Here is a basic overview of the psychology of motivation:


Motivation is an interesting creature as it can be driven by physiological or biological needs as well as a person’s psyche. Psychologists have studied motivation for generations and there are numerous theories surrounding why some people have stronger motivational components while others may have a tendency to sit back and wait for things to happen rather than stepping up and doing something about their particular circumstances.

Essentially, when somebody is talking about motivation, it encapsulates social, biological, cognitive, and even emotional factors that will ultimately affect behavior.

For example, if somebody is ‘motivated’ to perform a certain task, it could be due to the necessity to eat, find shelter, or because they want to be accepted within a certain social circle and that ultimately requires a specific behavior or action.

Motives, or those things that lead to motivation, are not often readily observable, so it requires an understanding of an individual’s thought processes, history, and psyche to truly understand what encourages them to take action or not.

A Simple Understanding Of Motivation Psychology

In its simplest essence, all humans will move towards what they define or believe as being pleasurable while moving away towards what they define as being painful.

The human psyche is determined by what it associates things with. So if someone associates pleasure by taking a certain action or behavior, they will continue to do so until the behavior is no longer rewarding.

See: How to get motivated

Types of Motivation in Psychology

There are several different types of motivation to consider. The main types are internal (intrinsic) and external (extrinsic). Internal motivation is something that is driven by a desire within, whether that is a basic necessity to get food and shelter, social approval, acceptance, or a sense of accomplishment. External motivation is driven by what others may think of us or achieving a goal like earning a paycheck.

There’s also activation, which involves finding the right drive to get started. Persistence is about continuing on a specific task until it is completed. It’s easy to become unmotivated in the middle of something, especially if there appears to be little or no internal or external rewards.

Finally, intensity can be viewed as how much focus is being placed on the task at hand.

Theories of Motivation in Psychology

There have been numerous theories of motivation in psychology, including Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs, classical and operant conditioning, incentive motivation, and even Expectancy Theory.
Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs essentially focuses on a range of factors that may push somebody to pursue a certain task or goal, from physiological needs like basic food, water, and shelter, to social acceptance.

Classical and Operant Conditioning focuses on which stimuli, either environmental or physical, will cause the greatest motivation for an individual.

Incentive Motivation is most focused on reinforcement. When a person has positive or negative reinforcement, it will affect how motivated they are to continue with a task or do something different the next time.

With Expectancy Theory, there are three essential components, including expectancy, instrumentality, and balance, that help to determine how a person might behave in a given situation based on past experiences.

See: Motivational Theory

Motivation Psychology Articles

What Is Motivation Theory?

Being that there are many different theories about motivation, a common question that is brought up is what, exactly, is a motivation theory? The human brain is a complicated organ. Scientists are still trying to figure out how everything works, and they may not have all the answers anytime in the near future.

There are some people who may grow up in incredibly familiar environments and exposed to the same basic stimuli as one another but who have different motivating factors for their adult life. Different theories can highlight various components that become instrumental in understanding why a person acts, behaves, or does certain things he or she does.

What Are the Different Theories of Motivation?

Some of the theories of motivation include Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs, Herzberg’s Two-Factor Theory, Expectancy Theory, Three-Dimensional Theory of Attribution, and the Hawthorne Effect.

We already discussed Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs in short, and Herzberg’s Two-Factor Theory differs in that it focuses on motivator factors and hygiene factors. Motivator factors are those that can lead to satisfaction, either internally or externally. Hygiene factors can lead to dissatisfaction, including poor salary, poor working conditions, relationship problems, and more.

We also touched on Expectancy Theory briefly, but the Three-Dimensional Theory of Attribution focuses on how a person attributes success or a lack of success to various components or factors in their life, which can impact motivation moving forward.

The Hawthorne Effect looks at how changes can affect a person’s motivational foundation.

See: Motivational Theory

What Is the Humanistic Approach to Motivation?

Healthy human development is the main cornerstone of Humanistic Theory of Motivation. This is based on Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs and determines that there are physiological, biological, emotional, and even mental factors that can determine an individual’s level of motivation.
At its core, a sense of satisfaction, completeness, or fulfillment at different levels of needs can determine how motivated somebody is when faced with a specific task.

What Is a Motivated Behavior?

Motivation is, at its root core, a specific reason why somebody takes action, no matter what that action is. When talking about a motivated behavior, it essentially means that a person has a specific reason for doing something, whether it’s to feel good about themselves, to earn a paycheck, earn accolades, to win a championship, or even change their social status.

Motivation is the underlying basis of why people do the things they do, and for those who may not understand why a person is performing a certain task, they may need to look at a number of factors to ultimately gain a better understanding or empathy about it.

What Is Physiological Motivation?

Also sometimes referred to as organic motivation, physiological motivation involves the basic necessities of life, such as having food and water. Physiological motivation is often viewed in stark contrast to social motivation. Where a social motivator is more focused on external rewards and how people perceive an individual, these physiological motivations are more instinctual and absolutely necessary for basic survival.

There are many facets to the psychology of motivation. Below you will find more resources.


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