6 Basic Drivers Behind The Theories of Motivation

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When it comes to Psychology, one of the most intriguing topics is that of Motivation. We are required to fulfill certain jobs in different periods of our lives, and its no surprise that more than half of these jobs are barely ever interesting to us, like going to school, doing homework, take your professional career life seriously, etc. However, we must try to find ways to fulfill these jobs at the end of the day, and that is where Motivation and the many ideas behind it come in.

Through the years, countless of theorists and psychologists have come forward with their theories of motivation and their basic ideas. Some of the most famous that we have are: Maslow’s Hierarchy of Human Needs Theory, Alderfer’s Theory, Vroom’s Expectancy theory, Herzberg’s Two-Factor Theory, and so on. All of these theories in quite a lot of ways were poles apart with one another and therefore they presented a much smaller scope of understanding human behavior in psychology. Where one would be talking about levels, the other would be talking about rewards, the third would be talking about the environment and so on.

However, with much research and an in-dept understanding, we now have some basic drivers or ideas behind motivation. Here are the basic six, as follows:

Drivers or Ideas Behind Motivation in Psychology

Motivation is what causes us to produce and maintain a behavior. In order to satisfy a need, a strong motivational force is produced within, which guides or drives the individual to in turn, produce a behavior. The source or reason for the production of motivation can be biological, social, economical, psychological, etc.

Drive#1: Instinct Theory of Motivation:

Instinct Theory by William James basically highlights the inborn or innate patterns of behavior. Take an example of the fish in the animal world; salmons swim to their own birth place to lay eggs every single time, and birds migrate from one area to another during seasonal changes. This behavior is not learned, its instilled in them instinctively.

Similarly, when it comes to humans, certain characteristics, emotions and behaviors are innate to us. William James lists emotions like anger, fear, love, disgust, shame, attachment, play, etc, which are instinctive to us. The primary criticism this theory faced was that it didn’t exactly explain behavior, but rather just described it.

However, despite the criticism, this theory of instincts is still widely referred to and taken a guide from by theorists and psychologists when it comes to the analysis of behavior.

Drive #2: Incentive Theory of Motivation:

Incentive Theory of Motivation revolves around external rewards or reinforcement. We are faced with a lot of necessary tasks to perform even when we reluctant. However, through the promise of external rewards, people are motivated to perform and achieve the given task.

This theory is widely related to Operant Conditioning (Reinforcement Theory of Motivation), however, here in the incentive theory, its stated that people will intentionally engage in an activity to gain awards. The greater the reward, the higher the motivation. This concept can also partially be related to Vroom’s Expectancy Theory.

Drive #3: Drive Theory of Motivation:

The Drive Theory basically state that humans are motivated to perform to satisfy an unmet need. For instance, the person feels hungry and so they eat. Here the hunger is a need which is demanding satisfaction and then a motivational force is produced to fulfill the need, which brings about a behavior. This theory works on Biological drives of a human.

The Drive Theory of Motivation can be greatly related to Abraham Maslow’s Hierarchy of Human needs, where Maslow states that behavior is a result of a human’s quest on satisfying his needs. The only criticism this theory faced is that some people produce a behavior even when they do not have a need for it, like eating even when you aren’t hungry.

Drive #4: Arousal Theory of Motivation:

According to this theory, humans are motivated to maintain an optimal level of arousal, i.e. neither too high and nor too low. If the case of a person’s arousal is too high, they might indulge in relaxing activities to tone their level of arousal down, like read a book, relax, listen to calm music, etc. On the other hand, if the person arousal is too low, they might be motivated to indulge in activities which would raise their level of arousal, like watching a thrilling movie, exercising, etc.

Drive #5: Humanistic Theory of Motivation:

The Humanistic Approach to the idea behind theories of Motivation is that an individual possesses strong reasons for their behavior. This concept is also famous with Abraham Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs Theory, as in Maslow’s five-story pyramid, there exist different levels of needs and a person will satisfy the level of need they are stuck on. The levels are: Physiological Needs, Safety Needs, Social Needs, Esteem Needs and Self-Actualization Needs.

The bottom-most need, or the Physiological Need is the most demanding, followed by the one above it and so on. A person stuck on the bottom most need will act in accordance to satisfy his hunger, thirst, shelter, excretion, etc needs; a person stuck on Safety Needs will produce a behavior which will try to satisfy his Safety Needs; a person stuck on Social Needs will try to satisfy his belonging needs through their behavior; a person stuck on Esteem Needs will works towards satisfying their need for esteem and lastly, a person stuck on their Self-actualization Needs will try to expand and grow internally and personally, developing all their potentials.

Drive #6: Expectancy Theory of Motivation:

This Expectancy Theory states that when a person thinks or tries to predict a possible pleasant and positive future, the possible “reward” becomes their motivation and with their expectancy of a positive future, they work towards making it a reality.

This theory has a strong connection with Vroom’s Expectancy Theory where when the greater the importance a person places on a reward, the greater is their motivation to keep on working towards their goal and attaining the reward.


19 year old undergraduate Psychology student, with an immense love for food, journals and cool socks.

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