Psychology What motivates a person

Psychological explanatory models for motives and motivation


Motivation is often described as an explanation or justification of behavior, as that which sets behavior in motion and maintains it. The motivated action of the person is determined in its basic tendency and in its elementary structure by two universal characteristics: the striving after effectiveness and the organization of Target engagement and Target distance (see Heckhausen & Heckhausen, 2006). Above all, psychology has dealt with questions of motivation and over time one wide range of factors suggested that human desires, wills and actions can determine: innate drives and instincts, hormones, early childhood imprints, situational stimuli, will and personality traits. Motivation research is about explaining human activities in terms of their why and how. Why questions can be broken down in many ways, e.g. B. To what extent is it justified to assign different activity units to a common class of goals and to delimit them from other classes of goals? How does such a target class develop in the course of an individual, and what are the individual differences? Why is a certain and no other target activity selected under certain circumstances and pursued with a certain intensity and duration?

What all early motivational concepts have in common is that they hold the key to behavior in the biology of man and made more or less long lists of innate drives or instincts that should explain all human behavior. The explanatory approaches of scientific psychology for motivation can be roughly divided into two large groups:

  • Some see people as Drivenwhich is determined by instincts, hormones, external stimuli or drives and whose actions always have something inevitable.
  • The others emphasize that Capacity to act and with it the freedom of the subject to constantly redesign itself and project it into the future.

Both basic positions still exist today, because both have their merits, because certain aspects of human behavior, will and desire can be better explained with one approach, other aspects with the other.

Generally speaking, are motives in psychology directional, guiding and driving psychological causes of action. Motifs enable their owner to perceive certain objects and through perception one emotional excitement to experience, then to act in a certain way or at least to feel the impulse to act. One distinguishes

  • biogenic or primary motives - these are innate, have a genetic basis and a phylogenetic development. Today it is considered certain that also innate motives are superimposed and shaped by environmental influences, and
  • sociogenic or secondary motives that are learned or acquired. The influences during the first years of life are particularly decisive for their individual-specific characteristics.

Both types of motif Act most of time together, for example with hunger, which is predominantly biogenic, but sociogenic when it occurs around noon. The basic motives are vitally meaningful, universal concerns; they are answers to the fundamental problems of survival and reproduction. Most of the motifs are therefore universal and cross-cultural in humans, but most occur not only in humans but also in mammals. In humans, it is assumed that motifs were only covered relatively roughly Behavior programs that are reshaped (socialized) by the respective culture, whereby the cultural change also brings about new motifs. It should be explicitly mentioned here that these mostly represent reinterpretations due to their "origin".

In principle, motives can only be in a hermeneutically understandable context of meaning as well as in an explainable causal connection, e.g. if certain motives (such as the elementary needs such as hunger, thirst, sexuality) are closely linked to physiological processes and are therefore triggered, for example, by brain stimulation, drugs or hormones can. An action is seldom preceded by a single motive, but mostly a bundle of motives, which, partly formed from habits, fixed attitudes and values, determines the behavior of an individual in an affective, emotional or intellectual direction.

motivation is the state of being motivated and represents the totality of all motives that are effective in an action and that activate and regulate the behavior of the individual. So by motivation one understands the standbyto carry out a certain action with a certain intensity or duration in a concrete situation (e.g. concentrated examination of the contents of a textbook). A distinction is made between two forms of motivation Aristotle described in his Nicomachean Ethics (see below):

  • intrinsic motivation The execution of the action is reward enough in and of itself (e.g. curiosity, fun, interest) and
  • extrinsic motivation External rewards are linked to the execution of the action (e.g. praise, good grade, appearances) or punishments are linked to non-execution of the action (e.g. reprimand, bad grade, no apparent award).

The intrinsic motivation is therefore composed of the factual interest (curiosity), the incentive (positive emotion) and the expectation of success.

Intrinsic behavior is that behavior that is an end in itself or has itself as an end, so "autotelisch"is. According to White (1959) this behavior is a"Sense of effectivenessAutotelic behavior is particularly common in toddlers: a child who enjoys building a tower with building blocks and then letting it collapse does not yet have any further purpose Such behaviors are less common in adults, often in the form of entertaining activities such as play or aesthetic experience. According to Csikszentmihalyi (1975), intrinsically means free devotion to a thing, the experience being completely absorbed by the ongoing action, the "Flow experienceExperiencing flow requires certain conditions: the difficulty of the task must fully challenge one's own ability. Tasks that are too easy lead to boredom, too demanding cause fear. In any case, this condition corresponds to the level of aspiration of more success-oriented; it maximizes the internal location of causes for the results of actions achieved. Experiencing flow makes the difference between work and play disappear. According to Heckhausen (1977), a motivatio is intrinsic when medium (Plot) and purpose (Objective of action) match thematically, i.e. are thematically the same. Performance action is then intrinsic if it is undertaken only for the sake of the achievement result to be achieved, i.e. only for the purpose of testing a certain task in order to subject one's own ability to a self-assessment.

The extrinsic motivation thus consists only of positive reinforcement (reward) or negative reinforcement (compulsion).

