The effect of motivation on behavior

In everyday conversation, the question “What motivated you to do that?” is a way of asking, “What caused your behavior?  Why did you act that way?”  To psychologists, a motivation is a need or desire that serves to energize behavior and to direct it toward a goal.  Psychologists consider motivation as a hypothetical concept.  Hence, they infer motivation from behaviors observe.

But in a broader sense, motivation pertains to the purpose for responding.  The term comes from the Latin verb movere, which means, “to move,” and it is what causes movement (behavior) that concerns this paper.  The idea of movement is reflected in such commonsense ideas about motivation as something that gets us going, keep us moving, and helps us get jobs done.  Conversely, a person is not motivated when s/he cannot seem to get out of bed or off the sofa (Pintrich, 2001).

Despite these commonly held ideas, definitions of motivation are numerous and varied, and there is much disagreement over the precise nature of motivation.  Motivation has been conceived of in such varied terms as involving inner forces, enduring traits, behavioral responses tom stimuli, and sets of beliefs and affects (Schunk, D.H. 2003).

Although motivation has many facets, psychologists have been especially concerned with those influences that energize and direct responses.  Simply stated, motivation determines how strong a behavior will be and the form it will take.  Moreover, much of what is known about motivational processes comes from research on how people respond to the difficulties, problems, failures, and setbacks encountered as individuals pursue goals over time.   Various theories contend that motivation underlies much human behavior (Weiner, 2005).

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Psychologists have different theoretical perspectives on motivation.  At present, there are four motivational strategies that are influential on how psychologists have understood motivation, namely, flow theory, stress and coping theory, and intrinsic and extrinsic theory.

Flow theory

Csikszentmihalyi (2005) studied individuals who engaged in intrinsically motivating activities and found that their experiences reflected complete involvement with the activities. This involvement, is known as the flow theory, and is defined as “the holistic sensation that people feel when they act with total involvement” (Csikszentmihalyi, 2005).

According to Csikszentmihalyi, the flow is very much related to other human motives and has shown that the dimensions in this two-by-two classification are closed-versus open-system goals and intra- versus interindividual processes.  Closed goals are those that determined by genetics (needs, hunger, thirst, safety, optimal activation) or socialization; open goals develop as a result of experience and cannot be explained by pre-existing factors.  Interindividual processes are social in nature, whereas intraindividual processes refer to the person.  Flow is a personal process and reflects open systemic goals (Csikszentmihalyi & Rathunde, 2003).

Moreover, individuals experiencing flow are so intensely involved with a task that they may lose awareness of time and space.  They also seek a flow experience for itself rather than for anticipated rewards.  Although flow can be experienced with any activity, it is more likely to occur with activities that allow for free expression and creativity such as games, play, and art.  De Charm’s origin state shares many elements with flow.  In extreme form, individuals forsake a traditional lifestyle and most contingent material rewards to engage in activities that provide flow (de Charms, 1996).

There are a number of researches on the flow theory.  These researches have proven that despite being nebulous, the flow theory makes intuitive sense.  Csikszentmihalyi (2002) describes a research study in which the Experience Sampling Method was employed.  Adults carried beepers that sounded several times a week, at which time subjects rated themselves on two dependent variables:  Affect (comprising items “happy,” “cheerful,” “sociable”) and activation (comprising “active,” “alert,” “strong”).

Subjects also judged their situation for challenges present and skills available.  The amount of time individuals judged themselves to be in flow (defined as challenges and skills present and equal to one another) was related positively to affect and activation (Csikszentmihalyi,2002).

Mayers (reported in Csikszentmihalyi, 2002) had high school students’ rate school subjects and activities on challenge and skill.  Favorite activities fell into the flow are (challenge= skill): TV and music listening (low on each); friends (moderate); and arts, such as drama or ballet, and sports (high on each).  Skills were judged to exceed challenges in humanities and social sciences, resulting in boredom.  Challenges were rated as exceeding skills in mathematics and the sciences, resulting in anxiety.

Other research compared the flow experiences of three groups of adolescents.  One group attended a select public school in Italy, a second group attended a typical suburban high school near Chicago, and a third group comprised talented math students from a top Chicago public school.  Students used the Experience sampling Method.  The Italian teens reported more flow experiences than U.S. teens, especially those talented in math.  Among the U.S. teens, those attending the typical school reported the most amounts of boredom (skills exceed challenges) and anxiety (challenges exceed skills).

Interestingly, the talented group scored significantly lower than the other two samples in apathy, defined as skills and challenges in sync but below average (e.g., watching TV, listening to music).  In sum, experiences are comparable for average and above average students across cultures, whereas for talented U.S. teens, flow and apathy are rarer and boredom and anxiety are common (.Csikszentmihalyi, 1995)

These researches implied that motivation affects the behavior of people.  The flow theory concluded that there is a state of equilibrium between the amount of challenge in activities and an individual’s capabilities.  People feel bored when their perceived skills exceed their opportunities for using them; they become anxious when they believe that challenges exceed capabilities.  Flow can vary intensity, with the critical variable being the ratio of challenge to skill.  The portrayed relations presumably hold for peak as well as everyday experiences (Csikszentmihalyi, 2003).

