“Error 404: Motivation not found.”, “Can I buy motivation on Amazon?”, “For my next birthday please gift me some motivation, thank you.” These are the type of messages we most commonly receive during exam week, and the type that a student’s life is over-flowing with. That being said, a pending question keeps looming over our heads – What really motivates us? Before we put on our ancient robes to ponder over the answer in front of an Aristotle statue, let us tell you that its already researched upon and is now known as the Content Theories of Motivation.

In Psychology, Motivation is categorized into two parts: Content Theories and Process Theories, which are the what and how of Motivation, respectively.

Through the years, there have been many theories presented, rejected and criticized. However, today, we have for you, four of the most basic of accepted content motivation theories in Psychology. They are as follows:

  1. Abraham Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs Theory.
  2. Alderfer’s ERG Theory.
  3. David McClelland’s Theory.
  4. Herzberg’s Two-Factor Theory.


1) Abraham Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs Theory:

Maslow’s theory is quite famous when it comes to Humanistic Psychology, however, this theory plays a major role in Motivation theories as well. In essence, this theory consists of a five-story pyramid, having five different levels of needs respectively. The bottom most leveled need is considered the most important, following the one above it and so on. The needs are as follows: Physiological Needs, Security Needs, Social Needs, Esteem Needs and Self-Actualization Needs.

As said above, an organism’s first level of need is which requires an immediate satisfaction, and so a person stuck on the first level will be highly motivated to find food and shelter, rather than being motivated to find other factors of life which come later in the pyramid like respect, friends and self-esteem. Once the person achieves the first level and keeps it maintained, he moves towards the second one, where he would be motivated to satisfy the demanded needs of the level.

Through this pyramid, we can properly derive what exactly the person is motivated to do at that very moment or stage in life, and the individual can act upon his needs efficiently through his motivation.


2) Alderfer’s ERG Content Theory of Motivation:

Clayton Paul Alderfer proposed a theory which was a condensed form of Abraham Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs Theory. Here, he concentrated Maslow’s five level needs into just three levels, which include: Existential Needs, Relatedness Needs and Growth Needs.

Existential Needs are the first and the most pressing need in Alderfer’s theory. This level focuses on needs necessary for survival. Referring to Maslow’s theory, Existential Needs is a compilation of Physiological and Security Needs, i.e. food, water, shelter, air, security, etc. Aldefer has grouped both the levels into one due to their rather same nature and function.

Relatedness Needs is the second level in Alderfer’s theory; it comprises of Maslow’s Social and a touch of Esteem Needs, i.e. friends, relationship, respect, a good self-esteem, etc. It’s named “Relatedness” needs due to a person’s need on establishing positive relations with other humans (as man is a social animal) along with their need to be liked, respected and loved.

Growth Needs is the last level of needs and its related motivation in Alderfer’s theory. It is a condensation of Maslow’s Esteem and Self-Actualization needs i.e. needs for respect and esteem, along with realizing and fulfilling one’s full potential. This is the reason as it is termed as “Growth” needs, because it suggests internal positive growth of one’s capabilities.

3) David McClelland’s Content Theory of Motivation:

McClelland too in his theory, categorized human needs and their adequate motivation into three types: Need for Power, Need for Affiliation and Need for Achievement. However, his theory did not include levels or stages of human needs, but rather it talked for three kinds of people in general with their personality type and its respective needs and motivation.

People with a Need for Power are motivated to fulfill that demand. Their basic traits include leadership skills, authoritative personality, influential auras and a demanding vibe. They are generally outspoken and present their views on every turn. They have an immense need for power, which motivates them to always work and get to the top of the ladder, and since power is endless, they are constantly motivated to keep climbing up the ladder.

Exhibit A: Cersei Lannister. [People with this need DO NOT equal to being evil. Cersei is only here for the sake of the meme and reference.]
The second type of people in McClelland’s theory are those with a Need for Affiliation. These type of individuals derive their maximum happiness and satisfaction from maintaining positive relations with others, and thus, they are constantly motivated to build these relations to fulfill their need to be pleasing, likable, loved and appreciated by others.

[Again, Ser Bronn is not here to demean anyone with this need. He is only here for the sake of the meme.]
The last type is the people with a Need for Achievement. This category of people receive their maximum satisfaction from working towards and achieving their goals. They are usually very calculated and choose to take the minimum level of risk for maximum results. These people give their absolute best into any task and often require feedback to keep clear track of their progress. People with a need for achievement remain motivated to efficiently achieve every task that their is.


4) Herzberg’s Two-Factor Content Theory of Motivation:

Fredrick Herzberg’s motivation theory basically deals with work-place motivation. His studies revolved around researching exactly what motivated workers to progress and he found of two factors: Hygiene and Motivation.

Hygiene or Maintenance Factor is directly related to the conditions in which a job has to be performed. These conditions include payments, benefits, comfort, company policies, job security, etc. These conditions’ absence leads to a significant dissatisfaction and the person is motivated to get them back, however, the presence of these factors doesn’t really contribute to any rise in motivation.

Motivational Factor is which creates a durable and positive motivation in the workers. This factor includes: Advancement, achievement, recognition, work-itself, possibility of growth and responsibility.

Now, put away your philosophical robes, and if anyone asks you for motivation, educate them though these four theories or forward them this article – whichever works best.


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

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