Motivation is a general condition in an organism that produces goal directed behaviour. The study of motivation involves those factors that energise behaviour and give it new direction.

 In an attempt to understand human motivation, many theorists found it useful to distinguish between three such factors:

  1. Needs
  2.  Drives
  3.  Instincts

 (It is important to emphasise at this point that a slightly different usage of a term such as ‘instinct’ has profound implications when formulating a theory of motivation).

A)- Need is brought about by an internal biological imbalance that occurs when we are deprived of something. For instance, if you were unable to get a drink of water for a long period of time your need for water would eventually begin to increase as you became thirstier. As such, your motivation or drive to satisfy this particular need would intensify and your behaviour would become more directed towards fulfilling this need.

In the same way our motivation to satisfy sleep or hunger deficits would increase relative to the amount of time we went without them. You can see in the above example that a biological need initiates a drive to satisfy that need.

 A need can be distinguished from a drive in that it is a state of deprivation which does not necessarily imply a motivational state, rather a need state initiates a drive state which in turn motivates behaviour.

B)-An instinct is an inborn, unlearned tendency to act in a certain way in response to a need or a stimulus. An instinct is all of the following:

  • An unlearned urge to achieve a certain aim
  • An inborn knowledge of how to achieve that aim
  • A pattern of behaviour in pursuit of that aim that is the same for all members of the species.

Instincts are innate patterns of complex behaviour. They may be observed in animal species as fixed pattern responses to specific stimuli. For instance, when a parent bird holds food in its beak above the beak of one of its nestlings, the young bird will tip back its head, flutter its wings, and open its mouth to receive the food. When it comes to human motivation, scientists doubt that there are any fixed pattern responses or instincts. There are, of course, reflex behaviours such as blinking, swallowing, coughing, and so forth but these are not the same thing.

Whilst some psychologists may argue for the existence of a maternal or parental instinct, the responses of mothers and parents vary considerably towards their new-borns. Some may nurse their babies whilst others do not, some may cuddle their babies whilst others do not, and so on. Many argue that the more advanced a species is, the less likely its behaviours will be governed by its genes. Therefore, most psychologists reject the notion of human instincts.

However, Sigmund Freud did use instincts as a central concept to his theory of human behaviour, namely: sexual and ego instincts. In his theory, instincts were presumed to act as motivators for human behaviour but not specific behaviours. We shall discuss Freud’s theory in more detail later in this lesson.

C)-A drive may be regarded as primary or secondary.

Primary drives arise from the physiological characteristics of an organism. For instance, form the need for food, water, sex, and so on. They may also arise in response to stimuli. For instance, to regulate body temperature, avoid pain, and so on. These are universal drives. They may also be species-specific drives such as nest building or feeding behaviours in birds in which case they may derive from instincts.

A secondary drive is one which can be learned in response to social influences. These are sometimes referred to as acquired drives. It is generally considered that these drives are learned through association with primary drives. A good example is the drive for wealth.