Incentives are situational stimuli, i.e. their effectiveness results from their natural or social value. Objective facts are environmental incentives, while subjective facts are the incentives perceived by a person. Only the latter are effective. Incentives and motives are mutually dependent on one another, because a motive can only do so to that extent behavioral as stimulated by situational incentives. On the other hand, an incentive can only have an effect on behavior to the extent that it is applied to the corresponding Evaluation dispositions meet in the individual.

Emotions often play an important role in motives, because living beings repeat actions in which they have felt pleasure and avoid actions in which discomfort occurs. Structures have been demonstrated in the central nervous system whose activation causes pleasure or discomfort. Motives therefore have a nervous correlate.

Cognitions play a role insofar as they are about perceived Chances of realization also influence behavior. Living beings can therefore not be guided exclusively by motives, but also take into account supportive and inhibiting circumstances.

The Expectation x Value Theory claims that behavior can be explained by a mostly multiplicative assumed interaction of value and expectation. These quantities do not have to be conscious.

The Intensity of a subject In a specific individual case, a Basic motivation out of two other factors together: Den Chances of success and the subjective value of a goal.

For example, given a considerable basic ambition, the subjective value of a Nobel Prize may be very high for me; however, my motivation to strive for it is low when I rate my chances of success as vanishingly small. Conversely, I can rate the company's chances of success in learning pages 45 to 50 of the Linz telephone directory completely by heart as high, and yet I am hardly motivated to try because the subjective value of such an act is too close to zero.

An analysis of the empirical literature on the question of task difficulty by Marion Kloep shows a clear superiority of low levels of difficulty over others with regard to affect, task choice, effort, endurance and performance. In her work she also criticizes the rather questionable research and publication practice of many achievement motivation researchers, whom she accuses of going to the limits of scientific ethics with methodical amateurism, imprecise work and data falsification.

Intrinsic vs extrinsic in viral actions

Van der Linden (2017) explained why some viral campaigns such as the Ice Bucket Challenge in 2014 (fundraising for research into amyotrophic lateral sclerosis) quickly fizzle out with the contrast between intrinsic and extrinsic motivation. In his opinion, the sustainable transfer from click-actionism into the real world fails if such movements only rely on superficial extrinsic motivation, where it is only a matter of accepting a challenge, winning a competition or contributing to more page views. When it comes to intrinsic motivation, however, people act out of inner convictions, which were largely absent from the 2015 edition of the ice bucket campaign, because every fourth person presented their wet upper body without even mentioning the concern of collecting donations and only twenty percent even agreed to donate in the video. Only recurring actions that enable the participants to see themselves as part of a social movement, i.e. to act intrinsically motivated, promise more success. The subjective value of the goal of managing a company department with over a hundred employees can also be high and yet the motivation to strive for it is low because the basic motivation to exercise power is low.


van der Linden, S. (2017). The nature of viral altruism and how to make it stick. Nature Human Behavior, dos: 10.1038 / s41562-016-0041.

Implicit and explicit motives

Persistent individual motive dispositions are referred to as implicit motiveswhich were mostly learned in early childhood and represent emotionally tinted preferences or habitual readiness to deal with certain types of incentives again and again. In contrast to implicit motives are explicit motives Conscious, linguistically represented or at least representable self-images, values ​​and goals that a person ascribes to himself.

Implicit and explicit motives do not always match, because individuals can have ideas of themselves and their own motives that do not match their own unconscious preferences and habitual habits. In the best case, implicit and explicit motives work together by converting the implicit motives into specific objectives that are adapted to the situational opportunities. Often, however, there is a conflict between implicit and explicit motives with highly unfavorable consequences for the efficiency of the action and for well-being or mental health (Heckhausen & Heckhausen, 2006). It is known, therefore, that a large discrepancy between what you ascribe to yourself and who you actually are leads to a high susceptibility to mental illness.

Many people therefore also pursue goals in their lives that they find emotionally completely unsatisfactory, which contradicts the everyday psychological assumption that people only want something if they also enjoy it. It is now known that there can be a gap between the explicit and the implicit motives. In other words, one can be absolutely convinced that one is very ambitious, but in truth does not enjoy at all just achieving top performance. The gap between implicit and explicit motives is mainly due to the fact that people are rarely aware of their own motives. When people talk about themselves, they usually only grasp the explicit motives, i.e. the image that a person makes of their own motives. But every human being also has innate and unchangeable implicit motives, whereby the conflict between imagination and reality is preprogrammed. A Method to bring implicit and explicit motivation closer together, is the visualization of his motives. Implicit motives are known to be built up from emotions and images, while explicit motives are usually based on language, so that someone who imagines what his motives would mean in everyday life gradually leads his self-image gradually in the direction of his actual self.

