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Theories of Motivation and Emotion

Theories of Motivation and Emotion


Theories of Motivation and Emotion


After reading the required resources, answer the following questions:

  1. Compare the six (6) major theories of motivation.
  2. Distinguish between the psychological and the biopsychosocial theories of motivation.
  3. Differentiate between extrinsic motivation and intrinsic motivation.
  4. Contrast the three theories of emotion.
  5. What is your point of view about the theories of motivation and emotion? Explain your answer.



  1. Major Theories of Motivation

The instinct theory no longer has a major role in psychology. It is difficult to prove that most humans have inherited certain behaviors that are not due to learning. Another criticism of behavior due to an instinct is that it does not allow for any flexibility in behavior. Due to the responses being genetically programmed, it does not allow for learning. To combat this, another question could be asked: “Is the act of learning due to an instinct?” This would be difficult to prove as learning behaviors might also be due to another instinct. Despite this, the instinct theory remains the best theory of motivation for some particular animal behaviors.

Instinct theory represents the oldest theory of motivation. The instinct theory suggests that all behaviors, such as sleeping and playing, are caused by instincts. The term instinct in psychology is not an inherited behavior; it is a motivation behind an act. Instincts are the species-specific pattern of behavior that is not learned. For example, the pattern of a bird’s nest building is not learned. It will build the nest the same way every time because that is the bird’s instinct. The same goes for the hibernating patterns of bears. Instincts are the motivation behind these acts.

1.1. Instinct Theory

Instinct theory is one of the first theories of motivation and finds its roots in Darwin’s evolutionary theory. Instincts are the natural and inherited tendencies and corresponding behaviors. This theory was prominent in the late 19th and early 20th centuries with William James as one of its key proponents. James’ instincts were unlearned and permanent in that once initiated, the behavior is carried until completion. These instinctual sequences usually result in a fixed action pattern, which is similar to an animal’s response to a releasing stimulus where the behavior is essentially on autopilot until completion. For example, a bird building a nest or the migration of geese are said to be a result of specific patterns of complex behavior. The concept of humans having instincts has diminished largely in part to there being no empirical evidence that it is true and debates as to what is an instinct and what is not. This theory has been replaced by more modern perspectives of ethology and sociobiology which are beyond the subject of this article. Instinct theory was heavily criticized in its own time and much of the evidence used against it has posed problems for modern instinct theories. The primary issue being that instinct is difficult to distinguish from learned behavior. Empirical evidence was scarce in support of instinct theory, much of it was based on anecdotes and circular logic in that a behavior was said to be instinctual if it was universal among a population. With no proper definition of what an instinct is and the fact that it is such a difficult concept to test given that much behavior does have the potential to be instinctual, it is simply not an influential theory in the study of motivation today. That is not to say that instinct is not a valid explanation for a behavior in some instances. A recent example of modern instinct theory is Bowlby’s Attachment Theory which has led to a significant amount of research in developmental psychology.

1.2. Drive Reduction Theory

A further advantage is seen in the development of experimental psychology. Many early studies in motivation, such as the works of Clark Hull, were successful in experimental/data collection. Drive theory provides testable predictions and postulates that behavior is environmentally caused. Therefore, experimental manipulation of the environment should cause changes in behavior. This is contrary to many theories of today, which say that much behavior is autonomous and caused by internal influences.

A strength of drive theory is seen in its comprehensive understanding of motivation. More recent theories, such as expectancy theory, are very narrow in comparison and only explain specific areas of motivation. Drive theory encompasses many aspects of motivation and emotion. It is valuable to have a theory that explains the overall concept of motivation, even if the theory does not explain every aspect imaginable.

A classic example is the body’s temperature. If the body’s temperature decreases from the normal 37 degrees, it induces a deficiency in the system and creates a drive state. In this case, the person will be motivated to reduce this deficiency and alleviate the drive state by putting on warm clothing or seeking a warmer environment. Once a stable temperature is achieved, the drive is reduced and the person stops the behavior.

We maintain homeostasis through drives. A drive is a state of arousal/tension induced by a deficiency. As a result of a drive, an organism is motivated to reduce the deficiency and thus alleviate the tension. Sustaining homeostasis is the primary motivation of all behavior.

1.3. Arousal Theory

Arousal theory focuses on biological and physiological aspects of motivation, particularly the level of activity in the brain and the increased neural activity to produce emotion and motivation. There are two types of arousal: the first being the one that prepares us for a specific activity or to reach a specific goal, and the second being unspecific in its source and is the result of tension or anxiety. Arousal levels are measured in the hypothalamus where specific areas relate to increased or decreased arousal. The reticular formation is another key indicator of increased or decreased arousal since this area houses the neural circuits connecting with the autonomic and somatic systems. The more recent means to measure arousal is on the basis of skin conductance and has been deemed the most efficient and easiest method. Erik Thyselius has proposed a tart model to further show the relation of skin conductance and arousal. Arousal theories have the advantage that there is a clear link between the amount of arousal and motivation to perform a specific task. But it does have its disadvantages such as it does not look at the behavior caused by the arousal and it is more directed at biological manner so cognitive and emotional responses are disregarded. Stevan Reiss has developed his own arousal function that presumably reviews and integrates what we know about arousal effects on specific behaviors. He proclaims that arousal effect is the net effect of the intensity of all emotion on behavior and stated that more specific predictions could be made by sorting emotions into taxonomic groups.

