Motivation and Theories of Motivation


When behavior is aroused, activated, and directed under the influence of the intensity of the needs and desires, towards the fulfillment of a particular aim or goal, then that internal state or condition is known as motivation. Persistence is a characteristic feature of motivation. Generally, the sources of motivation are classified as either extrinsic (external to the subject) or intrinsic (internal to the subject). Intrinsic sources may be further classified into three heads, namely, physical, mental (cognitive, affective, conative), and spiritual. Needs, desires, and wants trigger action and motivate movement in a particular direction.


* External – The subject is affected by external stimulus, thereby giving direction to the internal wants and needs. The subject acts to obtain and achieve desired results and avoid undesired results.
* Social – The subject sees role models in the society and tries to imitate them. The actions are directed towards becoming a part of the group.
* Biological – The body undergoes physical functions in order to achieve desired results. The subject may experience an activation of senses, or an increase/decrease of thirst, hunger, and other stimulation. The body may need to maintain homeostasis and achieve a balance.
* Cognitive – The subject may be motivated by maintaining attention towards something desirable or intimidating. A meaning may be searched in the whole process to increase/decrease uncertainty or cognitive disequilibrium. After this solving process, the subject may arrive at a decision to eliminate the threat or risk, and work towards the desired results.
* Affective – The subject tries to maintain the levels of optimism and avoids depression. Self-esteem is increased and affective dissonance is decreased. Behavior is positively directed and is goal oriented.
* Conative – The subject exerts will power or volition. Actions are molded to achieve self-developed goals by maintaining and increasing self-efficacy. The subject reduces the external controls and takes control of one’s life.
* Spiritual – The subject is motivated to understand the whole scheme of life and desires to connect self with God.

There are many theories of motivation. Some of the popular ones are listed below:

Behavioral Theory – The subject due to biological responses is motivated and his behavior is directed towards a particular goal. Consequences of the action motivate the subject. Reinforcers provide incentives thereby increase behavior, whereas punishers provide disincentives and thereby decrease behavior.

Cognitive Dissonance Theory (Leon Festinger, 1957) – The theory states that when there is dissonance between two actions or beliefs, then the behavior is motivated towards the resolution of the conflict. Thus if an adequate amount of disequilibrium is created, then the individual behavior patterns are changed which in turn affects the thought processes and so more changes in behavior takes place. The changes are affected to seek homeostasis or balance.

Attribution Theory (Heider, 1958; Weiner, 1974) – The theory states that individuals try to justify their actions, success or failure of self and others by certain internal or external, in their control or outside their control, attributions. The internal attributions are ability and effort whereas the external attributions are luck and task difficulty. Ability and Luck are outside the subject’s control, whereas effort and task difficulty are within the subject’s control.

Expectancy Theory (Vroom, 1964) – This theory multiplies expectancy, instrumentality, and value. The equation is as follows:

Motivation = Perceived probability of success (Expectancy) x Connection of success and reward (Instrumentality) x Value of obtaining goal (Valance, Value).

All the three variables must be high in order for motivation to take place.

Psychoanalytical Theories – A variety of influencing factors are proposed by the different psychoanalytical theories. Sigmund Freud (1990) stated that action arises out of internal and biological reasons like life (sexual) and death (aggression). Karl Jung (1953, 1997) proposed personal meaningfulness as the motivating factor. Erikson (1993) and Sullivan (1968) argued the motivational triggers being relationships especially interpersonal and social, whereas Adler (1989) voted power as the sole motivational force.

Humanistic Theories
– Abraham Maslow (1943) synthesized almost every theory existing during his time and he came out with a hierarchy model of human needs, which rested on two groups of deficiency needs and growth needs. The needs were placed in an hierarchical order and the lower needs must be met, before the higher needs are felt. Once the needs are met, the subject then tries to remove any deficiency if present in any of the needs.

Maslow’s hierarchy of human needs is as follows:
1. Physiological needs, namely, hunger, thirst, bodily comforts, etc.
2. Safety and Security needs, namely, getting out of danger.
3. Belongingness and love, namely, being accepted, friendships, groups etc.
4. Esteem, namely, to gain approval and recognition, to be competent, to achieve, etc.
5. Cognitive needs, namely, to know, explore, and understand.
6. Aesthetic needs, namely, order, beauty, and symmetry.
7. Self-actualization needs, namely, to realize one’s potential and to find self-fulfillment.
8. Self-transcendence needs, namely, to go beyond the ego and help others find fulfillment of their needs.

In spite of lack of much evidence, this theory is widely accepted. William James (1982/1962) proposed that only three levels, namely, material (physiological, safety), social (belongingness, esteem), and spiritual (going beyond the ego) define human needs. Alderfer (1972) developed another hierarchical model of ERG (existence, relatedness, and growth). Amongst the variety of personality dimensions, introversion and extroversion are the most often considered. Ryan & Deci (2000) are of the view that only three needs exist, namely, autonomy, competence, and relatedness. Maslow’s work led to many theories and attempts at arriving at a super or grand motivational theory encompassing all the previous works were made with not much success.

Transpersonal or Spiritual Theories – These theories deal with meanings of survival and behavior, which motivate a person towards philanthropy and charitable work. Leading authors are Abraham Maslow (1954), Carl Jung (1953,1997), Gordon Allport (1955), Victor Frankl(1998), William James (1997), Ken Wilber (1998).

Goal Theory – The factors normally associated with motivation are achievement, power, and social factors. McClelland (1985) and Murray (1938,1943) have worked on the goal theory that distinguishes three broad and separate types of goals, namely, mastery goals, performance goals, and social goals. Mastery goals are like learning, gaining competence or mastering some skill. Performance goals are ego-involvement goals that focus on achievement, doing better than the rest, and doing well without a lot of effort. Social goals are relationship goals and concentrate on social relationships.

There are many other theories. The important ones are as given above. Elucidating all the other theories is beyond the scope of this article.

Motivation, whether intrinsic or extrinsic, always stems from desire, and that impels the individual to alter behavior in such a manner so as to initiate action towards the attainment of desired objectives, goals, and fulfillment of wants and needs.


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