Video on the effectiveness of intrinsic and extrinsic motivation


Already with Aristotle there are two types of motivation

Aristotle states at the beginning of his Nicomachean Ethics: "Every art and every doctrine, just as every act and every decision seems to strive for some good. That is why the good has rightly been called that which everything strives for." A striving always needs an object, a goal (telos) of striving. The goal or purpose can be a work or a product, e.g. a scientific paper. It's part of art or craftsmanship (techné). With a techné like science, that is the telos ergon (Work, result, product). However, the activity itself can also be the goal, as is the case, for example, with "life as a scientist", which Aristotle defines as self-activity, self-movement energea (Activity, activity) itself. Thus Aristotle starts from two different kinds of goals: either the goal lies in the activity itself (intrinsic), or just outside of this activity (extrinsic).

The instinct theory approach

According to Darwin, instincts are just as evolutionary as physical characteristics. A instinct is the act of a young, inexperienced creature, which other creatures of the same species also carry out and which takes place without their purpose being known. Lorenz subdivides an instinctive act into appetite behavior and end act. Appetite behavior is still modifiable in many species, while the end plot is mostly stereotypical. Emotions arise in connection with the appetite behavior. In humans, these emotions are often the rudimentary remnants of an instinctive act.

A Key stimulus is the stimulus that triggers an instinctive act. However, there must be a willingness to carry out the action at all, otherwise the key stimulus remains ineffective. Lorenz presupposes an internal drive production. The urge to perform an action grows over time, up to the last performance of the action. The key stimulus corresponds to the sensory mechanism, the innate trigger mechanism (AAM).

The psychoanalytic approach

As Drive satisfaction As a rule, the abolition of an internal stimulus state described is associated with a positive affect state. Drive and affect, motivation and emotion are linked.

Behavioral Approaches

As primary Urges are viewed as hunger, thirst and sexuality. Under secondary Drives are understood as the basic assumption that certain facts can also acquire the character of an instinct on the basis of learning experiences made by the organism. Acquired drives are based on emotions. Reinforcing properties of situational stimuli can also be conditioned.If an initially neutral stimulus is paired with a vitally significant event, the neutral state of affairs acquires secondary ones Reward value. It then also acts as an incentive in behavior and reinforces behavior in the sense that the frequency of occurrence of the corresponding behavior is relatively increased when the unconditional stimulus is no longer offered. However, if such secondary enhancers are no longer offered together with the primary, they very quickly lose their effectiveness.

Donald O. Hebb (1904-1985) found that organismic needs contribute to increased central nervous activation, controlled by the activation tone of the reticular formation. He used the term arousal and described two neural systems: The first system controls the excitementthat results from the stimulation current (formatio reticularis, areas of the hypothalamus, control centers in the amygdala. The second system controls the activation the reaction mechanisms, which is more likely to be seen in a tonic, physiological readiness to behave (basal ganglia of the forebrain). The activation causes a reinforcement of the behavior. Activation beyond the positive range can have a negative and punishing effect.

Robert Woodworth introduced motivation as a concept of an internal drive that determines behavior. He defines drive in the biological sense as the energy that an organism releases, as "the fuel for actions that is triggered by stimuli and made available for goal-oriented actions.

Developed the most important behaviorist model Clark L. Hull. He formulated a "reinforcement theory of learning" in the form of learning from success. He defines reinforcement as the (relative) satisfaction of needs, whereby the learning process depends on the occurrence of the stimulus as well as on the organism and its needs. According to this, all needs contribute to a unified drive that energizes all modes of reaction equally and to the extent that these reactions are available due to different habit strengths. Such behaviors are only repeated if they result in a Drive reduction to lead. Drive reduction becomes a prerequisite for learning. The drive energizes, the behavior is determined by habits and previous experiences. Hull is of the opinion that primary instincts are biologically conditioned and that they are triggered when the organism is in a state of deficiency. These urges activate the organism. If, for example, an animal is deprived of food for many hours, a feeling of hunger is triggered, which motivates foraging and eating behavior. The animal's feeding responses are aggravated because they are associated with the reduction in tension caused by feeding. However, Hull's theory proved to be untenable, because living beings show purposeful behaviors beyond the satisfaction of their existential needs.

Incidentally, Hull also assumed in his drive theory that motivation is a necessary prerequisite for learning, because learning is an essential condition for a successful adaptation of all living beings to the environment.

Emotional psychological (incentive theory) approaches

Once emotions arise, they become powerful motivators for future behavior. They also determine the course of action from one moment to the next, just as they set the sails for long-term goals. Incentive theoretical approaches therefore assume that the Anticipation of amplifiers learned instinctual sources are. Mowrer made motivation entirely dependent on incentives. However, this system is very generalizing. It only looks at emotions on the pleasure-displeasure dimension and motivation only on the search-avoidance dimension.

[Circular process of motivation according to Hüholdt 1998, p. 67]

Consistency theory of motivation

According to Grawe (1998), human action is purposeful and serves the satisfaction of basic needs, whereby in the context of the consistency theory the psychological experience of the person is considered in the context of the satisfaction of basic needs. These basic human needs are differentiated in the course of individual development and operationalized into individual motivational goals, whereby the approach to these goals or the achievement is connected with the experience of positive emotions. If a person is unable to implement his motivational goals or can only implement them inadequately, motivational incongruence arises, whereby the striving for congruence is to be regarded as a superordinate principle of psychological processes.

