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Understanding the Driving Forces behind Human Behavior

Updated: Mar 11

Motivation is a fascinating topic for those interested in human behavior. Whether it's the reason for a person's actions or the driving force behind their emotions, motivation plays a vital role in our lives. In this series of articles, we'll explore the various definitions and theories surrounding motivation and emotion.

Motivation refers to the internal state that activates and directs our thoughts, feelings, and behavior. It's what pushes us to pursue our goals, whether they're physiological or psychological. For example, hunger is a motive based on internal physiological states, while the motive to succeed is not.

External cues also play a crucial role in activating motives. These cues can be anything from an ad on television to hearing someone express their worry. They stimulate our motives and drive us to act.

Emotion, on the other hand, refers to positive or negative feelings that are accompanied by physiological arousal and characteristic behavior. Fear, for example, is an emotion that shows in our behavior and is accompanied by physiological arousal. Passion, in contrast, is a complex emotion that can be a mixture of various feelings, biological changes, and behavior.

Motivation and emotion are closely linked concepts because motives are often accompanied by emotions, and emotions can have motivational properties of their own. For example, the motive to perform well on a test can be accompanied by anxiety, while sexual motivation is generally blended with the emotions of passion and love. By understanding the various definitions and theories surrounding them, we can gain insight into human behavior and how we can use motivation to achieve our goals. Primary Motives: Biological Needs

We are all born with certain biological needs that motivate us to survive and thrive. Hunger, thirst, and the need for sleep are just a few examples of primary motives that are hardwired into our DNA. When these needs are not met, we feel an intense drive to satisfy them, which is why hunger pangs or thirst can be so distracting. The body is constantly sending signals to the brain, telling us what it needs, and we respond by seeking out food, water, and rest. These primary motives are essential to our survival, and they play a crucial role in our overall health and well-being, but we will concentrate in this article on Psychological motives.

Psychological Motives

In addition to our biological needs, we also have psychological motives that drive our behavior. These motives are more complex and less well-understood than our basic biological needs, but they are no less important. Psychological motives can be divided into two categories: intrinsic and extrinsic. Intrinsic motives are those that come from within, such as the desire to learn, explore, or create. Extrinsic motives, on the other hand, are those that come from external factors, such as the desire for recognition, approval, or financial gain. Understanding these psychological motives can help us better understand why we do the things we do, and can even help us make positive changes in our lives.

One theory related to psychological motives is the Optimal Arousal Theory, which suggests that we are motivated to seek out a certain level of arousal or stimulation. According to this theory, we are motivated to maintain an optimal level of arousal that is not too high or too low, and this level can vary based on the individual and the situation.

Another theory related to motivation and performance is the Yerkes-Dodson Law, which states that there is a relationship between arousal and performance. The law suggests that performance is optimal at a moderate level of arousal, with too little or too much arousal leading to decreased performance.

Affiliation motivation is another type of psychological motive that refers to our desire to form relationships and connections with others. This motive can drive our behavior in social situations, such as seeking out friendships or romantic relationships.

Achievement motivation, on the other hand, is the desire to accomplish goals and succeed in specific areas. This motive can drive us to work hard and strive for excellence in academic, career, or personal pursuits.

Solomon's Opponent-Process Theory of Acquired Motives is a theory that suggests that we can acquire certain motives through repeated exposure to a specific situation or activity. Over time, these motives can become ingrained and automatic, leading to strong feelings of motivation or even addiction.

Sexual Motivation and Sexuality

Sexual motivation is another important aspect of human behavior. Sexual desire is a powerful force that can drive us to seek out intimate relationships and engage in sexual activity. Our sexuality is shaped by a combination of biological, psychological, and cultural factors, and it can be influenced by a wide range of experiences and emotions. While sexuality can be a source of pleasure and connection, it can also be a source of conflict and confusion. Sexual motivation may share some similarities with other primary motives, but there are critical differences that set it apart. Firstly, satisfying hunger, thirst, and the need for warmth is essential for individual and collective survival. On the other hand, while fulfilling sexual desires is critical for the survival of a species, it's not necessary for individual survival.

Secondly, unlike other primary motives, sexual motivation involves both increasing and decreasing arousal. We're driven to initiate arousal through sexual behaviors, but we also strive to reduce it through sexual activity. The Sexual Response Cycle is a model developed by Masters and Johnson that describes the physiological and psychological processes that occur during sexual arousal and orgasm. The cycle consists of four stages: excitement, plateau, orgasm, and resolution. During the excitement stage, there is an increase in physiological arousals, such as increased heart rate and blood flow to the genitals. In the plateau stage, arousal levels continue to increase and become more intense. During orgasm, there is a release of tension and intense pleasure. Finally, during the resolution stage, the body returns to its normal state.

Hormones and other biological factors play an important role in sexual behavior. For example, testosterone is a hormone that is associated with sexual desire and aggression, while estrogen and progesterone play important roles in female reproductive health and sexual behavior. Additionally, neurotransmitters such as dopamine and oxytocin are involved in sexual arousal and bonding. While the other primary motives rise and fall predictably with deprivation, sexual motivation is less linked to deprivation. Even though a person may experience an increase in sexual interest after a prolonged period without sex, humans are susceptible to sexually arousing stimuli at almost all times.

