AskDefine | Define motivation

Dictionary Definition



1 the psychological feature that arouses an organism to action toward a desired goal; the reason for the action; that which gives purpose and direction to behavior; "we did not understand his motivation"; "he acted with the best of motives" [syn: motive, need]
2 the condition of being motivated; "his motivation was at a high level"
3 the act of motivating; providing incentive [syn: motivating]

User Contributed Dictionary



motive, from the etyl la verb moveo, + -ation



  1. Willingness of action esp. in behavior
  2. The action of motivating.
  3. Something which motivates.
  4. A reason for doing something.
  5. In the context of "advertising": a research rating that measures how the rational and emotional elements of a commercial affect consumer intention to consider, visit, or buy something.
    The motivation scores showed that 65% of people wanted to visit our website to learn more about the offer after watching the commercial.


Willingness of action esp. in behavior
The action of motivating
Something which motivates
A reason for doing something
(advertising) research rating that measures how a commercial affects consumer intention


  • The Advertising Research Handbook Charles E. Young, Ideas in Flight, Seattle, WA, April 2005




  1. motivation



  1. motivation; willingness of action

Extensive Definition

Motivation is the reason or reasons for engaging in a particular behavior, especially human behavior as studied in psychology and neuropsychology. These reasons may include basic needs such as food or a desired object, hobbies, goal, state of being, or ideal. The motivation for a behavior may also be attributed to less-apparent reasons such as altruism or morality. According to Geen, motivation refers to the initiation, direction, intensity and persistence of human behavior.

Motivational concepts

Reward and reinforcement

A reward, tangible or intangible, is presented after the occurrence of an action (i.e. behavior) with the intent to cause the behavior to occur again. This is done by associating positive meaning to the behavior. Studies show that if the person receives the reward immediately, the effect would be greater, and decreases as duration lengthens. Repetitive action-reward combination can cause the action to become habit.
Rewards can also be organized as extrinsic or intrinsic. Extrinsic rewards are external to the person; for example, praise or money. Intrinsic rewards are internal to the person; for example, satisfaction or a feeling of accomplishment.
Some authors distinguish between two forms of intrinsic motivation: one based on enjoyment, the other on obligation. In this context, obligation refers to motivation based on what an individual thinks ought to be done. For instance, a feeling of responsibility for a mission may lead to helping others beyond what is easily observable, rewarded, or fun.
A reinforcer is different from reward, in that reinforcement is intended to create a measured increase in the rate of a desirable behavior following the addition of something to the environment.

Intrinsic and extrinsic motivation

Intrinsic motivation is when people engage in an activity, such as a hobby, without obvious external incentives.
Intrinsic motivation has been studied by educational psychologists since the 1970s, and numerous studies have found it to be associated with high educational achievement and enjoyment by students. There is currently no universal theory to explain the origin or elements of intrinsic motivation, and most explanations combine elements of Fritz Heider's attribution theory, Bandura's work on self-efficacy and other studies relating to locus of control and goal orientation. Though it is thought that students are more likely to be intrinsically motivated if they:
  • Attribute their educational results to internal factors that they can control (e.g. the amount of effort they put in),
  • Believe they can be effective agents in reaching desired goals (i.e. the results are not determined by luck),
  • Are interested in mastering a topic, rather than just rote-learning to achieve good grades.
Note that the idea of reward for achievement is absent from this model of intrinsic motivation, since rewards are an extrinsic factor.
In knowledge-sharing communities and organizations, people often cite altruistic reasons for their participation, including contributing to a common good, a moral obligation to the group, mentorship or 'giving back'. In work environments, money may provide a more powerful extrinsic factor than the intrinsic motivation provided by an enjoyable workplace.
The most obvious form of motivation is coercion, where the avoidance of pain or other negative consequences has an immediate effect. Extreme use of coercion is considered slavery. While coercion is considered morally reprehensible in many philosophies, it is widely practiced on prisoners, students in mandatory schooling, within the nuclear family unit (on children), and in the form of conscription. Critics of modern capitalism charge that without social safety networks, wage slavery is inevitable. However, many capitalists such as Ayn Rand have been very vocal against coercion. Successful coercion sometimes can take priority over other types of motivation. Self-coercion is rarely substantially negative (typically only negative in the sense that it avoids a positive, such as forgoing an expensive dinner or a period of relaxation), however it is interesting in that it illustrates how lower levels of motivation may be sometimes tweaked to satisfy higher ones.
In terms of GCSE PE, intrinsic motivation is the motivation that comes from inside the performer. E.g. they compete for the love of the sport. Extrinsic motivation comes from outside of the performer. E.g. The crowd cheer the performer on, this motivates them to do well, or to beat a PB (Personal Best). Another example is trophies or a reward. It makes the performer want to win and beat the other competitors, thereby motivating the performer.


