Evolutionary Theory of Motivation
According to evolutionary psychology, individuals are motivated to engage in behaviors that maximize their genetic fitness.
Summarize the evolutionary perspective on motivation
- Evolutionary psychology states that genetic mutations are capable of altering not only physical traits, but also behavioral traits.
- All animals, including humans, act in ways that improve their reproductive success; this results in social processes that maximize genetic fitness.
- According to evolutionary theory, those who are the most fit are the most likely to survive, and eventually the population evolves in such a way that their traits manifest themselves across the population.
- From an evolutionary point of view, behaviors are not made consciously; they are instinctual, and based on what is most advantageous in terms of passing one’s genes to the next generation.
- William James (1842–1910) was an important contributor to early research into motivation, and he theorized that behavior was driven by a number of instincts that aid survival.
- Optimization theory is concerned with assessing the success of behaviors. It states that individuals are motivated to adopt strategies that allow them to consume the most energy while expending the least amount of energy.
- genotype: The combination of alleles, situated on corresponding chromosomes, that determines a specific trait of an individual, such as “Aa” or “aa”.
- instinct: A natural or inherent impulse or behavior; the capacity of an animal to complete a complex behavior automatically, without intermediate conscious awareness.
- fitness: A concept in evolutionary theory related to natural selection; an organism’s potential for survival and successful reproduction.
- natural selection: A process by which heritable traits conferring survival and reproductive advantage to individuals, or related individuals, tend to be passed on to succeeding generations and become more frequent in a population, whereas other less favorable traits tend to become eliminated.
The basic idea of evolutionary psychology is that genetic mutations are capable of altering an organism’s behavioral traits as well as its physical traits. Like physical traits, these mutations in behavioral traits may help the organism reproduce; this in turn allows the mutations to be passed on to the next generation. In this way, individuals are motivated to engage in behaviors that maximize their genetic fitness.
All animals, including humans, need to act in ways that will improve their reproductive success. This results in social processes that maximize individuals’ genetic fitness, or ability to pass their genes to the next generation. According to evolutionary theory, those who are the most fit are the most likely to survive, and eventually the population evolves in such a way that their traits manifest themselves across the population.
Consider the following example: in a population’s gene pool, a genotype exists for an infant that is unattached from its mother—it will crawl away and does not have any “love” or other significant attachment to its mother. Over time, mutations accumulate and another genotype develops that causes infants to become uncomfortable and cry when their mothers leave them. Naturally, the crying infant who signals distress will be more protected from the elements and other predatory environmental forces than the unattached infant. Thus, the “attached” infant has a higher chance of survival. Over many generations, more “attached” infants will survive to mate and pass on their gene for attachment. Thus, a new behavior develops by means of natural selection. This illustrates the basic idea behind evolutionary psychology in human development: the innate behaviors of very young children are pre-programmed in their genotypes and can be understood by studying the environmental forces that surrounded our ancestors.
Evolutionary Perspective on Motivation
From an evolutionary point of view, behaviors are not made consciously: they are instinctual, and based on what is most advantageous in terms of passing one’s genes on to the next generation. William James (1842–1910) was an important contributor to early research into motivation, and he is often referred to as the father of psychology in the United States. James theorized that behavior was driven by a number of survival instincts. From a biological perspective, an instinct is a species-specific pattern of behavior that is not learned. There was, however, considerable controversy between James and his contemporaries over the exact definition of instinct. James proposed several dozen special human instincts, but many of his contemporaries created different lists. A mother’s protection of her baby, fondness for sugar, and hunting prey were among the human behaviors proposed as true instincts during James’ era. This view—that human behavior is driven by instincts—received a fair amount of criticism because of the undeniable role of learning in shaping all sorts of human behavior.
Optimization theory is related to evolutionary theory, and is concerned with assessing the success of a behavior. It attempts to identify behavioral strategies that offer the highest return under a given set of conditions using a cost/benefit analysis. In this context, success or fitness is judged by considering the number of offspring that the individual performing the behavior would contribute to the next generation. Optimization theory states that individuals would be motivated to adopt strategies that allow them to consume the most energy (e.g., to maximize their food intake) while expending the least amount of energy (e.g., to minimize their exercise output).
Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs
Maslow’s theory is based on the premise that humans are motivated by needs that are hierarchically ranked.
Explain Maslow’s hierarchy and the needs that fuel each level
- Maslow’s hierarchy of needs defines motivation as the process of satisfying certain needs that are required for long-term survival and development.
- There are some needs that are basic to all human beings, and in their absence, nothing else matters. As we satisfy these basic needs, they no longer serve as motivators and we begin to satisfy higher-order needs.
