What Is Motivation?
A motive is an impulse that causes a person to act. Motivation is an internal process that
makes a person move toward a goal. Motivation, like intelligence, can’t be directly
observed. Instead, motivation can only be inferred by noting a person’s behavior.
Researchers have proposed theories that try to explain human motivation. These theories
include drive reduction theories and Maslow’s hierarchy of needs theory.
Drive Reduction Theories
Drive reduction theories of motivation suggest that people act in order to reduce needs
and maintain a constant physiological state. For example, people eat in order to reduce
their need for food. The idea of homeostasis is central to drive reduction
theories.Homeostasis is the maintenance of a state of physiological equilibrium.
Drive reduction theories fail to explain several aspects of motivation:
People sometimes aren’t motivated by internal needs.
Some people fast for long periods for political causes, despite feeling extreme hunger.
Sometimes, people continue being motivated even when they have satisfied internal
People sometimes eat even when they don’t feel hungry.
People are often motivated by external incentives as well as internal needs.
If a person is hungry, he or she may choose to eat a salad rather than a cheeseburger
because he or she wants to be slimmer.
Intrinsic and Extrinsic Motivation
A motivation may be intrinsic, extrinsic, or both. Intrinsic motivation is the motivation to
act for the sake of the activity alone. For example, people have intrinsic motivation to
write poetry if they do it simply because they enjoy it.Extrinsic motivation, on the other
hand, is the motivation to act for external rewards. For example, people have extrinsic
motivation to write if they do so in the hopes of getting published, being famous, or
An incentive is an environmental stimulus that pulls people to act in a particular way.
Getting an A on an exam may be an incentive that pulls a student toward studying.
Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs
In the 1970s, the psychologist Abraham Maslow suggested that people are motivated by a
hierarchy of needs:
First, most basic level: physiological needs, such as the need for food, water, safety, and
Second level: needs for social interaction, such as the need to belong.
Third level: needs for esteem, which include the need for respect from oneself and others.
Fourth level: needs for self-actualization, or realizing one’s full potential.