Unlike other primary motives that lead to behavior increasing the body's store of energy and other bodily needs, sexual behavior results in the use of stored energy.

Sexual motivation is unique and complex, and understanding its differences from other primary motives can shed light on the complexity of human behavior. Patterns of sexual behavior can vary widely across cultures and individuals. Some people may engage in monogamous relationships, while others may prefer open or polyamorous relationships. Some individuals may identify as heterosexual, while others may identify as gay, lesbian, or bisexual. Sexual behavior can also be influenced by factors such as age, gender, and social norms.

Sexual orientation is a complex and multifaceted aspect of human sexuality. It refers to an individual's emotional, romantic, and sexual attraction to others. While some people may experience exclusively heterosexual or homosexual attractions, others may experience attractions to both sexes or may identify as asexual, meaning they do not experience sexual attraction. Sexual orientation is believed to be influenced by a combination of biological, psychological, and social factors.

Understanding sexual motivation and behavior can help individuals better understand themselves and their relationships, and can also inform research and policy related to sexual health and education.

Theories of Motivation

There are several theories of motivation that have been developed by psychologists over the years. One of the earliest and most well-known is Maslow's Hierarchy of Needs, Maslow's Hierarchy of Needs is a motivational theory that proposes that human beings have five levels of needs that must be fulfilled before they can move up to higher levels of motivation. The five levels are physiological, safety, love/belonging, esteem, and self-actualization. Each level is a prerequisite for the next one, and once a need is fulfilled, it no longer serves as a motivator.

  • Physiological needs: These are the most basic needs and include things like food, water, shelter, and sleep. Without these needs being met, a person cannot function properly, and they become the most pressing motivator.

  • Safety needs: Once physiological needs are met, individuals seek safety and security. This can come in the form of job security, financial stability, and physical safety. Examples of this need include looking for a stable job, purchasing insurance, or avoiding risky situations.

  • Love/belonging needs: This level of need is focused on social interaction and relationships. Humans are social creatures and crave a sense of belonging and connection with others. Examples of this need include forming close friendships, joining social clubs, and finding a romantic partner.

  • Esteem needs: This level of need refers to the desire for recognition and respect from others. People want to be valued and appreciated, both by themselves and others. Examples of this need include receiving praise for good work, earning promotions, and achieving personal goals.

  • Self-actualization needs: This is the highest level of need and involves fulfilling one's potential and achieving personal growth. This level is often associated with creativity, spirituality, and personal development. Examples of this need include pursuing hobbies, seeking knowledge and education, and working on personal goals that fulfill one's passions and interests.

Overall, Maslow's Hierarchy of Needs suggests that as basic needs are met, individuals are motivated to achieve higher-level needs, and as these needs are met, they are increasingly driven to pursue self-actualization. There are various theories of motivation that try to explain why people behave the way they do. One such theory is the Drive Reduction Theory, which proposes that individuals are driven by a need to reduce tension and maintain homeostasis. The concept of homeostasis refers to the body's tendency to maintain internal balance by regulating physiological processes like hunger, thirst, and body temperature. When these needs aren't met, they create a state of tension or arousal, which motivates individuals to take action to reduce this tension. For example, if you're hungry, your body experiences tension, which motivates you to seek food to reduce the tension and maintain homeostasis.

Another popular theory of motivation is the Self-Determination Theory, which posits that individuals are motivated by the need for autonomy, relatedness, and competence. Autonomy refers to the need for individuals to feel in control of their lives and make their own decisions. Relatedness pertains to the need for social connections and relationships, while competence refers to the need to feel capable and effective in one's actions. For example, an employee who feels in control of their work has good relationships with colleagues, and feels capable of completing tasks is likely to be more motivated to perform well.

The Expectancy Theory is yet another theory of motivation that focuses on the importance of expectancy and value. This theory proposes that individuals are motivated by their beliefs about their ability to perform a task and the value they place on the outcomes of that task. For example, if an employee believes that they can complete a task successfully and they value the rewards associated with completing that task, they're likely to be more motivated to complete it.

Do Emotions Affect Motives?

Emotions can play a significant role in motivation. For example, fear can motivate us to avoid danger, while excitement can motivate us to pursue new opportunities. Positive emotions such as happiness and contentment can also motivate us to continue engaging in behaviors that bring us pleasure and satisfaction. On the other hand, negative emotions such as anxiety and depression can dampen our motivation and make it harder for us to engage in positive behaviors. Understanding the ways in which emotions and motives are intertwined can help us better manage our emotions and achieve our goals, that is why our next article will be about emotions. so let's move to the next step and talk about emotions in Theories of Emotion and Aggression: Understanding the Role of Learning and Culture Sources:

Lahey, B. B. (2018). Psychology: An Introduction (Seventh Edition). McGraw-Hill Education.

Wood, S. E. (2016). Mastering the World of Psychology (Fifth Edition). Pearson.

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