- Maslow divided human needs into a pyramid that includes physiological, safety, love/belonging, esteem, and self-actualization needs. Higher-order needs can only be pursued when the lower needs are met.
- self-actualization: According to humanistic theory, the realizing of one’s full potential; can include creative expression, quest for spiritual enlightenment, pursuit of knowledge, or the desire to give to society.
- humanistic: Of or pertaining to a psychological perspective, starting in the mid-20th century, that emphasizes individuals’ inherent drive toward self-actualization, realizing and expressing one’s own capabilities, and creativity.
- mastery: The act or process of becoming an expert in something.
We all think of ourselves as having various needs—the need for food, for example, or the need for companionship—that influence our choices and behaviors. This idea also underlies some theories of motivation. In 1943, Abraham Maslow proposed a hierarchy of needs that spans the spectrum of motives, ranging from the biological to the individual to the social.
Motivation and Needs
Maslow’s theory defines motivation as the process of satisfying certain needs that are required for long-term development. According to Maslow, a need is a relatively lasting condition or feeling that requires relief or satisfaction, and it tends to influence action over the long term. Some needs (like hunger) may decrease when satisfied, while others (like curiosity) may not.
Maslow’s theory is based on a simple premise: human beings have needs that are hierarchically ranked. There are some needs that are basic to all human beings, and in their absence, nothing else matters. We are ruled by these needs until they are satisfied. After we satisfy our basic needs, they no longer serve as motivators and we can begin to satisfy higher-order needs.
Maslow organized human needs into a pyramid that includes (from lowest-level to highest-level) physiological, safety, love/belonging, esteem, and self-actualization needs. According to Maslow, one must satisfy lower-level needs before addressing needs that occur higher in the pyramid. For example, if someone is starving, it is quite unlikely that he will spend a lot of time, or any time at all, wondering whether other people think he is good person. Instead, all of his energies are geared toward finding something to eat.
The most basic of Maslow’s needs are physiological needs, such as the need for air, food, and water. When you are very hungry, for example, all your behavior may be motivated by the need to find food. Once you eat, the search for food ceases, and the need for food no longer motivates you.
Once physiological needs are satisfied, people tend to become concerned about safety needs. Are they safe from danger, pain, or an uncertain future? At this stage they will be motivated to direct their behavior toward obtaining shelter and protection in order to satisfy this need.
Once safety needs have been met, social needs for love/belonging become important. This can include the need to bond with other human beings, the need to be loved, and the need to form lasting attachments. Having no attachments can negatively affect health and well-being; as a result, people are motivated to find friends and romantic partners.
Once love and belonging needs have been satisfied, esteem needs become more salient. Esteem needs refer to the desire to be respected by one’s peers, to feel important, and to be appreciated. People will often look for ways to achieve a sense of mastery, and they may seek validation and praise from others in order to fulfill these needs.
At the highest level of the hierarchy, attention shifts to the need for self-actualization, which is a need that essentially equates to achieving one’s full potential. This can be seen in acquiring new skills, taking on new challenges, and behaving in a way that will help you to achieve your life goals. According to Maslow and other humanistic theorists, self-actualization reflects the humanistic emphasis on positive aspects of human nature. Maslow suggested that this is an ongoing, life-long process and that only a small percentage of people actually achieve a self-actualized state.
Drive-Reduction Theory of Motivation
According to drive-reduction theory, humans are motivated to satisfy physiological needs in order to maintain homeostasis.
Evaluate the advantages and disadvantages of how drive-reduction theory explains motivation
- Drive -reduction theory, first proposed by Clark Hull in 1943, proposed that the purpose of biological drives is to correct disturbances of homeostasis.
- According to Hull, physiological needs result in psychological drive states that direct behavior to meet the needs and, ultimately, bring the system back to homeostasis.
- Primary drives are innate biological needs (e.g., thirst, hunger, and desire for sex), whereas secondary drives are associated with—and indirectly satisfy—primary drives (e.g., the desire for money, which helps pay for food and shelter).
- Drives are thought to underlie all behavior in that behaviors are only conditioned, or learned, if they satisfy a drive.
- Drive-reduction theory has been criticized for failing to explain how secondary reinforcers reduce drive or why individuals engage in “pleasure-seeking” behaviors.
- drive: Acts of motivation like thirst or hunger that have primarily biological purposes.
- homeostasis: The ability of a system or living organism to adjust its internal environment to maintain a stable equilibrium, such as the ability of warm-blooded animals to maintain a constant temperature.
Motivation describes the wants or needs that direct behavior toward a goal. Motivations are commonly separated into two types: drives are acts of motivation like thirst or hunger that have primarily biological purposes, while motives are fueled primarily by social and psychological mechanisms.
