic motivation is behaviour driven by satisfying internal needs and enjoyment. Extrinsic Motivation are environmental drivers of behaviour through rewards and punishment (Operant Conditioning) that have varying levels regulation as shown in Figure 1.

Figure 1ː Self - Determination Continuum

Motivation as a psychological construct cannot be directly observed or recorded which begs the question, how is motivation measured? Researchers can measure motivation by observable cognition, subjective experience, behavioural, and physiological responses as well as self reports (Touré-Tillery & Fishbach, 2014). Motivation is usually measured relative to previous states measured and comparisons are made.

Understanding the different dimensions of motivation is key in determining how to measure it (Brehm & Self, 1989). There are measures that assess outcome-focused motivations that give attention to the completion of a goal, or the process-focused motivations that evaluate the progression of goal pursuit with less weight towards the outcome.

Theories of Motivation[edit | edit source]

Understanding theory[grammar?] of motivation allows us to tease out motivation and accurately describe and capture certain types of motivation that we are trying to measure.

Maslow's Hierarchy of Needs[edit | edit source]

Figure 2ː The structural representation of Maslow's hierarchy.

Maslow envisioned a series of human needs in a hierarchical system in which basic human needs are met before those higher on the pyramid. The most basic needs are classified as physiological needs such as water, or biological needs and may override other needs. Once satisfied, the need no longer serves as a motivator and the theory predicts that people will tend to become concerned about their safety needs and so on. There was much criticism regarding the ranking of the hierarchy, as those who are hungry may still have motivators higher on the list overriding the hunger for example. Additionally there was little evidence to support that once satisfied a need was no longer a motivator, and the only dominant motivator at that time (Neher, 1991).

ERG Theory[edit | edit source]

ERG theory is an extension of Maslow's hierarchy of needs developed by Clayton Alderfer (1969). Alderfer recategorises Maslow's theory into existence, relatedness, and growth needs. ERG theory also recognises that more than one need can arise at the same time and ranks them in no particular order over each other. There is the addition of the 'frustration-regression' hypothesis that stated individuals who are frustrated by their attempts to satisfy one need may regress another (Alderfer, 1969). This shows an evolving notion of motivation in that there may be multiple drivers of behaviour that push individuals.

Two-Factor Theory[edit | edit source]

Frederick Herzburg came up with a theory by asking individuals what satisfies or dissatisfies them on the job, and concluded that aspects of the work environment that satisfy, or dissatisfy are very different (Herzburg et al., 1959).

Hygiene factors are factors that cause dissatisfaction and are within the context of how a job is performed, as opposed to the job itself which may include . Motivators are factors that are inherent with a job such as job advancement, recognition, and achievement. This theory suggests that motivators are what actually encourages workers to increase their efforts.

Acquired-Needs Theory[edit | edit source]

David McClelland came up with this needs-based theory in which individuals acquire three needs as a result of their own life experiences; the need for achievement, affiliation, and power. Each individual acquires a combination of all three with the dominant needs drive behaviour. McClelland came up with the Thematic Apperception Test (TAT) to ascertain the dominant need (Spangler, 1992) by displaying an ambiguous picture to test subjects and ask them to write a story entailing who, what, and why? The answer provided by the subject is analysed to determine the dominant need they may display. For example, if the story contains themes of success or revolutionary ideas, there may be a high need for achievement from the subject.

Equity Theory[edit | edit source]

Figure 3 ː Equity exists as a ratio of perceived fairness.

Equity Theory is based on the premise that it is not the actual reward that may motivate in individual, rather the perception of a reward in comparison to others displaying similar effort (Adams, 1965). In other words, a sense of fairness during their interactions. For example, if colleague A was to be given a pay rise when it was perceived from colleague B that their provided equal effort for no reward then colleague B would be less motivated.