1.4. Expectancy Theory

Expectancy Theory is built on the premise of two factors. The first being the perceived cause-effect relationship, to decide how to act an individual will look at the end result of a behavior and determine what the probable cause of that consequence will be. If they believe that the consequence is highly probable to occur because of their behavior, then the person will likely decide to act. But if the person believes that the consequence isn’t related to the behavior or is due to extraneous factors, they will not attribute a cause and effect relationship and will not be motivated to perform the behavior. This links to the second part of the theory which is the valence of the consequences. This is the perceived value of the consequences associated with a behavior, to determine the value an individual will look at the strength and probability of an outcome and decide how it will affect their sense of self and their life situation. If the consequences will be positive and of a high value then the person will have a strong desire and will be motivated to perform the behavior. If the consequences are negative or of low value, then the person will not be motivated to act.

Individual personal motivation is the key to self-improvement and is defined in various ways. The “Expectancy Theory” is a cognitive approach to understanding motivation, which focuses on how individuals perceive the likelihood of achieving a set goal and their subsequent desire to achieve that goal. Expectancy Theory proposes that individuals will behave based on their conscious expectations; if one believes a particular behavior will lead to their desired outcome they will be more inclined to engage in that behavior. However, if one does not believe that their actions will result in an outcome, or they do not value the outcome even if it is achieved, they are less likely to persist with the behavior; and in the prospect of failure, may abandon the goal altogether. Expectancy Theory is based on the idea of rational choice; people will act in a rational manner to maximize desirable outcomes and minimize undesirable ones. It is assuming that if a person has the freedom to choose they will make decisions aimed at getting what they want and avoiding what they do not want.

1.5. Humanistic Theory

In the 1950s, the U.S. was dominated by a materialistic, anti-intellectual economic boom that was detrimental to the cultivation of genius. Abraham Maslow, just one of the many significant contributors to humanistic psychology, proposed the theory of self-actualization. His approach of human motivation makes a sharper break from traditional psychodynamic perspectives, and even from the empirical Watson, Skinner, and Hull behaviorism, with a homely illustration and understanding of the human being. In developing humanistic psychology, Maslow was impressed by two things. First, he was impressed by the so-called third-force or non-Freudian and non-behavioristic aspects of psychology, that is, the complex and highly intellectual theoretical and experimental endeavors of, for example, Köhler, Lewin or Piaget. The second thing which impressed him was a widespread feeling of dissatisfaction with the dominant US values, a vague malaise that the well off did not know they had, because of their very success, though it was often most dramatically symbolized by the last stages of life such as Goldwater’s presidential campaign. This led him on his voyage of discovery to learn about human beings. He called this new approach, the Third Force in psychology. This contrasts with the determinism of both behaviorists and Freudians. Humanistic psychologists believe that an individual’s behavior is connected to their inner feelings and self-image. E. Rogers (1987) saw an immediate application of this, for helping people to abandon the idealized self and thereby to become more themselves. This epitomizes the process of self-actualization, which is an ongoing process for most people. An artist will be self-actualizing so long as his painting and his self are improving.

1.6. Self-Determination Theory

We possess a variety of sources of motivation. We have inside us all the time, an assortment of wants and needs, and the anticipated pleasure that would come from their gratification. These range from simple desires such as those for food and water, to more complex and sophisticated desires for achievement. A set of self-regulating standards aim orientations set by indirect self-rewarded activities that often entail the development of complex skill congruence between perceived and self-ideal can be similar to internalization of extrinsic motivation. One of the most persistent questions in the field of motivation has been about the underlying nature of these different types of motivation. A focus on the quality of behavior and how self-regulation differentiates from one type of motivation to another is a focus all of the major contemporary motivation theories share. Self-determination theory grew out of research on intrinsic motivation. The interest in it has been largely focused on the different types of intrinsic and extrinsic motivation and the underlying. This theory has led to the specification of six mini-theories, each of which is concerned with a different aspect of motivation. Quest for understanding human motivation at a more specific and useful causal level than what is provided for in other theories.

  1. Psychological vs Biopsychosocial Theories of Motivation

2.1. Psychological Theories

2.2. Biopsychosocial Theories

  1. Extrinsic Motivation vs Intrinsic Motivation

3.1. Extrinsic Motivation

3.2. Intrinsic Motivation

  1. Theories of Emotion

4.1. James-Lange Theory

4.2. Cannon-Bard Theory

4.3. Schachter-Singer Two-Factor Theory

  1. Personal Perspective on Theories of Motivation and Emotion


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