Drives and Homeostasis
An early theory of motivation proposed that the maintenance of homeostasis is particularly important in directing behavior. Homeostasis is the tendency to maintain a balance, or optimal level, within a biological system. In a body system, a control center (which is often part of the brain) receives input from receptors (which are often complexes of neurons ). The control center directs effectors (which may be other neurons) to correct any imbalance in the body detected by the control center.
The purpose of biological drives is to correct disturbances of homeostasis. Unsatisfied drives are detected by neurons concentrated in the hypothalamus in the brain. These neurons then produce an integrated response to bring the drive back to its optimal level. For instance, when you are dehydrated, freezing cold, or exhausted, the appropriate biological responses are activated automatically (e.g., body fat reserves are mobilized, urine production is inhibited, you shiver, blood is shunted away from the body surface, etc.). While your body automatically responds to these survival drives, you also become motivated to correct these disturbances by eating, drinking water, resting, or actively seeking or generating warmth by moving. In essence, you are motivated to engage in whatever behavior is necessary to fulfill an unsatisfied drive. One way that the body elicits this behavioral motivation is by increasing physiological arousal.
Drive-reduction theory was first developed by Clark Hull in 1943. According to this theory, deviations from homeostasis create physiological needs. These needs result in psychological drive states that direct behavior to meet the need and, ultimately, bring the system back to homeostasis. When a physiological need is not satisfied, a negative state of tension is created; when the need is satisfied, the drive to satisfy that need is reduced and the organism returns to homeostasis. In this way, a drive can be thought of as an instinctual need that has the power to motivate behavior.
Father of Drive Reduction Theory: Clark Leonard Hull developed drive-reduction theory, one of the earliest theories of motivation.
For example, if it’s been a while since you ate, your blood sugar levels will drop below normal. Low blood sugar induces a physiological need and a corresponding drive state (i.e., hunger) that will direct you to seek out and consume food. Eating will eliminate the hunger, and, ultimately, your blood sugar levels will return to normal.
Drive-reduction theory also emphasizes the role that habits play in the type of behavioral response in which we engage. A habit is a pattern of behavior in which we regularly engage; once we have engaged in a behavior that successfully reduces a drive, we are more likely to engage in that behavior whenever faced with that drive in the future (Graham & Weiner, 1996).
Primary and Secondary Drives
Drive-reduction theory distinguishes between primary and secondary drives. Primary drives are innate biological needs (e.g., thirst, hunger, and desire for sex) that are usually necessary for survival. Secondary drives, on the other hand, are not usually necessary for survival and are often linked to social or identity factors (e.g., the desire for wealth). Secondary drives are associated with primary drives because the satisfaction of secondary drives indirectly satisfies primary drives. For example, the desire for wealth is not necessary for survival; however, wealth provides you with money that can be used to acquire food, shelter, and other basic needs, thereby indirectly satisfying these primary drives. Secondary drives become associated with primary drives through classical conditioning.
Drive-Reduction Theory and Learning
According to Hull, drive reduction is a major aspect of learning. Drives are thought to underlie all behavior in that behaviors are only conditioned, or learned, if the reinforcement satisfies a drive. Individuals faced with more than one need at the same time experience multiple drives, and research has shown that multiple drives can lead to more rapid learning than a single drive.
Critiques of Drive-Reduction Theory
There are several issues that leave the validity of drive-reduction theory open for debate. For one, drive-reduction theory has trouble explaining why humans and other animals voluntarily increase tension by exploring their environments, even when they are not hungry or thirsty. There are also complications to drive-reduction theory caused by so-called “pleasure-seeking” behaviors, which seem to be contradictory to the theory’s precepts. Why would an individual actively seek out more stimulation if it is already in a state of relaxation and fulfillment? Proponents of drive-reduction theory would argue that one is never in a state of complete fulfillment, and thus, there are always drives that need to be satisfied.
Arousal Theory of Motivation
Arousal theory expands upon drive-reduction theory by considering levels of arousal as potential motivators.
Explain the relationship between arousal and motivation
- While drive -reduction theory focuses primarily on biological needs as motivators, arousal theory examines the influence of the neurotransmitter dopamine as a motivator in the body.
- Arousal theory proposes that motivation is strongly linked to biological factors that control reward sensitivity and goal-driven behavior.
- The reward system in the human body spurs physiological arousal, which motivates individuals to engage in whatever behavior is necessary to relieve their arousal.
- Research shows that there tends to be an optimal level of arousal for peak performance; when arousal is very high or very low, performance tends to suffer.
- Traits like impulsivity and sensation-seeking predispose people to engage in activities that they find physiologically arousing.
- temperament: A person’s normal manner of thinking, behaving, or reacting.
- neuron: A cell of the nervous system which conducts nerve impulses and consists of an axon and several dendrites.
