Motivation and emotion/Book/2019/Unconscious motivation

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Unconscious motivation:
What role does the unconscious play in motivation?

Overview[edit | edit source]

Have you ever felt that you were running on autopilot during an easy task? Or made a decision based on an overwhelming 'gut feeling'? Do you trust your own instincts?

All of these feelings are linked to the concept of unconscious motivation. If motivation is the force that drives behaviour, then unconscious motivation refers to the forces outside awareness that affect our behaviour regardless of our conscious intentions. This chapter will explore unconscious motivation, how we can influence our unconscious behaviour, the development of the theory and its current directions of study.

What is unconscious motivation and what affects this?[edit | edit source]

Unconscious motivation is a psychoanalytic theory defined by the American Psychological Association as the wishes, impulses, aims, and drives of which the self is not aware (American Psychology Association, 2018).

Some practical examples of our unconscious motivation being exposed in our conscious state are behaviours such as purposive accidents, slips of the tongue, and dreams that express unfulfilled wishes (Bargh, 2014). While we are completely aware of our unconscious mind, we lack the knowledge of what is stored there.

Our unconscious mind acts as a repository or[say what?] primitive winged and impulses which are kept at bay and mediated by the preconscious area. It is believed that these thoughts are kept hidden In order to protect individuals from experiencing anxiety (Bargh, 2014).

According to one of the main theorists surrounding this topic, Sigmund Freud, there are three levels within the mind (Bargh, 2014).

  • The Preconscious: Anything that could potentially be brought into the conscious mind
  • The Conscious: Contains all of our thoughts, memories, and feelings that we are aware of at any given moment
  • The Unconscious: A reservoir of thoughts, feelings, and urges that our outside of our awareness

Examples of unconscious and conscious behaviours[edit | edit source]

Unconscious behaviours: Memories of child abuse or hatred of a family member.

Conscious behaviours: Lying or feeling thirsty and then getting a drink.

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How much do you know about your unconscious? Take a quiz![edit | edit source]

Choose the correct answers and click "Submit":

1 Who is Sigmund Freud

He invented Psychology
He is the founder of Psychoanalysis
He invented the unconscious mind

2 Is taking this quiz a conscious or unconscious behaviour?


How do I stop my unconscious thoughts becoming conscious?[edit | edit source]

There are three practical ways in order to break a habit with your unconscious mind (Gardner, Lally & Wardle, 2012).

  1. Awareness
  2. Replacing
  3. Practise and Repetition

First you need to recognise what habit you want to break and then take a step back and look at your actions from a different perspective. Once the habit is established you can decide how you are going to replace the habit (Lyn, 2017). This involves conscious thinking about the new habit and focing[say what?] this knowledge into your conscious mind via the thought process. This is not a fast process so it is important that you practise and continue to access the new thought processes in order to create change and override the previous habit (Lyn, 2017).

Theories surrounding unconscious motivation[edit | edit source]

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Social Psychology Vs. Cognitive Psychology[edit | edit source]

The contemporary theory which is also known as cognitive psychology is based on the theory of subliminal information processing. Subliminal information are pieces of information that are not obvious to retain or easily perceived. Since these subliminal messages are subtle and weak, this theory indicates that the unconscious is not as advanced as we give it credit for . Due to these weak pieces of information, the thought process is also minimal leading to the conclusion that the unconscious, in a cognitive psychology perspective, is unsophisticated. In comparison, social psychology is based on being unaware of how the mind retains information and processes it without intent. This perspective suggests that since the unconscious retains such subtle information yet is able to influence our conscious decisions, that the unconscious mind is very powerful and pervasive.

The linking factor between our conscious and unconscious mind[edit | edit source]

Figure 1. This is Sigmund Freud.

In 2008 a study was conducted and investigated how the unconscious mind can predict future feelings, emotions, perceptions and behaviours and communicate the best way to adapt before situations occur. The article unravels how the predictive element enables individuals to be ready 'ahead of time' so that the situation plays out smoothly. If the predictive element is unable to function, the conscious can be engaged to monitor and correct the situation if needed. Predictions based on the past allow for more efficient brain function in the present (Pally, 2007).

Similarly, an article from 2019 states that the conscious and unconscious mind are not as different as they have been made out to be and are linked by one main factor, emotions. The article explains how emotions are the main and only link between the two mind sets as emotion impacts each mindset and converts it to the other (Rauterberg, 2010). While most research indicates that the cognitive ability of the unconscious is very limited, it has also been noted that there is a large aspect within the mind to investigate (Loftus & Klinger, 1992).