Congruence or incongruence always works in relation to the respective individual transformation of these needs into goals, i.e. the divergence of motivational goals as an expression of needs and perceived reality that currently does not satisfy these needs. In order to be able to satisfy needs, people not only develop motivational goals in the course of their learning history, but they also acquire the means to pursue these goals. Depending on their individual requirements and the requirements of their environment, people learn skills that allow them to adapt to their environment in the best possible way, to satisfy their basic needs and to avoid injuries to them. These skills are therefore resource potentials, whereby an active use of resources always serves the purpose of making perceptions in terms of basic needs. The extent to which resources are currently being realized can thus be viewed as a measure of the current experience of congruence with regard to these basic needs. This means that the consistency depends on motivational congruence, whereby the stronger the motivational congruence is in people, the better the mental health and performance.

Grawe, Klaus (1998). Psychological therapy. Göttingen: Hogrefe.

Field theoretical approach

Kurt Lewin's concept of motivation includes the principles of hedonism and the Homeostasis. Lewin is a phenomenologist or field theorist, i.e. he emphasizes above all the perceived and less the objective environment. Field theory is based on the assumption that behavior is determined by the field that exists at a certain point in time. The concept of the field encompasses conditioning factors of both the "external" situation (the environment) and the internal situation (the person), and concrete behavior is a function of both.

According to Lewin, human behavior is influenced by certain situations and environmental influences. E.g. a problem or an unfinished task can create tension until a solution, i.e. a need satisfaction, is achieved. The incentives given by the environment can have different effects on a person, depending on whether the associated action is positive or negative. For example, the work assignment "reading a book" can have a highly inviting character if the person has already had good experience with this activity.

See also thatGeneral learning model according to Lewin

Achievement motivation model

Atkinson regards achievement motivation as the result of an Conflict between approaches and avoidance tendencies. Whether a person tackles a service or avoids it depends on "Hope for success"with the subsequent feeling of pride or"Fear of failure"with the associated feeling of shame.

Atkinson's risk choice model splits the achievement motive into a negative avoidance component and a positive approach component and combines these two components with a situation-dependent expectation of success in formulas:

L = M x (1-W) x W

Taking into account the motive for success and the motive for failure:

L = Me x (1-W) x W - Mm x W x (1-W) -


L = (Me - Mm) x (W x (1-W))

L = strength of achievement motivation
M = achievement motive
W = subjective probability of success
1-W = risk
Me = motive for success
Mm = failure motive
1-W = probability of failure

Success is all the more attractive and motivating, the riskier it is. The achievement motivation increases the more the individual success motive exceeds the failure motive and the closer the probability of success is to the maximum motivating value of 0.5. Success-motivated people are more motivated for tasks of moderate subjective difficulty, failure-motivated people for very difficult and very easy tasks.

A performance-motivated action occurs when the "hope of success" tendency outweighs the "fear of failure" tendency. But even in the case of people with low motivation to perform in this sense (predominance of fear of failure), there can be an overall medium to high level of effort and perseverance in performance action. This takes place when an extrinsic component is added to the intrinsic component. This can be positive reinforcement (promise of a reward) or negative reinforcement (compulsion to do something).

One speaks of one achievement-motivated People, when their motivation increases through the achievement of self-set goals. He gains satisfaction from being able to influence the results on his own. An appealing design of the work task, for example, can increase his motivation, while material incentives will only achieve a small increase in performance.

The Achievement motivation can therefore be expressed by a formula that combines an intrinsic with an extrinsic component. An intrinsically achievement-motivated action takes place especially when the tendency "hope for success" outweighs the tendency "fear of failure". Achievement motivation is therefore the ability to experience success as being caused by internal factors, especially effort

For example, if you want to ensure that students are predominantly intrinsically motivated, a prerequisite for this is that they often achieve success in their activities. Particularly in the case of people with low motivation to perform, success increases performance, while failure inhibits their efforts to achieve. In the case of students with a high level of achievement motivation, on the other hand, failure can increase the effort to achieve even more.

From a pedagogical and didactic perspective, it was the merit Heckhausen to point out that on the part of the lecturer, the degree of attainability of a goal, the incentive of the task and the novelty of the information must be given the highest attention. Research has clearly shown the importance of levels of difficulty in motivating classrooms that reflect the abilities of each student.

Incentive structure of the task and motive structure of the person

Sorrentino and Sheppard (1978) showed in a study conducted with competitive swimmers that it can be beneficial Incentive structure of the task to the motive structure of the person because while highly motivated swimmers performed their best in individual competitions, highly motivated swimmers swam fastest when they participated in relay competitions. The motivation of the athletes therefore depended on the incentive structure in which the competition was embedded. So if you know the motive structure of an athlete, then you can try to reconcile the incentive structure of the upcoming competition with his dominant motive. Compared to performance-motivated athletes, during the preparation you can emphasize the importance of quality standards such as exceeding your own previous best time, while with a highly power-motivated swimmer you tend to focus on the incentives of a victory for his power motive, such as the dethroning of the current title holder. Swimmers who are motivated to follow suit can be more motivated with the prospect of helping their club and teammates advance with a win.

