Motivation and emotion/Book/2022/Inspiration

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What is inspiration, what causes it, what are its consequences, and how can it be fostered?


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Have you ever felt an urge to partake in an activity or self improvement which was stimulated by something you heard or saw? Alternatively, have you watched media and were stimulated to get up and perform a specific task? This may of been due to the effects of inspiration and how it can change the levels of certain chemicals in your body such as cortisol. If you're not sure what inspiration is, this book chapter was created to assist in the understanding of inspiration, what causes it, what the consequences are and how it can be fostered.

This chapter focuses on defining inspiration to have a greater understanding of why and how it occurs. In order to understand inspiration and how it occurs, both biological and psychological perspectives are required to create a combined definition. The importance of understanding inspiration and how it occurs can be advantageous for personal gain and self growth, due to the benefits of adapting to an inspiration-seeking lifestyle (Buheji et al., 2014).

Focus questions:

  • What is inspiration?
  • What causes it?
  • What are its consequences?
  • How can it be fostered?

What is inspiration?

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Figure 1: Martin Luther King (1929-1968) fought for African American equality and rights during the Civil Rights Movement from 1954 to 1968.[Explain the link to inspiration.]

Inspiration is a mental tool which has been around since the creation of human beings (Thrash et al., 2014). The driving factors of inspiration are created and formed by environmental factors such as sounds, smells and other peoples[grammar?] actions (Thrash et al., 2014). These environmental factors induce new feelings or ideas in ones[grammar?] self which cause the feeling of inspiration (Thrash et al., 2014). Inspiration has had little research in the past, due to the main focus and the overwhelming studies on motivation as a whole (Thrash & Elliot, 2003). People themselves can be a great form of inspiration such as figures 1 and 2 (Thrash & Elliot, 2003). Inspiration can be brought upon ones[grammar?] self in many different ways such as music, media and observations of behaviours and others[grammar?] success (Hart, 1998).

Inspiration has been proven to be detrimental to proactiveness and the evolution of the human race (Thrash & Elliot, 2003). Can you imagine a life without inspiration? The effects of inspiration can mould people into who they are today and can help shape their future pathways. Without inspiration, environmental stimulation would have minimal effect on the creation of new ideas, concepts and overall ingenuity (Buheji et al., 2014).

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Why is inspiration important?

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Inspiration has been widely used in the past by a plethora of individuals to help better themselves (Thrash et al, 2014). Becoming inspired from other individuals can help better the world such as how Charles Darwin was widely influenced by a number of individuals such as his blood line and Thomas Malthus (Ruse, 2007). Thomas Malthus was an economist and helped Darwin understand the upwards changes in population and the requirements for sustainability with this growing population (Ruse, 2007). You may ask why this is important? The fact that Charles Darwin took inspiration from other individuals whom he looked up to proves that us, as people, can be sources of inspiration for others. Taking inspiration, whether from another individual or something as simple as a painting, can shape the way we influence the world and could turn out to be the ultimate decider in the paths we take in the future. Inspiration unknowingly has a major role in the paths we decide to take in life and the actions we decide to partake in (Gowlett et al., 2012).

How can inspiration be fostered?

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Inspiration is a very important tool when it comes to the success of an individual and for the individual to be able to reach their fullest potential (Thrash et al., 2014). Observations are one of the most important aspects of gaining inspiration due to the abundance of visual stimuli which is changing habitually (Buheji et al., 2014). An inspiration-seeking lifestyle can be fostered by observing others and analysing how their actions or ideas can help you better yourself. It is important to live an inspiration-seeking lifestyle in order to help individuals reach their fullest potential and to contribute to human evolution (Gowlett et al., 2012). Overall, it is important to foster the concepts of inspiration and to live an inspiration seeking lifestyle in order to benefit yourself and your community.

Different types of inspiration.

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As reviewed by Trash et al. (2014), inspiration can be better understood by unpacking the two different types of inspiration to conceptualise the importance of both individual types of inspiration.

  1. Passive inspiration
  2. Active inspiration

Passive inspiration

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Passive inspiration is a subtype of inspiration. Passive inspiration refers to the consumption of ideas and contributions of other people for personal gain/growth (Hymer, 1990). Passive inspiration can be brought upon by watching others, watching videos of visual creations such as YouTube and or simply by people watching (Hymer, 1990). A negative of passive inspiration is that it does not last as long as active inspiration and it is hard to force, but comes upon ones[grammar?] self in a more natural manner (Hymer, 1990). Have you noticed that observations of other individuals make you want to perform certain actions? This is the effects of passive inspiration and proves that these concepts are effective and useful for everyday use.

Case Study

Billy is watching a YouTube video on earning money and suddenly realises he could save up and buy the newest remote controlled race car. Billy decides to create a lemonade stand and to start selling lemonade to make a few dollars in order to save up for the remote controlled race car.