This can be represented as a ratio in which one person's outcomes are weighed by their inputs and assessed against another. Inputs are the contributions an individual may feel that have added to an environment with outcomes being the perceived rewards as compensation or other favourable outcomes. This is compared to another in the same environmental situation with a subjective view of their inputs and outcomes which may be perceived as fair if the ratio is equal.

Reinforcement Theory[edit | edit source]

Reinforcement theory relates to a system of operant conditioning in which desirable behaviours are increased through reinforcers or decreased through punishers (Skinner, 1971) somewhat based on 'law of effect'. The focus of reinforcement theory are the external environmental effects on actions an individual exhibits ignoring the effects of intrinsic motivation. This helps explain how an individual may learn behaviours. Reinforcers are responses from the environment that increase the probability of a behaviour being repeated, which can be positive or negative. Conversely, Punishers are environmental responses that weakens behaviour.

Expectancy Theory[edit | edit source]

Expectancy theory is thought to combine elements of previous theory into an equation to attempt to understand motivationː

Figure 4ː The components of Self-Determination Theory

That is, motivation is a product of three factors. Expectancy (E) is an individual's perception that their effort will result in performance. Instrumentality is the perception that an individuals' performance will result in a consequence (reward or punishment) which can be seen as intrinsic, or extrinsic. Valence (V) is how strong the perceived consequence will result from the performance.

Self Determination Theory[edit | edit source]

The Self-determination theory (Daci & Ryan, 1985) is a holistic theory of human motivation that refers to internally driven behaviours and innate psychological needs. It is suggested that to reach an individual's full potential their psychological needs must be met in terms of autonomy, relatedness, and competence (Deci & Ryan, 1991).


Autonomy is the perception of control of regulating one's own behaviour (Deci et al., 1991).


Relatedness is the willingness to be connected to others in positive, meaningful connections (Deci & Ryan, 1991).


Competence is to be effective and efficient (Deci et al., 1991) and seek to experience mastery.

Changing Theories of Motivation

The idea of motivation has been dynamic throughout history. Grand, encompassing theories have been evolved into many smaller, more specific theories of how motivation is defined and measured. Famously Maslow created a Hierarchy of Needs that defined levels of priority in the needs of an individual.

Types of Measure[edit | edit source]

[Provide more detail]

Cognitive and Affective Measures[edit | edit source]

A goal can be viewed as a conceptional representation of a desired end state, organised in associative memory networks relating each goal to corresponding constructs (Touré-Tillery & Fishbach, 2014). These constructs could be methods of attaining goals (Kruglanski, et al., 2002) or methods that hinder attainment of goals. Cognitive and affective measures include the activation, evaluation, and perception of goal constructs and the induced subjective experience (Touré-Tillery & Fishbach, 2014).

  • Goal Activation; Memory, accessibility, and inhibition of goal constructsː Constructs related to a goal can activate the pursuit of that goal. Once the goal is active, systems related to motivation prime the individual for action by activating goal related information (Kruglaski, 1996).
  • Evaluation, devaluation, and perceptionː Motivational states influence the evaluation of goal-related objects, and these processes in turn lead to goal pursuit.
  • Experienceː Researchers can assess an individual's subjective experience during goal-directed behaviour (Koo & Fishbach, 2010). For example, the Intrinsic Motivation Inventory calculates an individuals' amount of interest, perceived competence and choice, felt pressure and value while completing a task (Ryan et al., 1991).
  • Perceptual Biasː Motivational states can alter perceptions. A study by Bruner and Goodman (1947) demonstrated that children from a lower socio-economic background overestimated the size of coins when compared to children who were from wealthier backgrounds. Stefanucci et al. (2008) also indicated that fear, a basic avoidance motivation skewed the judgement of the heights of buildings, or the steepness of hills. These perceptual distortions can indicate the strength of motivation.