Sorrentino, R.M. & Sheppard, B.H. (1978). Effects of affiliation-related motives on swimmers in individual vs. group competitions: A field experiment. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 36, 704-714.

Theory of Attribution - Locus of Control

People have after Weiner the need not only to register phenomena such as success and failure, but to trace them back to certain conditions or causes, i.e. to attribute them.

Weiner's concept of attribution is based on that Rotterdammodel of the Locus of Controlthat on Heiders Differentiation between events that have their cause (in relation to a given person) inside (internal) or outside (external) that person is based. External attributed events are heteronomous, internal attributed events are autonomous. External are causal factors that are localized outside a given organism, internal are those causal factors that are localized within a given organism. With control, Rotter did not mean the willful manipulability, because although there are external causes that can be controlled, there are no external causes that can be controlled internally (example: bribery!). Rotter's dimension corresponds to the original Heider differentiation between person and environmental forces or autonomy versus heteronomy of events. Heider introduces stability vs. variability as the second dimension, on the personal side: Ability (ability = stable) and attempts (effort = variable); on the environmental side: difficulty (stable) and luck (variable).

Weiner therefore assumes in his further development that one can assume internal (in the person) and external (in the situation) reasons for success and failure.

Both for internal (related to the person) and external (related to the situation) attribution, the reasons can also be stable (lasting over time) or variable (changing within a period of time). The classification scheme of the reasons for action results can be presented as follows:










  • Combination internal - variable leads to attribution to one's own effort,
  • Combination internal - stable leads to attribution to one's own ability,
  • Combination external - stable leads to the attribution to the difficulty of the task
  • Combination external - variable leads to attribution to uncontrollable influences such as luck or chance

According to this view, success and failure can be justified by the acting person (their persistent ability or one-off effort) or by situational factors (difficulty of a task usually does not change or accidental luck or bad luck). People don't always behave rationally. Research shows, however, a tendency to ascribe successes to the individual and failures to adverse circumstances to the situation. In this way it is possible for the person to avoid impairment of their self-esteem. This can be illustrated using test results for an investigation of the Locus of Causality (LoC) demonstrate (Stangl 1990). The data on the different attribution modes in the case of success or failure correspond significantly to the theoretical assumptions.

Teachers often find their job to be very difficult, as failures often occur. It is assumed that the problems are caused by students. Such an external - stable attribution of causes has a demotivating effect on the teacher, because the difficulty is attributed to external (social) conditions that can hardly be influenced. This is problematic from a psycho-hygienic point of view, since a lack of job satisfaction can easily lead to "internal dismissal" (burnout).

Locus of Causality (LoC)

How do you attribute?

The curiosity motive

The plays for the motivation to learn innate curiosity an important role. The curiosity motive is a original, biogenic motif systemwhich is subject to an experience-related modification in ontogeny. The simplest form of curiosity is that Orientation reaction in the sense of Pavlov. A distinction is made between specific and diverse curiosity behavior:

  • Specific curiosity behavior is triggered by environmental incentives. These incentives are collative as they only apply in comparison to other issues and to an individual.
  • Diverse curiosity behavior occurs in monotonous situations and proves that humans and animals have a desire for variety, stimulation and information. This need for stimulation was established with a homeostatically functioning one Need for information explains that this works similarly to hunger and thirst.

There are interindividual differences in curiosity behavior, although this can also be internally conditioned and not only depend on the stimulus. Some findings suggest a dispositional genetic factor. In twin studies, a heredity rate of 58 - 68% was found.

For details see curiositya special motif

Methods of motivational psychology

In addition to experiments, motivational research also uses behavioral observation and, in the case of humans, often questioning methods.

According to Wundt, the characteristics of an experiment are:

  • the arbitrariness in the creation of the conditions
  • the repeatability
  • the variability of the conditions

The variation and control of the independent variable is the most important condition for an experiment, as is the observation of the resulting change in the dependent variable.

Since the production of certain independent variables is often not possible for ethical reasons, motivational research violates the first condition of the experiment in psychology: It does not ensure objective identification of the object of investigation. By this one understands the correspondence of the facts given in reality with the object which is to be examined and which is presented.

Measurement of subjects

Two methods are mainly used:

  • Direct procedures are Questionnaire researchthat ask directly for motifs. This creates the risk of an answer in terms of social desirability.
  • The Thematic Apperception Test (TAT) is a projective methodwhere the test person has to invent a story for a series of pictures. By analyzing the content, one can find out the motives and tendencies of the people to act.

The TAT has a high level of predictive accuracy when there are activity-related incentives in the situation. The questionnaire, on the other hand, has a high degree of predictive accuracy if the situation is more likely to have social incentives.

The Grating technology from Schmalt tries to combine the two procedures. The subjects are presented with pictures and can decide on an answer option based on several specifications.

Motivation and learning

The work of Schiefele and Schreyer (1994, p. 11) gives an overview of the effects of motivation on learning and the learning outcome. So your meta-analysis shows that intrinsic motivation to learn 19% clarifies the variance of deeper learning. Extrinsic motivation to learn on the other hand is only significantly related to surface strategic learning (5% Explanation of variance). A lack of motivation basically affects the willingness to deal with a task at all, to deal with initially unknown and new, and in the long term of employment.

