Motivation-Concepts and Components

Notes for 1.1. Concepts and Components of Motivation.

What is Motivation?

Definition of Motivation

Motivation is the process by which behaviour is activated and directed toward some definable goal. (Kleinginna & Kleinginna)


  1. Motives are Inferences- Motives cannot be observed directly. We can only infer their existence by observing the overt behaviour of people.
  2. Motives can be Unconscious- We need not be aware of our motives. Others may infer about our ‘unconscious-motives’ from our behaviour.
  3. Motives help in Explaining Behavior- If inferences about behaviour are correct, we can explain WHY a particular individual behaved, thought, felt the way he/ she did.
  4. Motives can help Predict Behavior- Once we can make correct inferences about motives from a sample of behaviour, we can even make predictions of what behaviours may occur in future.
  5. Different Motives may lead to Similar Actions- The same motive may not underlie the observable behaviour of two individuals. Their acts may be the results of completely different, or even opposite motives.
  6. Human Motivation is not merely determined by Biology – Especially in human beings and in many higher-order organisms, social, cognitive, etc. factors play an important role in motivation along with biological aspects.


Levels of Motivation

Motivation explains why people think, feel and behave in a particular way. It involves activation, directing and sustenance of behaviour. There is a hierarchy of motivational systems, with the phylogenetically older control systems at the base and the newer ones at the higher levels. While the lower systems are biologically based, there is a significant role played by learning in the higher ones. The highest level of these biologically-based motivational systems is characterized by the internal representation of the internal and external environment, based on the individual’s experience.

  1. Reflexes

Reflexes are the most basic motivational systems.

Def. – Reflexes are the most fixed, unlearned, and automatic unconditioned responses that are released by highly specific internal and external stimuli.

e.g. gag reflex, knee-jerk reflex, blinking reflex.

Their primary function is that of restoring equilibrium if homeostatic imbalances occur.

  1. Instincts

Definition – Instincts are tendencies to perform relatively specific sequences of behavior that, like reflexes, are largely innate or fixed by inheritance, but that, unlike reflexes, usually accomplish an overt action in the external environment.

They are generally released by events in the external environment. These sequences of behavior are specific to a given species. They are highly complex, yet highly stereotypical. Instincts are different from drives in that the sequence of behaviors is largely fixed or stereotyped in instincts. In behaviors governed by drives, the organism has a wider scope for flexibility to alter its response to the changing environmental factors. Whereas in instincts, organism behavior is largely inflexible.

  1. Drives

Definition – Drives are internal bodily disturbances resulting from natural tissue needs.

These needs include needs for air, water, food, sex, sleep, temperature regulation, pain avoidance etc. Drives do not reflect the mere satisfaction of the need through a sequence of actions within a supportive environmental condition. The organism must alter or adapt its behavior to the nature of the external environment. When a particular chain of behaviors helps the organisms to satisfy the basic tissue-needs, it gets reinforced. Over a period of time, the organism acquires a sequence of behaviors that help it to satisfy the drives, which helps it to adapt its behavior to the conditions prevalent in the external environment.

Acquired/ Secondary Drives

When initially neutral stimuli in the environment associated with a primary drive themselves acquire a tendency to evoke drive states, they are called acquired/ secondary drives.

e.g. A neutral stimulus associated with pain (primary drive) may lead to fear (acquired drive).

It takes place when the organism learns about the conditions associated with the drive, the environment, and the value of the goal itself.

  1. Affect

Definition – Affects are motivational systems that are associated with ‘emotion’, i.e. with expressive behavior and subjective experience.

In mammals, the nurturance period is extended. This led to the development of the limbic system and affects.

Primary Affects: The primary affects are associated with the old mammalian brain systems and probably resulted from the evolution of social behaviors necessary for mammals.   According to Ekman, the primary affects are happiness, sadness, fear, anger, surprise, disgust and contempt. Izard includes interest and joy in his list of primary affects. According to this approach of ‘types’ of affects, these affects differ qualitatively from each other.

Other theorists believe that affects vary along quantitative dimensions. (e.g. pleasant – unpleasant, strong – weak)

Social Affects: These are affects that are universal within complex social organizations of some mammals.

These social affects are useful to social mammals because they probably help them –

          a.) reflect general tendency to be attached

          b.) reflect general tendency to co-operate

          c.) meet expectations of the group members

          d.) counter intra-group conflicts

          e.) communicate feelings of pride, guilt, shame, embarrassment, etc.


Such social affects facilitate moral judgments and behaviors and help maintain conformity and obedience within the complex social groups.

Affects, like reflexes, instincts and drives are innate systems in the brain. However, affects do not serve highly specific functions. The capacity to experience the affects is innate and unlearned, and various affects are associated with universal expressive displays (facial expressions, gestures, postures, etc.) However, the circumstances under which affects are experienced, and the ways in which they are expressed depend upon learning.

  1. Effectance Motivation

White argued that instincts and drives cannot adequately explain the tendency of organisms to explore, seek stimulation, and manipulate the environment around them. He proposed that there is an intrinsic need, for effectively dealing with the environment. He termed it effectance-motivation. Its goal is to make the organism more competent in interacting with the environment. During development, individuals process, manipulate and integrate information that help them to create internal representations of the internal and external environment.

The ‘Primes’

Reflexes, instincts, drives, affects, and effectance motivation are usually referred to as biologically based systems. Collectively, they are called primary motivational-emotional systems, or ‘primes’. They are special-purpose control systems that are a result of evolution.

  1. Language

The motivational system that distinguishes human beings from other animals most prominently is the linguistic system that helps us develop and maintain the various language-related aspects of the cognitive system.  Human beings have the need to understand and maintain cognitive consistency, that are reflected in our capacity of logical reasoning. Language is the tool that helps us to develop social rules, store, manipulate, use, and share information collected through experience.



Imprinting refers to learning that is innately programmed, in which the organism possesses a specific learning capacity for only a specific period of time called the “critical-period”. If learning does not occur during the sensitive critical-period, it may not occur at all.