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The Psychology of Motivation

2 Min Read

Why we do what we do.

When you’re hungry, you eat. When you’re tired, you sleep. When you want a good grade, you study. But what motivates you to get from point A to point B? In other words, why do we do anything?


In its most basic sense, motivation is the need or desire to do something. 1 Understanding what motivation is defined as is completely different – and much simpler – than understand what causes motivation.

There are several perspectives used when examining the root cause for motivation, and when taken together, they help us understand what drives us. Here are just a few of them:

  1. Drive-Reduction Perspective: Motivation arises as a result of biological needs. You are compelled to reduce a need in order to maintain our bodies’ homeostasis – the balance of physiological systems. 2

Example: A rumbling stomach signals the body that you’re hungry, and the need to maintain balance motivates you to eat.

  1. Optimal Arousal Perspective: We’re motivated to maintain a balance between stimulation and relaxation so as to avoid boredom and stress. 2

Example: Adrenaline junkies love to skydive, but tamer individuals prefer a trip to the movies.

  1. Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs Perspective: The hierarchy is a five-tier model of human needs that is often illustrated as a pyramid. Needs lower on the pyramid – the most basic – must be satisfied before you can advance to the next level. Most psychologists recognize you can move around the pyramid pretty fluidly, but the concept of needing to meet basic needs before attaining higher-level goals is widely accepted. 3

Intrinsic vs. Extrinsic

It’s important to note the difference between internal motivating factors and external ones, which can encourage or discourage behavior.

Extrinsic (external) motivation comes from your expectation of punishment or reward. 1

  • Competing in sports to win trophies.
  • Completing chores to earn an allowance.
  • Getting home by curfew to avoid being grounded.

Intrinsic (internal) motivation comes from you finding pleasure in the activity itself. 1

  • Learning a new language because it’s fulfilling.
  • Painting a picture because it’s relaxing.
  • Running in order to get a runner’s high.

Looking for more information? Whether you want to pursue a specific career in psychology or you simply love learning about human behavior, you can earn your degree online at Concordia, St. Paul. Visit today!


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