Extremely high Achievement motivation can result, for example, in a very high processing speed, but this leads to a loss of accuracy or an increase in the error rate (problem of the relationship between quality and quantity). A very high motivation-related increase in the amount of learning or the design of the learning situation would have its learning strategy correlate in the preference for learning strategies that are typical of the surface: e.g. reading a lot, learning a lot by heart, collecting a lot of material. On the other hand, a medium level of motivation can lead to deeply strategically oriented learning processes, such as critical summaries, reflection, deepening. In this sense, the Yerkes-Dodson law (1908), which predicts a drop in power with very strong motivation / excitement, can be interpreted.


Yerkes, Robert M. & Dodson, John D. (1908). The relation of strength of stimulus to rapidity of habit formation. Journal of Comparative Neurology and Psychology, 18, 459-482.
WWW: (01-12-01)
Schiefele, U., Schreyer, I. (1994). Intrinsic motivation to learn and learning. Journal of Educational Psychology, 8.1-13.

The Yerkes-Dodson Law

This law specifically describes the relationship between the optimal strength of motivation and the difficulty of a learning task of discrimination. In general, it defines the Relationship between performance and motivation or the level of arousal of an individual. The Yerkes-Dodson law was obtained by generalization from learning experiments with rats: rats learn a difficult discrimination faster with weak motivation than with strong ones, while easier tasks are learned equally well with strong motivation.

High intrinsic motivation to learn should relate to knowledge and procedures that have to do with a differentiated and thorough acquisition of the subject matter (deep learning strategies), while extrinsic motivation should relate to superficial strategies that should be aimed at achieving goals quickly (superficial learning strategies ) (see Schiefele & Schreyer, 1994).

This connection is also used in psychology under the aspect of Stress concept investigated because the individual can create or set his own stressors in the sense of "reciprocal determinism" (Bandura). This happens especially in the case of intrinsic motivation, i.e. when the individual sets his own performance goals and constantly increases his level of aspiration (self-stress).

These people, sometimes referred to as "Type A", are characterized by extreme ambition, competitiveness, strong identification with their work, constant lack of time, impatience and underlying hostility, and are prone to coronary artery disease, with double the risk of heart attack for this type is as high as it is with other people. The extent of the actual stress and perception of stress is often related to an excessive increase in one's own demands on oneself. Many stress-ridden people always expect one hundred percent performance from themselves, and this must-think thinking accompanies them in many areas of their life, for example in addition to work and in their free time. Atkinson (1964) also suspects that a state of over-motivation (in the sense of "absolutely wanting something") acts as a stress factor.

Image source:
Sest, B. (2000). Conflict and stress.
WWW: (03-01-24)

Herzberg's two-factor theory (1959)

Frederick Herzberg and coworkers (1959) developed the "two-factor theory", the core assumption of which is that Satisfaction or dissatisfaction with work are influenced by two groups of factors:

  • Motivators (satisfiers) bring about satisfaction while
  • Hygiene factors (dissatisfiers) Can cause dissatisfaction, but not satisfaction.

With the one used by Herzberg Critical Events Method the respondents are asked to tell situations from their working life that they found particularly positive or particularly negative and also to state the reasons for them. Just like Maslow, Herzberg is concerned with the question of what motivates a person to behave in a certain way. They deal with the motives and needs of people as well as their content and try to divide them into categories and to reveal their relationships to one another. They try to recognize the motives behind a person's behavior and then to make recommendations for an incentive system. Different to Maslow Herzberg divides people's basic needs into two categories, namely hygiene needs and motivational needs. Motivators are directly related to the content of the work and are therefore also called "Content factors" designated. Hygiene factors relate to the work environment and are therefore also referred to as "Context factorsWhile recognition, the job itself, responsibility, development and advancement opportunities have an intrinsically motivating effect and lead to satisfaction, but do not trigger dissatisfaction, payment, management style, status, work environment, relationships with colleagues, company policy can lead to dissatisfaction when frustrated.

The most important finding and at the same time practical consequence from the theory is the idea that motivation with the Opportunity for personal growth connected and based on the need for constant development. People are satisfied with their work when it is interesting and challenging. So management cannot actually motivate employees, but it can create a working environment and working conditions that allow workers to motivate themselves.

The real value of the much criticized two-factor theory lies in the fact that it has primarily contributed to making working conditions and work design the center of interest Organizational psychology to move. The most important finding his theory was that employee satisfaction and dissatisfaction are not related to the same factors, which means that in order to achieve satisfaction one has to set other incentives than to avoid dissatisfaction.

If you compare the two factors, you can see that the hygiene factors are largely extrinsic incentives and the motivators intrinsic Incentives acts. Employees are therefore satisfied when their tasks are challenging and interesting. It is therefore the task of management to promote the intrinsic motivation of employees, which they can achieve through the right design of work tasks and conditions.