Figure 2: Mahatma Gandhi (1869 - 1948) has been used by many, such as world leaders and scientist as a source of inspiration.

Active inspiration

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Active inspiration is another subtype of inspiration (Thrash et al., 2014). Active inspiration is formed by creating new things such as making mistakes and learning new ways to fix the problem and to overcome the obstacle (Thrash et al., 2014). Active inspiration is the result of actions, not the causation of actions. Taking action has been proven to form a longer lasting feeling of inspiration, therefore active inspiration is more commonly longer lasting than passive inspiration[factual?]. Active inspiration is believed to be brought upon ones[grammar?] self by three basic principles. These principles are evocation, transcendence and approach motivation (Harmon-Jones et al., 2013).

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Evocation The act of bringing or recalling information or previous events to mind [for example?]
Transcendence The literal meaning of transcendence is "climbing or going beyond". Pushing past thresholds and expectations of self. [for example?]
Approach Motivation The goal or target reinforced by positive stimuli such as self improvement, rewards and more. [for example?]

The application of evocation, transcendence and approach motivation in combination with each other allow us to understand the applications and steps behind the use of active inspiration (Harmon-Jones et al., 2013). The key differences between active and passive inspiration is that active inspiration is not created by the consumption of ideas, but rather by the results of actions. An example of active inspiration is when an individual tries their hardest to perform a task, but instead of becoming un-motivated, they become inspired and determined to perform the task better the second time.

Case Study

Timmy is a 6 year old boy who loves exploring and playing with his friends. One day Timmy decides to go for a bike ride on his tricycle on a track out the back of his house. Timmy has walked the track countless times but does not compensate for the extra weight and un-stability of the tricycle. Half way down the track, Timmy gains momentum and is tripped up by a root he has never seen before. Timmy has become inspired to become a better rider and to not be tripped up again.

1 Timmy's mistake of failing to adapt to the weight and size differences of a tricycle inspired him to do better:


2 Was Timmy's inspiration caused by Passive or Active inspiration?


Difference between inspiration and motivation

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Motivation can be easily confused with the dimensions of inspiration (Sekhar et al., 2013). Both inspiration and motivation are factors which cause us to want to achieve a goal, accomplish tasks or better ourselves. Motivation is seen as "a state of mind" and a driving force which is used to overcome tasks and to reach out full potential (Sekhar et al., 2013) The driving factors of motivation are self protection, self esteem, rewards, love and many more (Sekhar et al., 2013). On the other hand, when we are inspired, we experience positive feelings such as happiness which derive from either active or passive inspiration (Thrash et al., 2014). One of the benefits of inspiration when compared to motivation is that the effects last longer. This is due to inspiration coming from within, unlike how motivation comes from outside. The importance of inspiration having a long lasting effect is monumental in aiding in productiveness and activeness. Inspiration has been found to more commonly be spontaneous, whereas on the other hand, motivation is more of a deliberate act (Hymer, 1990). Some of the factors which can evoke feelings of motivation are expectations and obligations. Expectations and obligations, in this case, are the driving force which brings upon motivation to ones mind[Rewrite to improve clarity]. On the contrary, inspiration is more naturally occurring[factual?].

Case studies and reflective question

Ben and Rebecca live together in a small town. Ben is a local dairy farmer who produces milk for consumption. Ben was driving though town one day and saw that another local dairy farmer was implementing the sale of cheese for extra revenue. Ben had a vision that he could do the same and was overwhelmed with happiness and excitement. Ben decided to start selling cheese on the side for extra cash which was a hit.

Rebecca was a stay at home mum. When her children had started school Rebecca no longer needed to stay at home and support her children during the day. Rebecca decided to apply and return to university to complete her honours in psychology. Rebecca loved the feeling of accomplishment and stated that "praise is the driving factor for me".


  1. Out of these two case studies, which one demonstrates the feeling of inspiration and which one displays motivation?
  2. What are the driving factors behind motivation and inspiration in the identified case studies?
  3. Can you think of a time when you were inspired or motivated?

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Physiological cause of inspiration

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Inspiration has been found to occur in the anterior superior temporal gyrus and is brought upon by a wave or an uprising in gamma waves (Chan et al., 2014). These gamma waves are believed to be created in the visual cortex due to visual stimuli and other factors such as the visuospatial sketchpad (Roberts et al., 2019). This stimulation of the anterior superior temporal gyrus and the creation of gamma waves prove that inspiration is stimulated by external environmental factors which ultimately create a physiological response (Chan et al., 2014).

Inspiration can be caused by a plethora of factors. Neurotransmitters such as cortisol and dopamine have an enormous impact on the moods in which we feel. It is believed that inspiration causes an influx of the "happy" neurotransmitters while, in contrast, stress is the opposite and causes an influx of "negative" neurotransmitters.[factual?]

