Theories of Motivation

A number of broad theories have been proposed to explain motivation. As you read through these theories, it may immediately become clear that each theory is useful for explaining certain aspects of motivation, but no single theory can fully illuminate all of the many reasons why people do the things they do. In order to gain a full and complete understanding of human motivation, it is essential to understand the basic concepts behind each theory.

  • Instinct theories suggest that motivation arises from evolutionary programming. For example, certain types of animals are motivated to migrate seasonally due to instinctual patterns that are inborn in their species.

  • Drive theories propose that behavior is motivated by homeostasis. Unmet biological needs, such as hunger and thirst, motivate humans and animals to perform actions that will fulfill those needs and reduce internal tension.

  • Incentive theories suggest that behavior is motivated by external rewards. For example, you are motivated to work by the potential rewards of money, security, and recognition.

  • Arousal theories are centered around the idea that people are motivated to maintain optimal arousal levels. When arousal levels are too low, you might seek out arousing activities such as exercise or watching horror films. If arousal levels become too high, you might look for relaxing activities such as meditation, yoga, or a hot bath.

  • Humanistic theories emphasize the role of self-concept and the need to achieve your full potential to explain human motivation. One of the most famous humanistic motivation theories was proposed by psychologist Abraham Maslow, who suggested that the ultimate human motivator is the desire for self-actualization, or to achieve your fullest individual potential.

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