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Homeostasis in Psychology

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  • 0:00 Definition of Homeostasis
  • 1:49 Need States & Drive States
  • 3:38 Homeostasis & Motivation
  • 5:07 Lesson Summary
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Lesson Transcript
Instructor: David White
Homeostasis is a balance of psychological and physiological equilibrium, but beyond its definition, it's much more than it seems. Through this lesson, you will learn ho to define homeostasis and explore the factors that disrupt and uphold the state of being.

Definition of Homeostasis

Have you ever met someone that seemed totally even-keeled? Not overly happy, sad, or excitable; just sort of content, as though everything in their life is exactly where they want it to be. I'm always curious about these kinds of people--how did they achieve this level of evenness and what drives them?

In psychological terms, this kind of balance is referred to as homeostasis, which is most easily defined as a psychological and physiological state of stability. The concept of homeostasis isn't limited to psychology, but can actually be applied widely to any person or thing that demonstrates a stable equilibrium.

Say, for example, that you've just come inside from the cold weather and you're hungry. Other than these two things, every one of your physical and psychological needs have been met. Once you take the time to satisfy your hunger and reach a desired temperature, you will have reached the point of homeostasis.

In a physiological context, homeostasis is fairly easy to identify because, with few exceptions, the body has standard requirements, like food, water, or rest. The human mind, on the other hand, is far more complex and homeostasis might not always be achieved in a healthy or positive way. For example, if a person has a poor self-esteem, they have certain negative beliefs about their abilities, appearance, or some other characteristic. Regardless of whether or not these beliefs are true, they believe them to be true and any challenge to those beliefs will upset their homeostasis because it suggests that their beliefs--on which they have based much of their identity--could be wrong. Given that, for this person to maintain homeostasis, they must uphold their poor self-esteem.

Need States & Drive States

When it comes to the body, homeostasis is something for which we should all be striving. After all, I doubt that there are many people out there that want for their body to be dysfunctional or disabled. In a psychological context, however, homeostasis can be a less desirable goal and is much harder to maintain for long periods of time.

In a very basic sense, homeostasis indicates that all of our needs have been met and we want for nothing. Physically, the things that disrupt homeostasis, like hunger, are known as need states and in most cases they are easy to satisfy. Like their names suggest, need states are based on innate human needs, like food and sleep, which makes them primary because they're generally required to stay alive. In psychological homeostasis on the other hand, these disruptions are referred to as drive states and they're somewhat less easy to satisfy. Drive states are what is known as a secondary state because it's informed by things like social expectation and cultural beliefs, which are learned.

Imagine, for example, that you're in a relationship that no longer provides joy or happiness. If you believed that romantic relationships are built solely on these two things, the absence would cause a major disruption in your equilibrium. Yet, unlike a physical need state, the solution to this problem might be long, difficult, and painful--all of which causes stress and possibly anxiety, further disrupting homeostasis.

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