Anterior superior temporal gyrus

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The anterior superior temporal gyrus is located in the temporal lobe of the human brain (Yi et al., 2019). There are 4 different gyri located in the brain, which in combination, are most commonly known for their role in word recognition (Chang et al., 2010). Karl Wernicke had found evidence of the existence of a higher level function of the gyri, which is believed to be where inspiration occurs (Ardila et al., 2016). The supporting evidence that the processes of inspiration occur in the gyri of a healthy human brain prove that humans are born with the capabilities of becoming inspired and inspiring others.


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Neurotransmitters are our bodies[grammar?] way of chemically communicating with different regions of the body (Kavalali, 2015). Neurotransmitter[grammar?] are crucial in communication but can also change the way we feel, such as how cortisol aids in controlling levels of stress and levels of fear (Dusenberg et al., 2016). Neurotransmitters are crucial in the creation of a healthy, working body, and the effects they have on the systems of the body such as cardiovascular system and how norepinephrine can increase blood pressure and heart rate (Kavalali, 2015). In terms of inspiration, neurotransmitters are believed to influence the way we feel when we are inspired and to make inspiration more "attractive" to the body and self (Thrash et al., 2014).


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Research on inspiration is continuing to grow to this day. This chapter provided information on the current studies and theories of inspiration to provide a clearer understanding of the topic. Inspiration is a great tool to use for self improvement and many more factors. Proof that there are different types of inspiration is crucial to understanding the different dimensions of inspiration so that it can be used for personal growth. The key concepts such as the physiological dimensions of inspiration can not be overlooked as it is important to note that inspiration has biological processes and is available for use. Inspiration is a fundamental part of human behaviour and many people seek to inspire others. The take home messages of this book chapter are that inspiration, when taking advantage of the functions, can be used for personal growth and also can have a detrimental impact {[how?] on an individuals[grammar?] future and human evolution.

See also

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Ardila, A., Bernal, B., & Rosselli, M. (2016). The role of Wernicke's area in language comprehension. Psychology & Neuroscience, 9(3), 340.

Buheji, M., Saif, Z., & Jahrami, H. (2014). Why Inspiration Matters?. Journal of inspiration economy, 1(1), 11-20.

Chan, A. M., Dykstra, A. R., Jayaram, V., Leonard, M. K., Travis, K. E., Gygi, B., ... & Cash, S. S. (2014). Speech-specific tuning of neurons in human superior temporal gyrus. Cerebral Cortex, 24(10), 2679-2693.

Chang, E. F., Rieger, J. W., Johnson, K., Berger, M. S., Barbaro, N. M., & Knight, R. T. (2010). Categorical speech representation in human superior temporal gyrus. Nature neuroscience, 13(11), 1428-1432.

Duesenberg, M., Weber, J., Schulze, L., Schaeuffele, C., Roepke, S., Hellmann-Regen, J., ... & Wingenfeld, K. (2016). Does cortisol modulate emotion recognition and empathy?. Psychoneuroendocrinology, 66, 221-227.

Gowlett, J., Gamble, C., & Dunbar, R. (2012). Human evolution and the archaeology of the social brain. Current Anthropology, 53(6), 693-722.

Harmon-Jones, E., Harmon-Jones, C., & Price, T. F. (2013). What is approach motivation?. Emotion Review, 5(3), 291-295.

Hart, T. (1998). Inspiration: Exploring the experience and its meaning. Journal of Humanistic Psychology, 38(3), 7-35.

Hymer, S. (1990). On inspiration. The Psychotherapy Patient, 6(3-4), 17-38.

Kavalali, E. T. (2015). The mechanisms and functions of spontaneous neurotransmitter release. Nature Reviews Neuroscience, 16(1), 5-16.

Roberts, J. A., Gollo, L. L., Abeysuriya, R. G., Roberts, G., Mitchell, P. B., Woolrich, M. W., & Breakspear, M. (2019). Metastable brain waves. Nature communications, 10(1), 1-17.

Ruse, M. (2007). Charles Darwin. In Philosophy of Biology (pp. 1-35). North-Holland.

Sekhar, C., Patwardhan, M., & Singh, R. K. (2013). A literature review on motivation. Global business perspectives, 1(4), 471-487.

Thrash, T. M., & Elliot, A. J. (2003). Inspiration as a psychological construct. Journal of personality and social psychology, 84(4), 871.

Thrash, T.M., Moldovan, E.G., Oleynick, V.C. and Maruskin, L.A. (2014), The Psychology of Inspiration. Social and Personality Psychology Compass, 8: 495-510.

Yi, H. G., Leonard, M. K., & Chang, E. F. (2019). The encoding of speech sounds in the superior temporal gyrus. Neuron, 102(6), 1096-1110.

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