The self-control of motivation is increasingly understood as a subset of emotional intelligence; a person may be highly intelligent according to a more conservative definition (as measured by many intelligence tests), yet unmotivated to dedicate this intelligence to certain tasks. Yale School of Management professor Victor Vroom's "expectancy theory" provides an account of when people will decide whether to exert self control to pursue a particular goal.
Drives and desires can be described as a deficiency or need that activates behaviour that is aimed at a goal or an incentive. These are thought to originate within the individual and may not require external stimuli to encourage the behaviour. Basic drives could be sparked by deficiencies such as hunger, which motivates a person to seek food; whereas more subtle drives might be the desire for praise and approval, which motivates a person to behave in a manner pleasing to others.
By contrast, the role of extrinsic rewards and stimuli can be seen in the example of training animals by giving them treats when they perform a trick correctly. The treat motivates the animals to perform the trick consistently, even later when the treat is removed from the process.

Motivational Theories

Drive Reduction Theories

There are a number of drive theories. The Drive Reduction Theory grows out of the concept that we have certain biological needs, such as hunger. As time passes the strength of the drive increases as it is not satisfied. Then as we satisfy that drive by fulfilling its desire, such as eating, the drive's strength is reduced. It is based on the theories of Freud and the idea of feedback control systems, such as a thermostat.
There are several problems, however, that leave the validity of the Drive Reduction Theory open for debate. The first problem is that it does not explain how Secondary Reinforcers reduce drive. For example, money does not satisfy any biological or psychological need but reduces drive on a regular basis through a pay check second-order conditioning. Secondly, if the drive reduction theory held true we would not be able to explain how a hungry human being can prepare a meal without eating the food before they finished cooking it.
However, when comparing this to a real life situation such as preparing food, one does get hungrier as the food is being made (drive increases), and after the food has been consumed the drive decreases. The only reason the food does not get eaten before is the human element of restraint and has nothing to do with drive theory. Also, the food will either be nicer after it is cooked, or it won't be edible at all before it is cooked.

Cognitive dissonance theory

Suggested by Leon Festinger, this occurs when an individual experiences some degree of discomfort resulting from an incompatibility between two cognitions. For example, a consumer may seek to reassure himself regarding a purchase, feeling, in retrospect, that another decision may have been preferable.
Another example of cognitive dissonance is when a belief and a behavior are in conflict. A person may believe smoking is bad for one's health and yet continues to smoke.

Affective-Arousal Theories

Need Achievement Theory

David McClelland’s achievement motivation theory envisions that a person has a need for three things, but differs in degrees to which the various needs influence their behavior: Need for achievement, Need for power, and Need for affiliation.

Interests Theory

Holland Codes are used in the assessment of interests as in Vocational Preference Inventory (VPI; Holland, 1985). One way to look at interests is that if a person has a strong interest in one of the 6 Holland areas, then obtaining outcomes in that area will be strongly reinforcing relative to obtaining outcomes in areas of weak interest.

Need Theories

Need Hierarchy Theory

Abraham Maslow's hierarchy of human needs theory is the most widely discussed theory of motivation.
The theory can be summarized as thus:
  • Human beings have wants and desires which influence their behavior; only unsatisfied needs can influence behavior, satisfied needs cannot.
  • Since needs are many, they are arranged in order of importance, from the basic to the complex.
  • The person advances to the next level of needs only after the lower level need is at least minimally satisfied.
  • The further the progress up the hierarchy, the more individuality, humanness and psychological health a person will show.
The needs, listed from basic (lowest, earliest) to most complex (highest, latest) are as follows:

Herzberg’s two-factor theory

Frederick Herzberg's two-factor theory, aka intrinsic/extrinsic motivation, concludes that certain factors in the workplace result in job satisfaction, but if absent, lead to dissatisfaction.
He distinguished between:
  • Motivators; (e.g. challenging work, recognition, responsibility) which give positive satisfaction, and
  • Hygiene factors; (e.g. status, job security, salary and fringe benefits) that do not motivate if present, but, if absent, result in demotivation.
The name Hygiene factors is used because, like hygiene, the presence will not make you healthier, but absence can cause health deterioration.
The theory is sometimes called the "Motivator-Hygiene Theory."

Alderfer’s ERG theory

Clayton Alderfer, expanding on Maslow's hierarchy of needs, created the ERG theory (existence, relatedness and growth). Physiological and safety, the lower order needs, are placed in the existence category, while love and self esteem needs are placed in the relatedness category. The growth category contains our self-actualization and self-esteem needs.