Directly relating to the problem of preventing certain thoughts from coming into our conscious, the research conducted within this field of study indicates that most theories result in similar conclusions[vague]. While it paves the way for future research, the lack of diversity within the conversations makes it a challenging topic to expand on[vague].

Theoretical concepts of Sigmund Freud[edit | edit source]

[which?] One of the main theories on this topic believes[awkward expression?] the unconscious mind governs behaviours to a greater degree than people suspect. It is [who?] believed that individuals use defence mechanisms to hide their deepest thoughts, however the use of psychoanalysis allows us to reveal these unconscious thoughts through behaviour such as Freudian slips (Bargh, 2014). In 1920, Freud gave an example of such a slip when a British Member of Parliament referred to a colleague with whom he was irritated as 'the honorable member from Hell' instead of from Hull. This slip of the tongue is enough to indicate further thoughts within the unconscious mind (Bargh, 2014).

According to Freud, our basic instincts (life and death survival instincts) are contained in the unconscious. Thoughts regarding these instincts are kept out of our conscious awareness as we view them as unacceptable or irrational, and as such use defence mechanisms to prevent them from coming to the surface. According to Freud there are two ways that unconscious information can be brought into awareness. 1) Free associate (saying whatever comes to mind) and 2) Dream association (dissecting the dreams meaning).

Case Study of Sigmund Freud's[grammar?] "Rat Man"[edit | edit source]


Case Study of "Rat Man"

"Rat Man suffered from obsessive thoughts for years and underwent hydrotherapy before consulting Freud in 1907. Freud used techniques such as free association in order to uncover repressed memories.The subject of his thoughts would often involve a sense of anxiety that misfortune would affect a close friend or relative and he felt that he needed to carry out irrational behavior in order to prevent such a mishap from occurring.

The irrationality of such thoughts was demonstrated by his fears for the death of his father, which continued even after his father had passed away. Freud attributed Rat Man’s anxieties to a sense of guilt resulting from a repressed desire that he had experienced whilst younger. As our ego develops, our moral conscience leads us to repress the unreasonable or unacceptable desires of the id, and in the case of Rat Man, these repressed thoughts left behind “ideational content” in the conscious. As a result, the subject of anxiety and guilt that he felt whilst younger was replaced with fear of misfortune occurring when he was older."

Sigmund Freud

Conclusion[edit | edit source]

While the unconscious mind has been studied and is continuing to be studied, research has shown that subtle or not, our unconscious is influenced by our conscious. While psychologists still do not fully understand the motivations behind our unconscious behaviour, research has shown that they do exist[grammar?]. Whether it is in our everyday lives or retrospectively, the unconscious mind affects our behaviour through purposive accidents, slips of the tongue, and dreams that express unfulfilled wishes. While Sigmund Freud was the main theorist within the study of the mind there is still more research to be conducted within this area of psychology as further insight into the human mind will only be more beneficial for research[vague].

See also[edit | edit source]

Motivation (Wikipedia)

Unconscious Mind (Wikipedia)

Psychoanalytic Theory (Wikipedia)

References[edit | edit source]

American Psychology Association, 2018. Unconscious motivation. American Psychology Association, 1. Bargh, J. (2008). The unconscious mind. Perspectives on Psychological Science, 3, 73-79.

Bargh, J. (2014). Unconscious impulses and desires impel what we think and do in ways Freud never dreamed of. Our unconscious mind, 1, 32- 29.

Gardner, B., Lally, P., & Wardle, J. (2012). Making health habitual: the psychology of 'habit-formation' and general practice.

The British journal of general practice : the journal of the Royal College of General Practitioners, 62 (605), 664–666. doi:10.3399/bjgp12X659466

Loftus, E. F., & Klinger, M. R. (1992). Is the unconscious smart or dumb? American Psychologist, 47(6), 761-765.

Lyn, L. (2017). Breaking a bad habit with your subconscious mins. Medium 1.

Rauterberg M. (2010) Emotions: The Voice of the Unconscious. In: Yang H.S., Malaka R., Hoshino J., Han J.H. (eds) Entertainment Computing, vol 6243.

Pally, G. (2007). The predicting brain: Unconscious repetition, conscious reflection and therapeutic change. Psychoanalysis, 88, 861-888.

External links[edit | edit source]

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