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Motivation


Brain Activations

The study of motivation in psychology revolves around providing the best possible answers to two fundamental questions: what causes behaviour, and why does behaviour vary in its intensity? Motivational science is a behavioural science that seeks to construct theories about what constitutes human motivation and how motivational processes work. Motivation, when seen in the real world, and when measured by science, becomes visible and detectable through behaviour, level of engagement, neural activation, and psychophysiology. Some would also include self-report in this list, but studies show that self-reports have proven to be highly unreliable sources of information (Reeve, 2018).

Just like changes in behaviour, engagement, and psychophysiology, brain activations mark the rise and fall and maintenance of motivational states. A different pattern of neural activity is present with each motivation and emotion. For example, the hypothalamus is active when we are thirsty, and when we feel disgusted, there is a rise in insular activity.

Researchers use sophisticated equipment like electroencephalography (EEG) and functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) to observe, detect, monitor, and measure brain-based neural activity.

See our blog post on Motivation Science for more information on the neuroscience of motivation.

Putting all this together to answer the perennial question of what motivation is, but most importantly what it does, we define motivation as rising and falling of needs, cognition, and emotions expressed through patterns of behaviour, levels of engagement and neural and psychophysiological activity directed toward realizing essential life outcomes.

Motivation Model

In a nutshell, motives are internal experiences in the form of needs, cognitions, and emotions and are the direct and proximal causes of motivated action. Social contexts and external events act as antecedents to motives that cause or trigger motivational states. Our motives express themselves through behaviour, engagement, psychophysiology, brain activations, and self-report.

The model below illustrates the framework for how motivational psychologists study the process of motivation and its elements and try to find the answer to the questions about what causes motivation. It also shows why the study of motivation is so relevant to people’s lives and how motivation contributes positively to significant life outcomes like achievement, performance, and wellbeing, to name a few (Reeve, 2018).

There are also implicit needs which are acquired from our environment through socioemotional development. They vary from person to person as our experiences vary, and unlike inborn psychological needs, implicit motives are acquired.

Implicit here means unconscious. These needs occur without conscious awareness and are trait-like and enduring. Implicit needs motivate us toward the pursuit and attainment of specific social incentives (Schultheiss, & Brunstein, 2010).

An implicit motive is a psychological need that arises from situational cues that cause emotional reactions, which then predict, guide, and explain people’s behaviour and lifestyle. They can be inferred from the person’s characteristic thoughts, emotions, and behaviours. What a person “needs” within an implicit motive is to experience a particular pattern of affect or emotion.

For example, if we have little or no need for achievement, we may experience negative affect, such as anxiety, shame, and embarrassment while engaging in that challenging task and will avoid or procrastinate as a result. Implicit motives predict our behaviour far more accurately than do explicit motives, which are basically what we tell others about what motives us (McClelland, Koestner, & Weinberger, 1989).

Our cognitions can also influence our tendency to avoid or procrastinate. Cognitions are mental constructs like goals, mindset, expectations, beliefs, and self-concept, to name a few that influence our motivation. If we have conflicting goals, for example, we may be more likely to avoid or procrastinate.

Change the way you look at things and the things you look at change.

Wayne W. Dyer


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