Behavioural Measures of Motivation[edit | edit source]

Motivation enables goal directed behaviour into action, however behaviour is not only affected by motivation (Touré-Tillery & Fishbach, 2014). The degree of inferred motivation is determined by how closely related the actions of an individual are towards a focal goal, known as goal congruence. There is at least some physical, mental, or psychological effort when engaging in goal-congruent behaviours and are these that are quantified to assess the strength of goal-congruent behaviour. Measures includeː

  • Speed is evaluated by the duration of time it takes to act towards a goal to measure the strength of motivation, and can be applied to many facets of behaviour. This can include the amount of time it takes to complete a task, or how fast it takes to move from one task to another (Kivetz, Urminsky, & Zheng, 2006). The speed of completing sequential tasks is influenced by learning the sequence through practice, consequently researchers control the variability of speed by allowing practice trials, or use experimental tasks and behaviours that make learning irrelevant.
  • Performance is measured by assessing the accuracy, amount, and highest level of achievement of goal-congruent behaviour.
  • Choice is the selection of options that determine courses of action. Due to the binary nature of choice, measures usually are more predictive of the direction of motivation rather than its' strength although it is not discounted. If a selection is made from one option over another, it can be inferred that the strength of motivation for the chosen option is higher than the discarded option. The frequency of certain choice selection in repeated sequential-choices paradigms can be extended to more accurately determine the strength of motivation.
Goal Looms Larger - The Goal Gradient

Kivetz, Urminsky, & Zheng (2006) conducted a study that had participants rate songs online for reward certificates. Kivetz et al. assessed motivation to obtain the reward by measuring the frequency of participants' visits to the rating site as they progressed toward earning the reward. results had showed that participants moved progressively faster throughout each step as they got closer to obtaining the reward. This demonstrates the goal gradient or Goal Looms Larger effect that suggests motivation increases with proximity to the goal.

Dimensions of Motivation[edit | edit source]

There are many types of goals to achieve. Some are open ended with no specified end-point (e.g., eating healthily) while others have a clear beginning and end (Touré-Tillery & Fishbach, 2014). While trying to achieve a goal, many dimensions of motivations are present that bring about cognition and behaviours. More than one dimension of motivation may be active while attaining a goal and these may drive behaviour and cognitions in similar or different ways which will influence the measures of motivation (Magill, 2011).

Outcome focused[edit | edit source]

Outcome focused (extrinsic motivation) is the desire to achieve a desired end state of a goal (Brehm & Self, 1989) and reaping the external rewards associated with completing a task. As this form of motivation increases, cognitions and behaviours more align with the end goal in mind (Touré-Tillery & Fishbach, 2014). Outcome focused motivation can be assessed by many measures; for example, an employee working on a task with high motivation would have task-related information more readily available in their memory when compared to that of low motivation.

Process Focused[edit | edit source]

Process-focused concerns itself with the actual pursuit of the goal reaping internal benefits such as enjoyment rather than the actual completion of the goal. there are two types of motivation associated with process focused motivationsː

  • Intrinsic motivation that focuses on enjoying the experience of pursuing the goal (Deci & Ryan, 1985)
  • Means-focused motivation that focuses on the desire to use 'proper' means while completing a goal (Kruglanski et al., 2000) with a strong adherence to rules or principles that could be set by the individual, or society. There is a strong focus on perhaps learning the process of a goal, rather than the outcome altogether.

Distinguishing Dimensions of Motivation[edit | edit source]

An employee is completing a task slowly which could be for a number of motivational reasons. Working slowly could mean that there isː

  1. Low outcome-focused motivation to complete the task
  2. High Intrinsic Motivation that the employee is enjoying the experience of completing the task
  3. High means-focused motivation that there is a 'do it right' attitude
  4. Diminished physiological resources that the employee is tired

Quiz[edit | edit source]

Nuvola apps korganizer.svg
Quiz Time!

1 What are the psychological needs described by Self-Determination Theory?


2 Which of the following is not a form of Cognitive measure?

Goal Activation
Perceptual Bias

Conclusion[edit | edit source]

Although motivation can be difficult to measure as a psychological construct, the measures that have been presented can be used through certain circumstances to distinguish between different dimensions of motivation. It is important to consider the process and type of motivation before measuring with validation to distinguish various dimensions of motivation using relevant theory to guide accurate measurement the desired motivation.