Self-determination theory

Self-determination theory, developed by Edward Deci and Richard Ryan, focuses on the importance of intrinsic motivation in driving human behavior. Like Maslow's hierarchical theory and others that built on it, SDT posits a natural tendency toward growth and development. Unlike these other theories, however, SDT does not include any sort of "autopilot" for achievement, but instead requires active encouragement from the environment. The primary factors that encourage motivation and development are autonomy, competence feedback, and relatedness.

Cognitive theories

Goal-setting theory

Goal-setting theory is based on the notion that individuals sometimes have a drive to reach a clearly defined end state. Often, this end state is a reward in itself. A goal's efficiency is affected by three features; proximity, difficulty and specificity. An ideal goal should present a situation where the time between the initiation of behavior and the end state is close. This explains why some children are more motivated to learn how to ride a bike than mastering algebra. A goal should be moderate, not too hard or too easy to complete. In both cases, most people are not optimally motivated, as many want a challenge (which assumes some kind of insecurity of success). At the same time people want to feel that there is a substantial probability that they will succeed. Specificity concerns the description of the goal in their class. The goal should be objectively defined and intelligible for the individual. A classic example of a poorly specified goal is to get the highest possible grade. Most children have no idea how much effort they need to reach that goal. For further reading, see Locke and Latham (2002).

Unconscious motivation

Some psychologists believe that a significant portion of human behavior is energized and directed by unconscious motives. According to Maslow: "Psychoanalysis has often demonstrated that the relationship between a conscious desire and the ultimate unconscious aim that underlies it need not be at all direct ." In other words, stated motives do not always match those inferred by skilled observers. For example, it is possible that a person can be accident-prone because he has an unconscious desire to hurt himself and not because he is careless or ignorant of the safety rules. Similarly, some overweight people are not really hungry for food but for attention and love. Eating is merely a defensive reaction to lack of attention. Some workers damage more equipment than others because they harbor unconscious feelings of aggression toward authority figures.
Psychotherapists point out that some behavior is so automatic that the reasons for it are not available in the individual's conscious mind. Compulsive cigarette smoking is an example. Sometimes maintaining self-esteem is so important and the motive for an activity is so threatening that it is simply not recognized and, in fact, may be disguised or repressed. Rationalization, or "explaining away", is one such disguise, or defense mechanism, as it is called. Another is projecting or attributing one's own faults to others. "I feel I am to blame", becomes "It is her fault; she is selfish". Repression of powerful but socially unacceptable motives may result in outward behavior that is the opposite of the repressed tendencies. An example of this would be the employee who hates his boss but overworks himself on the job to show that he holds him in high regard.
Unconscious motives add to the hazards of interpreting human behavior and, to the extent that they are present, complicate the life of the administrator. On the other hand, knowledge that unconscious motives exist can lead to a more careful assessment of behavioral problems. Although few contemporary psychologists deny the existence of unconscious factors, many do believe that these are activated only in times of anxiety and stress, and that in the ordinary course of events, human behavior — from the subject's point of view — is rationally purposeful.

Controlling motivation

The control of motivation is only understood to a limited extent. There are many different approaches of motivation training, but many of these are considered pseudoscientific by critics. To understand how to control motivation it is first necessary to understand why many people lack motivation.

Early programming

Modern imaging has provided solid empirical support for the psychological theory that emotional programming is largely defined in childhood. Harold Chugani, Medical Director of the PET Clinic at the Children's Hospital of Michigan and professor of pediatrics, neurology and radiology at Wayne State University School of Medicine, has found that children's brains are much more capable of consuming new information (linked to emotions) than those of adults. Brain activity in cortical regions is about twice as high in children as in adults from the third to the ninth year of life. After that period, it declines constantly to the low levels of adulthood. Brain volume, on the other hand, is already at about 95% of adult levels in the ninth year of life.


Besides the very direct approaches to motivation, beginning in early life, there are solutions which are more abstract but perhaps nevertheless more practical for self-motivation. Virtually every motivation guidebook includes at least one chapter about the proper organization of one's tasks and goals. It is usually suggested that it is critical to maintain a list of tasks, with a distinction between those which are completed and those which are not, thereby moving some of the required motivation for their completion from the tasks themselves into a "meta-task", namely the processing of the tasks in the task list, which can become a routine. The viewing of the list of completed tasks may also be considered motivating, as it can create a satisfying sense of accomplishment.
Most electronic to-do lists have this basic functionality, although the distinction between completed and non-completed tasks is not always clear (completed tasks are sometimes simply deleted, instead of kept in a separate list).
Other forms of information organization may also be motivational, such as the use of mind maps to organize one's ideas, and thereby "train" the neural network that is the human brain to focus on the given task. Simpler forms of idea notation such as simple bullet-point style lists may also be sufficient, or even more useful to less visually oriented persons.