Intrinsic and Extrinsic theory
Deci & Ryan believes that intrinsic and extrinsic motivational forces govern behavior.  Extrinsic forces are preprogrammed biologically (e.g., food, sleep) or derive from the reward structure in which the individual is socialized (money, prestige).  Intrinsic forces grow out of the individual’s belief that a given outcome is worth striving for (Deci & Ryan, 2001).

Deci and his colleagues (Rigby, Deci, Patrick, & Ryan, 2002) have recently conceptualized motivation along both intrinsic and extrinsic dimensions.  Intrinsic motivation concerns activities that are autotelic – engaged in for their own sake – which by definition are self-determined.  Extrinsic motivation involves a progression from behaviors that originally were extrinsically motivated but became internalized and now are self-determined.  The first level includes what Deci and his colleagues call external regulation.  In their research, they cited the example that students initially may not want to work on math but do to obtain teacher rewards and avoid punishment.

There is very little self-determination in this situation.  At the next level of extrinsic motivation, students may engage in a task (e.g., study for an exam).  Deci and his colleagues call this introjected regulation because the source of motivation is internal (feelings of “should,” “ought,” guilt) to the person but not self-determined since these feelings seem to be controlling the person.  The third level is called identified regulation and here individuals engage in the activity because it is personally important to them.

The example they cited is that, a student may study hours for a test in order to get good grades to be accepted into college.  This behavior represents the student’s own goal, although the goal has more utility value (Wigfield & Eccles, 2002) than intrinsic value such as learning.  The final level of extrinsic is integrated regulation, whereby individuals can integrate various internal and external sources of information into their own self-schema and engage in behavior because of its importance to their sense of self.

This final level is still instrumental, rather than autotelic as in intrinsic motivation, but integrated regulation does represent a form of self- determination and autonomy.  As such, both intrinsic motivation and integrated regulation will result in more cognitive engagement and learning than external or introjected regulation (Rigby et al., 2002).

Deci and his colleagues` (Rigby et al., 2002) position is thought –provoking, has generated much research, and has important implications for the field.  Many points in the self-determination model are not clearly specified, but researchers increasingly are conducting studies that are adding to the understanding of how this theory explains how behavior changes through motivation.

Stress and Coping Theory
Richard Lazarus` stress and coping theory was developed from his several research on stress and its effects to humans, and it emphasizes psychological variables, namely, the cognitive processes of perception and thought.  Lazarus  (1976, 1982, 1996) argues that it is neither the process (e.g. stressor) nor the response that best defines motivation.  Rather, it is the individual’s perception and appraisal of the situation that is a significant determinant of whether or not motivation will be experienced.  He cited that an individual may enjoy public speaking, whereas another individual finds it terrifying.  According to Lazarus, events in and of themselves do not produce motivation; it is the individual’s appraisal of the event that creates the motivation (Lazarus, 2001).

Lazarus` theory of motivation states that when an individual is confronted with challenge, primary appraisal occurs.  During primary appraisal the individual attempts to determine how the event will affect her or his behavior.  Some events are perceived as positive and beneficial and thus are likely to create a motivation.  However, other events are viewed negatively and thus are perceived as harmful or threatening such as stress.  This appraisal of the event also generates different coping emotions such as fear, anger, or excitement (Lazarus, 1995).

The next stage, secondary appraisal, involves determining whether one’s coping capacities are sufficient to meet the demands of a potentially harmful event.  An important part of this stage is a review and analysis of the response alternatives available to the individual.  This secondary appraisal can also lead to the acquisition of new coping responses (Lazarus, 2002).

Although the two models of stress and coping theory of motivation are quite different, they are not necessarily antagonistic.  It is easy to see how a biological system to cope with stress would have obvious evolutionary advantages in enhancing survival.  Yet the nature of the human cerebral cortex allows for decisional process in dealing with stress, rather than autonomic biological reactions that are characteristic of lower organisms.  A synthesis of this theory provides for an immediate, probably nonspecific, preparation for dealing with stressors; it is followed by an intelligent appraisal of the situation that may redirect the physiological reactions and institute motivation.   It is because humans have behavioral options, even though they may not always make intelligent decisions in dealing with stressors (Lazarus, 2001).

In conclusion, motivation is an important quality that affects all behavior because the different theories presented have proven that it can influence both learning of new behaviors and performance of previously learned behaviors.  Behavior is related in a reciprocal fashion to motivation because how one behaves can be changed through one’s subsequent task motivation.


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