See also[edit | edit source]

References[edit | edit source]

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Adams, J. S. (1965). Inequity in social exchange. In L. Berkowitz (Ed.), Advances in experimental social psychology, 2, 267–299.

Alderfer, C. P. (1969). An empirical test of a new theory of human needs. Organizational Behavior and Human Performance, 4, 142–175.Bruner, J. S., & Goodman, C. C. (1947). Value and need as organizing factors in perception. Journal of Abnormal and Social Psychology, 42, 33–44.

Brehm, J. W., & Self, E. A. (1989). The intensity of motivation. Annual Review of Psychology, 40, 109–131.

Deci, E. L., & Ryan, R. M. (2012). Motivation, personality, and development within embedded social contexts: An overview of self-determination theory. In R. M. Ryan (Ed.), Oxford handbook of human motivation (pp. 85-107). Oxford, UK: Oxford University Press.

Deci, E. L., Vallerand, R. J., Pelletier, L. G., & Ryan, R. M. (1991). Motivation and education: The self-determination perspective. Educational Psychologist, 26, 325-346.

Herzberg, F., Mausner, B., & Snyderman, B. (1959). The motivation to work. New York:

John Wiley and Sons; Herzberg, F. (1965). The motivation to work among Finnish supervisors. Personnel Psychology, 18, 393–402.

Kivetz, R., Urminsky, O., & Zheng, Y. (2006). The goal-gradient hypothesis resurrected: Purchase acceleration, illusionary goal progress, and customer retention. Journal of Marketing Research, 43, 39–58.

Kruglanski, A. W. (1996). Goals as knowledge structures. In P. M. Gollwitzer & J. A. Bargh (Eds.), The Psychology of Action: Linking Cognition and Motivation to Behavior, 599–618.

Kruglanski, A. W., Thompson, E. P., Higgins, E. T., Atash, M. N., Pierro, A., Shah, J. Y., & Spiegel, S. (2000). To “do the right thing” or to “just do it”: Locomotion and assessment as distinct self-regulatory imperatives. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 79, 793–815.

Koo, M., & Fishbach, A. (2010). Climbing the goal ladder: How upcoming actions increase level of aspiration. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 99, 1–13.

Magill, R. A. (2011). Motor Learning and Control: Concepts and Applications. New York, NY: McGraw-Hill

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

Maslow, A. H. (1954). Motivation and personality. New York: Harper

Neher, A. (1991). Maslow’s theory of motivation: A critique. Journal of Humanistic Psychology, 31, 89–112

Ryan, R. M., Koestner, R., & Deci, E. L. (1991). Ego-involved persistence – when free-choice behavior is not intrinsically motivated. Motivation and Emotion, 15, 185–205.

Sansone, C. & Harackiewicz, J. M. (Eds.), Intrinsic and Extrinsic Motivation: The search for optimal motivation and performance. San Francisco: Academic Press, 106–127.

Skinner, B. F. (1971). Operant conditioning. The encyclopedia of education, 7, 29-33.

Spangler, W. D. (1992). Validity of questionnaire and TAT measures of need for achievement: Two meta-analyses. Psychological Bulletin, 112, 140–154

Stefanucci, J. K., Proffitt, D. R., Clore, G., & Parekh, N. (2008). Skating down a steeper slope: Fear influences the perception of geographical slant. Perception, 37, 321–323.

The science of motivation. (2019). Retrieved 30 August 2019, from

Touré-Tillery, M., & Fishbach, A. (2014). How to Measure Motivation: A Guide for the Experimental Social Psychologist. Social And Personality Psychology Compass, 8(7), 328-341. doi: 10.1111/spc3.12110

West, S., & Uhlenberg, D. (1970). Measuring motivation. Theory Into Practice, 9(1), 47-55. doi: 10.1080/00405847009542256

External links[edit | edit source]