Some authors, especially in the transhumanist movement, have suggested the use of "smart drugs", also known as nootropics, as "motivation-enhancers". The effects of many of these drugs on the brain are emphatically not well understood, and their legal status often makes open experimentation difficult.
Converging neurobiological evidence also supports the idea that addictive drugs such as cocaine, nicotine, alcohol, and heroin act on brain systems underlying motivation for natural rewards, such as the mesolimbic dopamine system. Normally, these brain systems serve to guide us toward fitness-enhancing rewards (food, water, sex, etc.), but they can be co-opted by repeated use of drugs of abuse, causing addicts to excessively pursue drug rewards. Therefore, drugs can hijack brain systems underlying other motivations, causing the almost singular pursuit of drugs characteristic of addiction.



Motivation is of particular interest to Educational psychologists because of the crucial role it plays in student learning. However, the specific kind of motivation that is studied in the specialized setting of education differs qualitatively from the more general forms of motivation studied by psychologists in other fields.
Motivation in education can have several effects on how students learn and their behavior towards subject matter (Ormrod, 2003). It can:
  1. Direct behavior toward particular goals
  2. Lead to increased effort and energy
  3. Increase initiation of, and persistence in, activities
  4. Enhance cognitive processing
  5. Determine what consequences are reinforcing
  6. Lead to improved performance.
Because students are not always internally motivated, they sometimes need situated motivation, which is found in environmental conditions that the teacher creates.
There are two kinds of motivation:
  • Intrinsic motivation occurs when people are internally motivated to do something because it either brings them pleasure, they think it is important, or they feel that what they are learning is significant.
  • Extrinsic motivation comes into play when a student is compelled to do something or act a certain way because of factors external to him or her (like money or good grades).
Note also that there is already questioning and expansion about this dichotomy on motivation, e.g., Self-Determination Theory.
Motivation has been found to be a pivotal area in treating Autism Spectrum Disorders, as in Pivotal Response Therapy.
Motivation is also an important element in the concept of Andragogy (what motivates the adult learner).


At lower levels of Maslow's hierarchy of needs, such as Physiological needs, money is a motivator, however it tends to have a motivating effect on staff that lasts only for a short period (in accordance with Herzberg's two-factor model of motivation). At higher levels of the hierarchy, praise, respect, recognition, empowerment and a sense of belonging are far more powerful motivators than money, as both Abraham Maslow's theory of motivation and Douglas McGregor's Theory X and theory Y (pertaining to the theory of leadership) demonstrate.
Maslow has money at the lowest level of the hierarchy and shows other needs are better motivators to staff. McGregor places money in his Theory X category and feels it is a poor motivator. Praise and recognition are placed in the Theory Y category and are considered stronger motivators than money.
  • Motivated employees always look for better ways to do a job.
  • Motivated employees are more quality oriented.
  • Motivated workers are more productive.
The average workplace is about midway between the extremes of high threat and high opportunity. Motivation by threat is a dead-end strategy, and naturally staff are more attracted to the opportunity side of the motivation curve than the threat side.
According to the system of scientific management developed by Frederick Winslow Taylor, a worker's motivation is solely determined by pay, and therefore management need not consider psychological or social aspects of work. In essence scientific management bases human motivation wholly on extrinsic rewards and discards the idea of intrinsic rewards.
In contrast, David McClelland believed that workers could not be motivated by the mere need for money-- in fact, extrinsic motivation (e.g., money) could extinguish intrinsic motivation such as achievement motivation, though money could be used as an indicator of success for various motives, e.g., keeping score. In keeping with this view, his consulting firm, McBer & Company, had as its first motto "To make everyone productive, happy, and free." For McClelland, satisfaction lay in aligning a person's life with their fundamental motivations.
Elton Mayo found out that the social contacts a worker has at the workplace are very important and that boredom and repetitiveness of tasks lead to reduced motivation. Mayo believed that workers could be motivated by acknowledging their social needs and making them feel important. As a result, employees were given freedom to make decisions on the job and greater attention was paid to informal work groups. Mayo named the model the Hawthorne effect. His model has been judged as placing undue reliance on social contacts at work situations for motivating employees.


motivation in Arabic: دافع
motivation in Bulgarian: Мотивация
motivation in Danish: Motivation
motivation in German: Motivation
motivation in Estonian: Motivatsioon
motivation in Spanish: Motivación
motivation in French: Motivation
motivation in Croatian: Motivacija
motivation in Indonesian: Motivasi
motivation in Italian: Motivazione (psicologia)
motivation in Hebrew: הנעה
motivation in Lithuanian: Motyvacija
motivation in Malay (macrolanguage): Motivasi
motivation in Dutch: Motivatie
motivation in Japanese: 動機づけ
motivation in Polish: Motywacja
motivation in Portuguese: Motivação
motivation in Russian: Мотивация
motivation in Finnish: Motivaatio
motivation in Chinese: 激励

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