Define Motivation

Motivation can be defined as the psychological drive that stimulates one to complete and action or achieve a goal. The definition of motivation also includes a person or other being’s reason for completing that action. There are a number of different theories of motivation, which suggest that there are a variety of different factors that can motivate us.

There are generally said to be two basic types of motivation – intrinsic and extrinsic motivation.

Intrinsic motivation stems from desires within the individual that compel him or her to complete the task at hand. This type of motivation typically involves enjoyment of the task in and in itself. People who are intrinsically motivated often attribute their successes to the amount of effort they put forth, and they credit their failures to a lack of personal effort. People who are intrinsically motivated believe that their fate is in their own hands.

Extrinsic motivation is different in that the drives to complete an action come from outside forces. Some examples of extrinsic motivation include money, notoriety, competition, good grades, praise, and even fear of punishment. People who are extrinsically motivated might attribute their successes to luck or fate. They might blame their failures on others or on the situation. For example, a student who is extrinsically motivated might claim that he failed his math exam because his teacher does not like him. Self-determination theory suggests that certain tasks which initially are extrinsically motivating might be eventually internalized by an individual if the action is deemed beneficial and fits within the individual’s value-framework.

Psychologists, sociologists, and biologists have come up with a number of popular motivational theories to explain the workings of human and animal motivation.

The Incentive Theory of motivation centers on a tangible or intangible reward, results from the completion of an action. In this theory positive meaning is connected to completing the task or action. According to the Inventive Theory of motivation, a person completes an action because he or she anticipates that it will be profitable in some way. In this case, an individual completes and action because he finds the stimuli attractive, and foresees that the completion of an action will make him or her happier.

Another set of theories that explain the underlying causes of our motivations are Drive-reduction theories. There are multiple examples of Drive-reduction theories, but they all agree that motivation essentially stems from our biological needs and urge to fulfill them when a lack is detected. Even actions like earning a paycheck and be translated into the fulfillment of a biological need because the paycheck allows for the individual to afford food and shelter.

The Need theories of motivation take the Drive-reduction theories of motivation one step further. Need theories purport that individuals have a want for things beyond biological homeostasis. Drives can include complex emotional needs as well. Need theories explain that there is a hierarchy involved in motivation. For example, a person would not be concerned with fulfilling his career goals if he was starving and malnourished. Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs put forth a basic explanation of our multiple levels of motivation, starting with the most basic and ending with the most complex: Biological needs, Safety needs, Belonging needs, Self-esteem needs, and Self actualization needs.

From the field of cognitive psychology the Goal-setting theory of motivation has emerged. This theory suggests that individuals can have a drive or motivation to complete an action because he or she has a specifically defined end in mind. The end or the goal is the reward in the Goal-setting theory of motivation.

The psychoanalytic school of psychology and the work of Freud have suggested that human beings actually have Unconscious motivations and drives for certain behaviors. Freud suggests that each of us have an unconscious mind, which possesses all of the concerns and anxieties that we are not ready to deal with on a conscious level. The Unconscious theory of motivation claims that these fears and anxieties can sometimes cause us to engage in certain behaviors with the goal of mitigating or assuaging the fears.

While there are a number of motivational theories that extend even beyond those listed here, they all commonly share the goal of explaining the drives, purposes, and forces that call individual beings to action.


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