Theories of Motivation: Instinct, Drive Reduction & Arousal

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  • 1:07 Instinct Theory
  • 1:25 Life and Death Instincts
  • 1:52 Drive Reduction Theory
  • 3:17 Arousal Theory
  • 3:57 External Incentives
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Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Jessica Balik
Motivation is a word we've all heard: whether we're asked if we're feeling motivated or, even, what our motivations are. Where does the desire to do something come from? This lesson presents and explains three of the main theories on motivation.

Do you know what it means to be 'motivated'? Probably, you do. Motivation is just the desire to do something; it is an impulse that inspires some action. But, how about this: do you know the source of motivation? Probably you've experienced plenty of times when you wished you knew the answer to this question, so that you could find the drive to do something that you didn't want to do, such as studying for a test. Furthermore, you probably already realize that there need not be any single correct answer to the question of what causes motivation. In fact, over the course of history, psychologists have proposed various theories about its origins. This segment mentions three such theories.

The first is Instinct Theory. Instincts are unlearned actions that exist consistently throughout a species. We've probably all seen or experienced a doctor striking a patient's knee with a soft rubber mallet to make sure it jerks the leg in response.

Our knee-jerk reaction is an instinct; it's something that humans consistently do, even though none of us individually had to learn to do it.

As you probably suspect, Instinct Theory is the idea that motivation results from biological hard-wiring, or instincts.

Now, that's a general theory. Numerous psychologists have theorized more specifically about how instincts motivate us. For example, Sigmund Freud (1856-1939) theorized about two very broad instincts: a life instinct, called Eros, and a death instinct, called Thanatos. William James, by contrast, theorized about a whole host of human instincts.

Irrespective of how many instincts we might have, do you believe that instincts alone motivate all our behaviors? If you don't, you're not alone. Another general theory about the underpinnings of motivation has been called Drive Reduction Theory. According to this theory, physiological needs create aroused states (drives) that motivate us to reduce the needs. For example, if your water levels are low, your thirst, or drive to drink, will be aroused. Drinking some water will lower your thirst, and reduce your need for water. The idea is that lowering these drives when they are aroused helps to maintain homeostasis, or the tendency to aim toward a constant internal state. There are hormones involved with regulating thirst particularly and homeostasis generally. For thirst, the hormones include angiotensin, produced by the kidneys, as well as the antidiuretic hormone, which the pituitary gland produces.

But certainly not all our motivations are based on reducing drives. After all, sometimes we are motivated to increase tension or arousal. For example, I like to ride roller coasters, but that doesn't necessarily decrease any drive that I have. To the contrary, in fact, it arouses my fear responses.

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