Motivation Essay Research Paper INTRODUCTIONThe science of

Motivation Essay, Research Paper


The science of motivation is the study of what makes human beings do what they do. Psychologists are interested in finding out what motivates people to do certain things so that they are able to understand and predict and hence, try to control or prevent forms of undesirable behaviour.

Motivation refers to an internal process that serves to activate, guide and maintain our behaviour over time (Baron, 1998, p. 382). The scientific study of motivation deals with past events (antecedent conditions) and with anticipated outcomes (goals). (Ferguson, 2000, p. 1).

Motivation seems to be a basic necessity to everything we as humans see that we have to do. Motivation is what enables us to keep working at certain aspects of our life, to stop once we have started, to be continually interested in what is going on around us and why we are often confused by what we have undertaken in the past. By studying motivation, we learn what gives our behaviour its purpose, direction and sustainability. (Bond & McConkey, 2001, p. 6.3).

Before there was the concept of motivation however, psychologists tended to use the term instinct theory . (William James, 1890). Instead of explaining behaviour with reference to motivation, psychologists attempted to explain behaviour in terms of innate patterns of behaviour that are universal in species, independent of experience, and elicited by specific stimuli or conditions . (Baron, 1998, p. 383). Sigmund Freud was one psychologist who suggested that many forms of complex behaviour, varying from aggression to hunger to love, originated from biologically determined instincts. The main problem with this approach is that instincts can only be inferred from behaviour and that the so-called instincts are not automatically elicited even with the relevant stimuli. As acknowledgment to this basic flaw in the instinct theory amplified, support for the theory wavered and was replaced by more substantial theories of motivation.

Psychologists can now use biological and psychological theories of motivation to attempt to determine the drive behind the human instinct. There are several important forms of motivation that include areas such as sexual motivation, aggressive motivation and also hunger and thirst (focusing in this case, on eating disorders).


A theory of motivation proposed by Abraham Maslow (1970), describes psychological needs such as those for food and water, oxygen and sleep. Maslow refers to these needs as deficiency needs which are essential and must be fulfilled before higher levels of motivation can emerge. These higher levels include esteem needs; self-esteem, the esteem of others and success, and self-actualisation needs (the need to achieve one s full potential). As Baron (1998, p. 387) notes, some results suggest that growth needs do come into play but only after people have satisfied lower-level needs (Betz, 1982). However, subsequent studies have suggested that the needs are not always hierarchical and for this reason, Maslow s theory should be viewed mainly as an interesting framework for understanding motivation.


As mentioned above, drives replaced the instinct theory in the concept of motivation. (Freud, 1915 & Hull, 1943). It was Freud s view that we are born with basic biologically based needs, which routinely require satisfaction. (Bond & McConkey, 2001, p. 6.5). The fact that human beings need to eat is the most appropriate point to start discussing the details of motivation as it is variously described as a need, a drive and a motive. Drive theory states that unpleasant sensations, such as hunger and thirst, lead to the urge to do things to relieve them and to re-establish homeostasis (a resting state). These needs push us towards certain behaviours. Drive theory was originally a theory concerning biological needs but it has since been developed to include the need for achievement, power and stable social relationships. However, it has also been thought that humans often behave in ways that allow them to increase their level of discomfort, rather than reduce it. This is apparent in the case of anorexia nervosa patients where an individual will stop eating in order to lose weight or deliberately expose himself or herself to physical discomfort.


The set-point theory is one that allows us to explain long-term weight stability. It was thought that the body has a mechanism that sets the weight of an individual and divergence from that point initiates behaviour that leads to the required weight change either by modulating food intake or by altering energy utilisation and expenditure (Keesey & Powley, 1986) (Ferguson, 2000. p. 142). Nowadays, researchers have focused on identifying the factors that determine this weight and the motivation behind becoming what an individual sees as an ideal figure . Keesey & Powley, 1986 and Stunkard, 1982, argue that only with severe changes in eating patterns or with drugs and hormone changes will a new set point be reached. (Ferguson, 2000, p. 160). Most people eat to maintain a specific body weight and to be healthy whereas with anorexia nervosa patients, the individual interferes with this set-point to become what they perceive to be their ideal.


The experience of hunger is the result of being deprived of food, which consequently leads to seeking and consuming food. (Bond & McConkey, 2001, p. 6.6). From personal experience, we know that our hunger needs vary from time to time and we tend to feel hungrier before eating a meal than after. Hunger depends on changes in physical state and body metabolism and also on external control such as being prompted to eat our favourite food, even if we have just eaten. There has been a biological explanation for the need to eat. The function of the hypothalamus

The need to eat is a basic motivation. Being either overweight or underweight entail obvious health hazards. A number of factors contribute to changing body shape including racial and individual differences and in set point, sociocultural factors are also involved. In normal cases, our bodies are capable of regulating body weight at a fairly stable level. However, those suffering from anorexia nervosa refuse to maintain body weight at or above a minimal normal level, hence they literally starve themselves, sometimes until their weight drops to dangerously low levels. These people have a disordered perception of their body being much fatter than it actually is.

There are a number of motivational factors that attribute to a person s fluctuating body weight. The effects of learning are involved as people acquire different eating habits throughout their lives. They learn to associate the act of eating with many different situations. The desire to eat can be classically conditioned; cues associated with eating when we are hungry can be acquired to a capacity which prompts eating when we are not hungry. (Baron, 1998, p. 389). Other factors include genetic inheritance such as metabolism rate and also stress aspects including how well an individual reacts to stress (e.g. during an exam period).


Consummatory responses of eating can occur without hunger motivation. Hunger is a primary motivation that helps keep the organism alive. For hunger and eating, specific brain and peripheral sites are crucial. Previously held assumptions about simple hunger centres controlling eating onset and offset are no longer acceptable. It is also about an individual being motivated to become what he or she perceives to be an ideal . There is the belief that the body has a simple set-point theory for weight, to which short-term eating behaviour adjusts. Those with eating disorders such as anorexia nervosa have been compared on a number of variables such as responsiveness to food cues, food consumption and personality characteristics. (Ferguson, 2000, p. 181).

The study of motivation is one of ongoing interest to psychologists as they are not only interested in studying motivational behaviour but to understand and prevent aspects of undesirable acts such as eating disorders. The perception of the theories of motivation, such as the drive and set-point theories, provide a way in which psychologists can develop appropriate interventions to cease unacceptable acts.


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