SuperMotivation Approach to Learning by Spitzer (1996)

Developed by D. R. Spitzer SuperMotivation Approach to Learning is based on the core assumption that "any activity can be made highly motivating if a motivating context" is added to the basic task "(Spitzer 1996, p. 45), so that the simple rule applies: the more" motivators "the context of an activity contains Spitzer offers a pragmatic list of motivators that can be used to design and evaluate motivational elements of learning environments.

  • Action (Action): Active participation in the learning process is important, this activity can be both physical and mental in nature. The interactivity of the learning system is one of the aspects considered.
  • Fun (Fun): This is the area most commonly associated with motivation. Having fun working with the learning system through the use of humorous, surprising elements can arouse and steer interest. However, caution is advised here. In some cases, humor can be exaggerated and annoying, especially since the understanding of humor is also strongly influenced by culture.
  • Variety (Variety): Spitzer recommends the broadest possible use of different media, resources and activities.
  • Choice (Selection): The learner should be able to make a selection himself within the range of media, resources, contexts and learning paths.
  • Social interaction (Social interaction): Also possibilities of social interaction, e.g. B. in the form of group discussions, work in teams or advice from teachers have an important motivational function.
  • Error tolerance (Error tolerance): Learners make mistakes and this is an important factor in learning. Therefore it is recommended to create a "safe" learning environment in which no demoralizing punishment is to be expected. This does not mean that feedback should not be given.
  • Measurement (Success measurement): "It is ironic that while nothing is more motivating in sports and games than scorekeeping, most people don't look forward to being measured while learning.". A positive level is recommended here, which is less based on mistakes than, for example, on personal improvement.
  • Feedback (Feedback): Feedback from the system should be accompanying and formulated in a positive or encouraging manner. Spitzer recommends focusing on suggestions for improvement rather than on the mistakes.
  • Challenge (Challenge): The tasks to be mastered should not be trivial, but rather represent a sufficient challenge. Targets set by the learners themselves are particularly recommended.
  • Recognition (Recognition): Motivation can be increased if the learning progress is recognized by the system, other learners or teachers.

Some elements seem to be neglected here, such as the relevance of the topic for the learner in terms of later applicability in real situations, as well as the degree of voluntariness that characterizes the attitude to every educational measure.

Blumstengel, Astrid (1998). Development of hypermedia learning systems.
WWW: (00-11-11)

Spitzer, D.R. (1996). Motivation: The Neglected Factor in Instructional Design. Educational Technology, 5-6, pp. 45-49.

Relationship between evaluation and motivation

On the basis of emphatic investigations of the facial motor skills (smile) or arm movements during a stimulus presentation, Neumann (2003) developed the thesis that there is a close interactionbetweenevaluative processes and fundamental motivational systems the approach and avoidance indicates the underlying emotions and attitudes. This interaction is made possible by a bidirectional link between evaluative processes and motivational systems, so that the activation of motivational systems can be both a cause and a consequence of affective reactions. There evaluative information processed faster are classified as non-evaluative information, therefore the selection of compatible motivational systems by evaluative processes takes place before slower non-evaluative processes have an impact on the motivational systems. Non-evaluative processes are also important in generating emotions, because a smiling face can automatically trigger a positive affective reaction and the representation of an approaching movement. If, however, the subsequent cognitive analysis recognizes that the stranger is laughing at an action of their own, the result may be more of an aversive reaction. Only the combination of evaluative and cognitive processes makes it possible to behave flexibly and context-sensitive in a complex environment.

As the empirical findings reported by Neumann make clear, appetitive movements, such as the facial expression of the smile or arm movements in the direction of oneself, can be initialized more quickly if information of positive valence is processed. In contrast, aversive movements, such as the contraction of the eyebrows or arm movements away from oneself, can be initialized more quickly if information of negative valence is processed. The faster initialization of compatible movements allows the conclusion that the corresponding motor programs are pre-activated by the processing of compatible evaluative information. In the context of the model outlined here, this is attributed to the automatic activation of the compatible motivational system through evaluative processes. Presumably, these findings also support the concept of Primingaccording to which contents received earlier - in this case emotional evaluations - only remain preconscious, i.e. cannot be actively accessed, but later confronted with a similar stimulus, come back to mind or become effective.

Overall, Neumann outlines a model according to which the triggering of emotions and the reaction tendencies involved is a function of successive steps in information processing. Approach and avoidance tendencies become in a first step activated automatically by evaluative processes. In further steps of the information processing, important context information is included in addition to the valence. This creates different discrete emotions, and the motivational orientation can also be reversed in certain cases.

On a practical one example considered this could mean that in learning processes in school a "gut feeling" positive or negative evaluation of the upcoming lesson or learning material becomes effective even before the cognitive build-up of a minimal motivation or is in a promoting or disruptive interaction with it.

The reciprocal linking of evaluative processes and motivational systems means that affective and motor representations are always activated in very short succession.This not only allows a quick coordination of the behavior with the requirements of the environment, but stabilizes once activated states so that they can only be changed with a certain cognitive effort. Already LeDoux (1996) observed a reaction that automatically runs over a short path when threatening stimuli are processed directly to the amygdala in order to trigger a flight.

