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Motivation commonly refers to anything that causes people to behave as they do. Most people have a clear sense of what it feels like to be motivated to do something. But scientists have found it difficult to define motivation. When studying motivation, most psychologists and behavioural scientists focus on two specific aspects of motivated behaviour--the arousal of behaviour and the direction of behaviour. 

Arousal of behaviour involves whatever brings an organism to action. Arousal means being "stirred up" or "ready for action." It may result from stimuli inside or outside the body. Inside, or internal, stimuli include the sensation of dryness that produces thirst and the stomach contractions that cause hunger pangs. Outside, or external, stimuli include the heat that causes pain when a person touches a hot stove. 

An aroused organism's response to stimuli depends on habits and other ways of acting that it has learned. Based on such learning, the organism may act either aimlessly or highly purposefully in a particular situation. 

Direction of behaviour is determined by several influences. These influences include an organism's habits, skills, and basic capacities. 

Motives themselves may also direct behaviour. For example, differing motives may direct the behaviour of two football coaches when their teams face much stronger opponents. One coach's behaviour may be motivated by--that is, directed toward--competition or winning. That coach may concentrate on seeking an upset victory. However, the behaviour of the other coach may be motivated by the players' feelings and may focus on keeping the players from being discouraged by the probable loss. 

Physiological conditions can direct behaviour by making organisms sensitive to stimuli from the environment. For example, many types of birds may become sensitive to available mates and also direct their behaviour toward nest building when the birds' hormones reach a certain level. 

Kinds of motives. 

Most behavioural scientists place all motives into one or more of three groups. These groups are (1) homeostatic motives, (2) nonhomeostatic motives, and (3) learned, or social, motives. 

Homeostatic motives include hunger, thirst, respiration, and excretion. They work to keep the body in a balanced internal state. The term homeostasis refers to the body's tendency to maintain such a balanced internal state. Many homeostatic motives are set in motion either by bodily deficits or bodily excesses. When the body needs water, for example, changes occur that cause thirst and motivate the person to seek something to drink. 

Nonhomeostatic motives include sex, such activity as nest building, and curiosity about the environment. These motives are aroused by occasional forces. In the absence of such forces, nonhomeostatic motives may be inactive. In contrast, the needs for food, water, and air--homeostatic motives--have almost continuous influence. 

Learned motives, or social motives, include curiosity, a desire for novelty, and the need for such things as achievement, power, social affiliation, and approval. These motives seem to develop through experience, especially through social experience, such as early experience in the family or with friends during adolescence. Learned motives continue to evolve and influence behaviour throughout life. However, their exact origins are not clear. Some babies have strong needs for social affiliation that may result from conditions during pregnancy and birth as well as, perhaps, other factors. 

The three kinds of motives often overlap. For example, desire for new experiences may be homeostatic as well as learned. This is because people differ as to the level of novel stimulation their homeostatic mechanisms seek to maintain. As a result, some people always seem to be looking for something new while others seem too content with the familiar. 

Theories of motivation

Some general theories of motivation identify a limited number of central motives, such as sex and death instincts, from which other motives develop. Other theories support a single, main motive in human development, such as a person's need for power or to fully realize his or her potential. 

In contrast, some psychologists argue that many different motives guide behaviour. These motives include needs for order, understanding, and independence. Other theories of motivation try to identify the physiological mechanisms underlying a wide range of motives. For example, researchers exploring the relations between behaviour and brain function have identified chemical and electrical processes in the brain that influence behaviour in people and animals. 


Motivation plays an important role in informal relationships, but also in highly structured relationships, such as those found in industry and education. In industry, managers use motivation techniques to promote cooperation between employers and employees. Such cooperation enables employees to satisfy certain needs through their jobs, including security, career interests, and respect. If employees expect their jobs to help satisfy these personal needs, they will probably be more motivated to ensure that the company's business objectives are achieved. 

In education, teachers sometimes use rewards to motivate students to learn. They may also motivate students to find satisfaction in the learning activity itself by emphasizing the value of being able to work through problems. Such an approach encourages students' mastery of problem-solving techniques and an increased expectancy of success in future tasks.


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