Motivation can be defined as the factors which direct and energise the behaviours of humans and other organisms- the drive behind the reasons we do things. Researchers have investigated a number of theories in order to understand motivational needs- however it seems that it is only through looking at these theories as a collective motivation can be fully understood.

Instinct Theory suggests that you are born with your own set of behaviour patterns, and that these patterns are not learned. This suggests that individuals behave in ways which will be necessary to their survival. However, much of human behaviour is learned- for example being able to speak words and construct sentences; therefore instinct theory cannot be the sole explanation for the motivational behaviour of humans.

It is in this instant that an improved theory was introduced to explain motivational behaviours; Drive-Reduction Approach. Drive in itself is described as ‘motivational tension, or arousal energising behaviour to fulfil a need’. These drives can be related to biological needs of the body- for example, thirst and sleep (primary drives) or drives can be completely unrelated to biological needs, for example the need to succeed in competition (Secondary drives). These secondary drives are learned behaviour patterns. In order to satisfy a primary drive, you would reduce it- for example reducing thirst by drinking water. These primary drives are often assisted in operation by homeostasis- maintenance of a constant internal environment. During deviations from this constant internal environment, homeostasis works inside the body in order to return the body to its normal working state. However, drive-reduction approach does not give explanation as to why people decide to increase levels of arousal and excitement, instead of reducing drive for example thrilling activities, such as a bungee jump, or roller-coasters.

This idea of people being motivated to increase their stimulation and arousal levels is something described by researchers as the Arousal approach. Arousal approaches suggest that this motivational behaviour to increase stimulation is similar to drive-approach theory in that if our stimulation levels are too high, we will try to reduce them. However, on the flipside, if our stimulation levels are too low we will increase them by seeking out stimulating activities. We will do this as we feel necessary. This also allows scope for individuals seeking different levels and amounts of stimulation- for example ‘thrill-seekers’ who take part in high-risk activities will be seeking more stimulation than any other individual.

Incentive approaches suggest that motivation behaviour surfaces from desire to achieve external goals and awards. Also known as ‘external motivation’, incentives could be money, or a certain ranking within competition. Incentive and drive theories are believed to work together with a push-pull nature, creating a balance in motivational behaviour.

Alongside this, Cognitive approach suggests that motivation is a product of people’s thoughts, expectations and goals- their cognitions.

Another major theory explaining the patterns of motivational behaviour is Maslow’s (1987) Hierarchy, whereby we see how motivation progresses from the most basic of survival needs, to the much higher, personal-achievement fulfilling ones. Hierarchy theory suggests that it is only after meeting the basic, low-order needs such as food and water, that the higher-ordered needs can be reached (such as a feeling of belonging). It is only after fulfilling certain needs, such as love and being a contributing member of society that a person will strive for esteem. Maslow states esteem relates to the need to develop a sense of self-worth by recognising that others are aware of the value of one’s competence. Once these needs are fulfilled, it is now that an individual can reach for the highest order in the pyramid; self-actualisation, whereby an individual is in a state of self-fulfilment, realising their full potential. Achieving self-actualisation can be seen as reducing strive and yearning for greater fulfilment within one’s life, and instead being satisfied with the current state in which they are living. Maslow’s (1987) hierarchy of needs highlights the complexity of human needs, and emphasizes that until low-ranked needs are met, higher-ranked needs cannot be considered.

Through a combination of the approaches to motivational behaviour, it is possible to begin to understand the emerging patterns of complex human needs and behaviour. Motivational behaviour draws on parts of all of the theories explained in this article. These theories have led to much more recent study completed by Deci and Ryan (2008) investigating self-determination theory, whereby it is stated individuals have 3 basic needs- competence (the need to produce desired outcomes), autonomy (perception that an individual is in control of their own lives) and relatedness (the need to be involved in close, loving relationships). These are described as innate and essential as basic biological needs.

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