Theories of Motivation, Instinct, Drive Reduction & Arousal

Caroline Ntara, Douglas Hancox
  • Author
    Caroline Ntara

    Caroline Ntara has over 10 years of experience teaching Economics and Business courses at high school, college and university levels. She is finalizing a Doctorate in International Trade and Business at Monarch Business School Switzerland. She has an MBA in International Business and a bachelor's degree in Economics. Her certifications include CPA and TEFL/TESOL.

  • Instructor
    Douglas Hancox

    Doug has been doing video editing since 2002 and makes short films in his spare time.

Learn about the theories of motivation in psychology, including instinct, arousal, and drive motivation. Discover the ways in which these theories explain behavior. Updated: 12/02/2021

Table of Contents


Theories of Motivation

The fundamental theories of motivation provide an understanding of what makes individuals work towards a specific goal. These motivations can manifest in activities that an individual carries out. Motivation can be intrinsic or extrinsic. Intrinsic motivation refers to a person doing something because they want to do it without having any external influence. An example would be going for swimming because a person has interest in the sport and enjoys it. In this case, the person has not been influenced by any external factor to go and enjoy swimming. Extrinsic motivation is the opposite of intrinsic motivation and refers to a situation where individuals do things because of external influence. An example of extrinsic motivation would be a person who goes to work and gets paid to do a job. They may not like the job but because they need to pay their bills they are motivated by the money they receive at the end of every month.

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  • 0:00 Motivation & Instinct Theory
  • 1:18 Life and Death Instincts
  • 1:43 Drive Reduction Theory
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Arousal Theory of Motivation

This arousal motivation theory indicates that people act in a way to maintain their optimal level of psychological arousal. This level depends on the individual. Some people may seek to conduct activities that stimulate and excite them, while others may require low levels of arousal and seek out relaxing activities. This theory, famously known as the James-Lange theory of emotion, was proposed in 1884 and 1885 by researchers William James and Carl Lange. The two researchers developed the theory under the premise that emotions are a result of the provocation of physiological arousal.

The arousal theory of motivation establishes that individuals have an arousal level fit for them. Therefore, people seek out stimulation when these levels drop below their optimal level, and seek soothing or relaxing activities when their arousal level is too high.

Arousal Theory Example

A bored, rich person can do anything to stimulate themselves. This individual can plan a skydiving event that will raise their adrenaline levels, thus leaving them feeling stimulated. However, if the stimulation is too high and surpasses the individual's expectation, they can consider a relaxing activity like napping or listening to calm music. This example indicates that stimulation levels can exceed one's expectations, and they need to be reduced to the optimal levels of an individual.

A bored person can go skydiving to stimulate themselves.


Instinct Motivation

Instincts refer to the innate patterns of behavior that are not experienced or learned. Instincts are in most living organisms, and they drive them to survive and deal with life issues. The instinct theory suggests that these innate inclinations are the cause of different human behaviors and make individuals survive. This theory suggests that different behaviors in humans are due to an internal force that propels them to achieve a specific objective. It then follows that instinct theory establishes that innate aspects influence behaviors in human beings.

Unlike arousal theory, which posits that individuals each have an optimal level of arousal and seek stimulation or relaxation to reach that level, instinct theory suggests that all organisms, including human beings, have natural biological characteristics to make themselves survive. Arousal theory is governed by the optimal psychological levels of individuals, while the instinct theory is propagated by innate biological inclinations.

Instinct Theory Example

The instinct theory in humans includes the need to care for young ones. When a person finds a child in distress, their immediate action is to assist the child. This objective is not dependent on a person's upbringing, and it is generic in almost all human beings. It is distressing to hear that children are suffering since every person has that innate natural care for young ones.

There is an innate instinct to care for young ones

Parents and child

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Frequently Asked Questions

Who made the arousal theory of motivation?

This arousal theory of motivation, also known as the James-Lange theory of emotion, was proposed by William James and Carl Lange in 1884 and 1885. The two researchers developed the arousal theory, noting that emotions are a result of the stimulation of physiological arousal.

What are the 3 theories of motivation?

The three theories of motivation are as follows:

1. Arousal theory of motivation

2. Instinct theory of motivation

3. Drive theory of motivation

What is a drive in motivation?

Drive can be defined as the increase in arousal and a person's internal motivation to achieve a certain goal or purpose. For instance, when an individual is thirsty, they will feel motivated to reduce the drive by drinking water.

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