Motivation is a very broad topic in psychology and integral to behavioral studies. Researchers approach motivation from two distinct points of view: academical and clinical. Both approaches aim to identify the determinants of human behavior. Motivational theories are based on a number of assumptions explaining human nature and factors that prompt their actions. The major motivational theories include drive, arousal, brain state, and incentive theories.
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Historically, first motivational theories were based on the postulate that behavioral reasons can be reduced to an ultimate number of physiological needs or drives that fulfill them. According to the drive theory, people act to relieve the internal tension caused by an unsatisfied need (Deci & Ryan, 2014). The studies of Freud and Hull identified the primary and secondary drives that make people take action. Primary drives are sex, aggression, avoidance of pain, thirst, and hunger, secondary drives (money and power) are learned by conditioning (Deci & Ryan, 2014). Examples of drive-motivated behavior can include the search for food or water to satisfy hunger or thirst, or the desire to take a nap to fulfill the need for sleep.
The second motivational theory explains people’s actions from the position of keeping the necessary level of physiological arousal. The theory suggests that people take actions to have the arousal level dropped when overstimulated or seek out energizing activities when the arousal level is down. The typical examples of such behavior include exercising, dancing, or sports to fuel the energy along with sleep or reading to reduce the level of arousal.
Some researchers suggest that people behave in a certain way to achieve the necessary state of the brain. The theory argues that such actions fulfill the need for pleasure and freedom from pain (Kim, 2013). Typical behaviors falling under this pattern may include sleeping to avoid the tiresome feeling of being awake for a long time or the process of relaxation for pleasure.
The incentive theory implies that people are motivated to act in a particular way to satisfy both their internal wishes and the desire to get an external reward. Incentives can be divided into two groups: positive and negative (Deci & Ryan, 2014). Positive incentives include rewards or reinforcement for the actions such as good grades or recognition in class, which makes a student work harder. Negative incentives work in the opposite way: students might not continue their good work if a teacher criticizes or unfairly evaluates it.
Deci, E. L., & Ryan, R. M. (2014). Intrinsic motivation and self-determination in human behavior. New York: Springer Science Business Media.
Kim, S. (2013). Neuroscientific model of motivational process. Frontiers in Psychology,4.