How Motives & Emotions Develop

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  • 0:00 Emotions & Motivation
  • 0:59 Emotions
  • 3:17 Motivation
  • 5:18 Lesson Summary
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Instructor: Natalie Boyd

Natalie is a teacher and holds an MA in English Education and is in progress on her PhD in psychology.

Emotions and motives (or motivation) are very closely linked to each other, but psychologists don't always agree on how they develop. In this lesson, we'll examine some of the major theories on how emotions and motivation develop in people.

Emotions & Motivation

Julie is a teenager who is faced with many responsibilities. She has to keep her grades up, her room clean, work an after school job, and participate in sports and band. That's a lot! And sometimes she feels frustrated or angry and that makes her want to just forget it all and watch TV instead. That is, sometimes she loses her motivation.

Emotions are feelings. They are states of being, like happy, sad or scared. In contrast, motivation is a goal-directed behavior. In other words, it is something that moves a person to act a certain way. When Julie is feeling frustrated, that's an emotion. When she wants to forget her responsibilities and just watch TV, that's a problem with her motivation. Emotions and motivation are very closely linked to each other. To understand how both emotions and motivation develop, let's look closer at each of them.


Julie knows what emotions are, but sometimes she has trouble figuring out exactly what she's feeling. Scared can sometimes feel a lot like frustration, which can feel a lot like anger. Even when she's close to the boy she has a crush on, her heart races like she's scared. What's going on? There are three aspects of emotion: environmental stimuli, physiological state and cognitive labeling of the emotion. For example, if Julie is standing near her crush, the environmental stimulus is the cute boy right in front of her. Her physiological state is what she's physically experiencing: her heart is racing, her hands are sweaty and her breathing is shallow. The cognitive labeling is what she calls the emotion. In this case, attraction. But not every psychologist agrees on exactly what order the physiological state and cognitive labeling happens. Two major theories on how emotions develop are the James-Lange and Cannon-Bard theories of emotion.

The James-Lange theory of emotion says that people experience a physiological state, then scan the environment for a reason for the physiological state, and then cognitively label the emotion based on the environment. For example, if Julie's heart is racing and her breathing is shallow, her brain might quickly look around her environment to figure out why. When her brain realizes that her crush is right next to her it says, 'Oh, I get it! I'm feeling attraction.' On the other hand, if her brain notices that Julie's heart is racing and her breathing is shallow and then it sees that she's in a dark alleyway, it might say, 'I'm feeling scared!' In the James-Lange theory, things happen very quickly, sometimes in only a few seconds. Julie isn't aware of her brain scanning her environment. To her, it feels like she is just experiencing the emotion.

But not everyone agrees that's how emotions develop. Some psychologists prefer the Cannon-Bard theory of emotion, which says that the thalamus in the brain sends signals to the body and the cerebral cortex of the brain simultaneously. The signal to the body induces the physiological state of an emotion, while the cerebral cortex labels the emotion cognitively. Thus, according to this theory, Julie's heart starts racing at the same exact time that her mind thinks, 'Gee, that boy is cute.'

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