Motivation theory - American businessMotivation describes a state of being in which an individual experiences the energy and desire to pursue a specific goal. Motivation theory includes different explanations for how motivation helps propel and direct people’s behavior and addresses possible reasons for why people try to achieve goals. The explanations of motivation range from physiological states in the human body, such as hunger or thirst, to cultural and social interactions with other individuals, such as the needs for approval, recognition, or respect from others.
Drive-reduction theory suggests that motivation results from a state of tension that occurs in the body when a particular need is not met. For example, hunger would suggest a need to eat, which would create a state of tension in the body, motivating the person to seek out food. Once the behavior is performed, it should reduce the drive, or the need to eat. Although such a theory is useful for explaining many behaviors, such as why people may take a break from work in order to eat, it cannot explain why people sometimes eat when they are not hungry.
Arousal theory suggests that there is a certain level of arousal—a state of tension, energy, or excitement—that people seek to maintain. Thus people may be motivated to engage in certain behaviors in order to change their level of arousal. The theory suggests that people perform their best when they experience a moderate level of arousal. Indeed, there seems to be an optimal level of arousal, below which people do not perform well because they may be disengaged from the task and above which people are too aroused to perform well. If an individual is bored or otherwise not intellectually stimulated, he or she may try to seek arousal by engaging in exciting or fun activities. However, too much arousal can be aversive and may hinder performance or motivate the individual to leave a situation in order to decrease the high level of tension. Ideally employees experience a moderate level of arousal in their jobs, such that they are neither bored nor experiencing very high levels of stress.
Some motivation theories focus less on such bodily states as drive-reduction and arousal and instead incorporate dynamic social factors. For example, incentive theory suggests that external motivators, or incentives, help increase an individual’s interest in performing a particular behavior. Incentives can include a variety of desirable rewards, such as money, recognition, status, or acceptance, and are often used in the workplace to motivate employees to perform tasks relevant to their jobs and the company’s goals. Many incentives are related to social factors or relationships with other individuals, as opposed to biological drives or arousal.
In order to understand the relationships among both biological and social needs, psychologist Abraham Maslow proposed a hierarchy of human needs that incorporated multiple levels. At the bottom of the hierarchy, representing the most basic human needs, are physiological needs, such as those for food and water. Maslow suggested that when an individual has met the lowest-level needs, then he or she may focus on safety needs, such as the needs for shelter and security. Above safety needs, Maslow proposed needs for belonging and love, suggesting that once the lower levels are met, an individual can focus on social relationships. Esteem needs, or the needs for self-respect and being valued by others, represent the next-higher level, and the top of the hierarchy represents the need for selfactualization, or the ultimate state of self-knowledge and development. Maslow suggested that when lower-levels needs were satisfied, people would be motivated to seek the higher needs, although he acknowledged that not all people would reach self-actualization.
As useful as Maslow’s hierarchy of needs may be in helping people understand and identify what human needs are important, there are some shortcomings. For example, individuals may place different priorities on certain needs, resulting in a different hierarchy. Individuals who put esteem needs before love and belonging needs may sacrifice the quality of their family relationships in exchange for their work. Additionally, homeless people, who may struggle each day with their basic needs for food and shelter, still may desire to be loved and have friends.
There are many different theories of motivation, no one of which can adequately explain all of human behavior. However, taken together, each theory contributes an important part to our overall understanding of the reasons why people are motivated to pursue certain goals.
See also achievement motivation; employee motivation; process theories; Theory X and Theory Y; two-factor theory of motivation.