Neumann's results thus also support those of Antonio R. Damasio (1999) stated "Body loop", which had demonstrated a bidirectional link between motivational systems and evaluative processes on a neurophysiological basis. The fact that basic motivational systems are directly linked to evaluative processes shows that human information processing is apparently already prepared for the fundamental requirements and properties of the environment considered, the link between motivational systems and evaluative processes has probably developed in the course of evolution in order to be able to react as quickly as possible to situations that require rapid action.

A similarity to the phenomenon described here can also be found in the intuition are seen, with which a spontaneous idea, an idea or even a decision is described that suddenly appear without us knowing where they came from. Intuition is often like a bolt from the blue. The essence of intuition has so far hardly been researched by empirical psychology, which is probably due to the fact that experiments are not easy to implement, because after all, one cannot instruct test subjects to behave intuitively.

Neumann, Roland (2003). Assessment and Behavior: The role of motor skills in attitudes and emotions. Psychological Rundschau 54 (3), pp. 157-166.

LeDoux, Joseph (1996). The emotional brain, The mysterious underpinnings of emotional life. New York: Simon & Schuster.
Damasio, Antonio (1999). The feeling of what happens: Body and emotion in the making of consciousness. London: Heinemann.

Motivation as an explanation for human behavior: Kelley's attribution cube model for explaining the causes of behavior

According to Kelley, the cause of an observed behavior is ascribed to the conditions with which it varies over time. Harold Kelley's (1972) model shows how people, both laypeople and scientists, act when they want to know to what extent a behavior can be ascribed to personal or situation factors. Kelley distinguishes between three dimensions of judgment for explaining behavior: consensus, distinctiveness, and consistency.

  • Consensus: comparison with other people for agreement of actions (individual differences).
    The less the actions of one person correspond to the actions of the majority of other people under the same circumstances, the more it seems to be determined by individual personal factors. Example: A crowd stands idly by the victim. Only one kneels down to help. He has to be very "helpful". Conversely: the more a person's actions correspond to the actions of the majority of other people, the less it is determined by personal factors and possibly more by strong situational factors.
    example: If a student takes part in a compulsory course every week and all the other students do the same, we see no reason to blame a particular personal characteristic for this behavior. Rather, the behavior appears to be prompted by the situation, namely by the compulsory nature of the event.
  • Distinctness: Comparison with other situation occasions for agreement of actions (intra-individual differences across situations).
    The more a person acts in the same way under different situations, the more their actions seem to be determined by individual personal factors. Example: Someone is not only fulfilled by their professional tasks at work, they also talk about them during a company outing and turn every social gathering into a work meeting. He must be very "motivated to perform". Conversely: the more a person acts differently under different situations, the more his actions seem to be determined by the influences of the situation.
    example: Someone cheats on an exam that takes place in a large lecture hall and under little supervision, but not while playing cards with friends. At the exam, the person probably hopes not to be caught cheating, while the risk of being exposed by friends as cardsharps seems greater.
  • consistency: Comparison with previous behavior for consistency of action (stability or intra-individual differences over time)
    If a person behaves similarly over time, it makes sense to attribute their behavior to individual person factors. Example: A child who has always tried hard to solve difficult tasks in kindergarten shows great enthusiasm to learn to read after starting school. The child must be strong and permanently »motivated to achieve«. Conversely: If a person behaves differently over time, it makes sense to attribute their behavior to the differences in situation factors.
    example: A child who has always chosen particularly difficult tasks in kindergarten and who has tried to solve them with great dedication shows disinterest and boredom in the tasks set by the teacher after starting school. The tasks set by the teacher are obviously too simple.

(Heckhausen & Heckhausen, 2006).


Kelley, H. H. (1972). Attribution in social interaction. In E. E. Jones, D. E. Kanouse, H. H. Kelley, R. E. Nisbett, S. Valins and B. Weiner (eds.), Attribution: Perceiving the causes of behavior (pp. 1-26), Morristown, NJ: General Learning Press.

Heckhausen, J. & Heckhausen, H. (2006). Motivation and Action: Introduction and Overview. Springer, Berlin.

Social motives not only tied to people

In humans, to a much greater extent than in mammals, social motives are no longer restricted to conspecifics, but are also directed towards "non-social" objects due to the different type of perception of the environment. This should be explained a little using the example of the security motif.

At social mammals the setpoint dependency regulates the interaction with familiar conspecifics between the poles of attachment and weariness. This behavior is also controlled by this motive in humans, but we are of the opinion that the security motive also generally influences the handling of the familiar: It is no longer only the familiar conspecifics that can provide security, but also familiar objects, areas and situations, even things as abstract as familiar patterns of thought, world views and beliefs become potential sources of security.

In this way, the whole environment can become a social partner for human beings, in that each stimulus is assigned a familiarity and a foreignness value. Despite all this, it cannot be assumed that the motives can completely deny their origin: not everything will be able to address the motives in the same way. In general, conspecifics will still be the most relevant objects for social motivation. One must also reckon with inter-individual differences, e.g. due to different socialization.


Further sources & literature

content :::: message :::: news :::: imprint :::: data protection :::: author :::: copyright :::: quote ::::