- homeostasis: The ability of a system or living organism to adjust its internal environment to maintain a state of dynamic constancy, such as the ability of warm-blooded animals to maintain a stable temperature.
- arousal: A physiological and psychological state of being awake or reactive to stimuli, including elevated heart rate and blood pressure and a condition of sensory alertness, mobility, and readiness to respond.
The purpose of biological drives is to correct disturbances of homeostasis. According to drive-reduction theory, the body is motivated to engage in whatever behavior is necessary to fulfill an unsatisfied drive. One way that the body elicits this behavioral motivation is by increasing physiological arousal. Arousal theory expands upon drive-reduction theory by taking into account levels of arousal as potential motivators. While drive-reduction theory focuses primarily on biological needs as motivators, arousal theory examines the influence of the neural transmitter dopamine as a motivator in the body.
The Reward System
Arousal theory proposes that motivation is strongly linked to biological factors that control reward sensitivity and goal-driven behavior. Reward sensitivity is located in the mesolimbic dopamine system. Research shows that individual differences in neurological activity in this area can influence motivation for certain goal-driven behaviors that will elicit a reward or satisfy a craving. In this way, the reward system spurs physiological arousal, which motivates the individual to engage in whatever behavior is necessary to satisfy or relieve that arousal. For example, substance use is associated with overactivity in the dopamine system; depending on how strongly an individual’s brain interprets that as a “reward,” they may be more or less motivated to continue using that substance.
The Reward Center: Dopamine pathways in the brain play an important role in the regulation of reward, which, in turn, motivates behavior. Some of the most important parts of the brain’s reward center include the nucleus accumbens, the VTA, and the frontal cortex.
To show how the reward system works, Peter Milner and James Olds conducted an experiment in the early 1950s in which a rat had an electrode implanted in its brain so that its brain could be locally stimulated at any time. The rat was put in a box that contained two levers: one lever released food and water, and another lever delivered a brief stimulus to the reward center of the brain. At the beginning the rat wandered around the box and stepped on the levers by accident, but before long it was pressing the lever for the brief stimulus repeatedly. This behavior is called electrical self-stimulation. Sometimes, rats would become so involved in pressing the lever that they would forget about food and water, stopping only after collapsing from exhaustion. Electrical self-stimulation apparently provided a reward that reinforced the habit to press the lever. This study provided evidence that animals are motivated to perform behaviors that stimulate dopamine release in the reward center of the brain.
Optimal Levels of Arousal
Theories of learning assert that there is an optimal level of arousal that we all try to maintain. If we are under-aroused, we become bored and will seek out some sort of stimulation. On the other hand, if we are over-aroused, we will engage in behaviors to reduce our arousal (Berlyne, 1960). Research shows that moderate arousal is generally best; when arousal is very high or very low, performance tends to suffer. Researchers Robert Yerkes and John Dodson discovered that the optimal arousal level depends on the complexity and difficulty of the task to be performed. This relationship is known as Yerkes-Dodson law, which holds that a simple task is performed best when arousal levels are relatively high and complex tasks are best performed when arousal levels are lower.
Optimal Arousal: The concept of optimal arousal in relation to performance on a task is depicted here. Performance is maximized at the optimal level of arousal, and it tapers off during under- and over-arousal. For easy tasks, a higher level of arousal generally increases performance; for harder tasks, a lower level of arousal is better.
Most students have experienced this need to maintain optimal levels of arousal over the course of their academic career. Think about how much stress students experience toward the end of spring semester—they feel overwhelmed with work and yearn for the rest and relaxation of summer break. Their arousal level is too high. Once they finish the semester, however, it doesn’t take too long before they begin to feel bored; their arousal level is too low. Generally, by the time fall semester starts, many students are quite happy to return to school. This is an example of how arousal theory works.
Temperament and Motivation
Traits like impulsivity and sensation-seeking predispose people to engage in certain behaviors. These traits generally develop at a very young age (if not prenatally) as part of the individual’s temperament. Temperament is defined as an individual’s basic way of interacting and includes aspects like frustration tolerance (i.e., the ability to withstand frustrating situations without getting upset), delay of gratification, and inhibition vs. impulsivity. All of these factors affect the individual’s level of motivation to engage in certain behaviors. Fulfilling the impulse brings about a physiological reward similar to the rat pressing the button.
Some individuals are more sensation-seeking in that they have higher motivation to engage in arousing or physiologically stimulating activities. These individuals are more likely to engage in risky behaviors like driving fast, riding roller coasters, and other activities that get their adrenaline pumping. Likewise, someone who is very impulsive and uninhibited might be very motivated to go buy a car on a moment’s notice, as compared with someone who is very inhibited and has difficulty taking action.