Copyright – Shishir Subba


In the process of explaining behaviour psychologists have to answer the question of “Why do human beings behave as they do?” The study of motivation is necessary because it explains the “why” of behaviour. The term motivation literally means to move or to energize or to activate. In this sense, anything that is responsible for internal or external activity may be called motivation. But unlike the straightforward term, the motivation is extremely complex, difficult to understand, interpret, predict and control. Modern psychologist thinks that single drive and motive alone does not govern behaviour of individual. Interaction of various drives and motives are responsible for the particular behaviour. Further, the behaviour is not easy to explain since socio-cultural context always influence the behaviour. Thus, while explaining ‘why’ of behaviour psychologists have to understand the socio-cultural context and setting to understand the person’s behaviour.

Motivation is a state of the organism in which the bodily energy is mobilized and the activity is selectively directed toward particular parts of the environment. Such behaviour generally continues until the goal is achieved. The level of activation during the motivated state is determined by the intensity and consistency of the behaviour. Some of the definitions of motivation is as follow:

  • By a motive we mean something that incites the organism to action or that sustains and gives direction to action once the organism has been aroused – Hilgard and Atkinson.
  • The psychology of motivation deals with the variables that activate and direct behaviour –Kendler.
  • A motive is any particular internal factor or condition that tends to initiate and to sustain activity – Guilford J.P. General Psy (1956).
  • A Motivation may be defined more formally as a phyusiological internal process initiated by some need which leads to activity or which will satisfy that need – Lovell.
  • Motivation is the process of arousing, sustaining, and regulating activity. Good.
  • Motivation refers to any inner condition of the individual that initiates or directs behaviour toward a special goal. Coleman.

Important characteristic of motives is that we never observe them directly; we infer their existence form what people say, the way they feel, and from observation. There is no need to be conscious, or aware, of our motives. The behaviour can be driven by unconscious motivation. If inferences are correct the motive is a powerful tool in explaining behaviour. Most of the everyday explanations of behaviours are given in terms of motives. One who understands motives behind particular behaviour usually understands the people as clinical psychologists do. Motives also help us make predictions about behaviour. If inferences are correct then predictions about the person can be made. Motive may not tell us what exactly happens but they give us an idea about the range of things a person will do. Motives are, thus, general states that enable psychologists to make predictions about behaviour in many different situations.

Motivation is considered as a physiological (internal) process that is initiated by some need and leads to activity to satisfy that need. Thus, it determines its level of activation, intensity, and consistency as well as general direction of behaviour. It can be said that psychology of motivation deals with the variables that activate and direct behaviour. The individual is energized due to physical deprivation within the body (e.g., hunger). The need due to physical deprivation arouses and energizes the individual. This energized condition is called drive. Drive is energy or fuel that makes activity possible. In fulfillment of this deprivation individual seeks certain goal (e.g., food). When goal is set individual acts in a particular way. Since this activity is directed to achieve a definite goal and influenced by past experiences it is termed as behaviour. Thus, motivation is considered as goal directed behaviour. Good has defined motivation as the process of arousing, sustaining, and regulating activity. It is also defined it as a state of the organism in which the bodily energy is mobilized and selectively directed towards the parts of the environment. Motivation, thus, is an internal condition of the organism that initiates and sustains activity. The activity is selective and always directed to a particular goal. The activity is possible because the need creates drive. The drive is an energized condition of the individual that continues until goal is achieved. It is evident from the above descriptions that when we use a term motivation, it basically involves need, drive and incentive. The behaviour moves in sequence known as motivational cycle or sequence.

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