Ever felt that you were seriously slacking off of tasks? Or how about moments when you felt at such a loss of motivation, that you succumbed to those barely working, short-term fixes? We’ve been there too. But worry not, because we’ve gathered around the most basic of the long-term fixing: theories of motivation.

Motivation is described as a driving force or energy which pushes the individual to work towards the achievement of a goal. It is a product of a need’s demand for satisfaction in an individual.

However, due to individual differences, the whole of the human race cannot benefit from just one method of motivation. And so, through decades of extensive research, many psychologist and theorists presented the world of modern psychology with different and varying motivation theories.

These theories of motivation play a significant role in Motivational Psychology today.


Categorization of Theories of Motivation

Motivational theories are divided into two parts: Content Theories and Process Theories.

Content Theories of Motivation:

Content theories basically deals with what factors influence a person’s motivation. Here are the most basic content theories of motivation in motivational psychology:


1) Abraham Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs:

In his five-story pyramid, Maslow highlights different stages or levels of needs in the context of motivation, with the bottom-most being the most pressing need which demands to be satisfied immediately.


Self-Actualization: Personal Growth and Fulfillment.
Esteem Needs: Respect, Confidence, Status and Reputation.
Social Needs: Belonging, Trust and Acceptance.
Safety Needs: Security and Stability.
Physiological Needs: Shelter, Food, Water, Air.


According to Maslow’s hierarchy of needs theory, a person stuck on the first level of the pyramid – Physiological/Basic Needs – will only strive to, and be motivated to fulfill these demands rather than caring for the satisfaction of the needs in the levels above. After the person is satisfied in relation to all his needs and wants present in the pyramid, he is Self-Actualized. A person can very well locate his motivational forces after recognizing which level he is on.


2) Alderfer’s ERG Theory:

This theory is a thoroughly concentrated form of Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs Theory. Here, instead of Maslow’s five stage needs and their corresponding motivational levels, the ERG theory is condensed into just three stages: Existence Needs, Relatedness Needs and Growth Needs.

Existence Needs is a compilation of the first two of Maslow’s needs, i.e. Physiological and Safety needs, while Relatedness Needs is a mixture of Maslow’s Social Needs, as well as a hint of his Esteem Needs, and lastly, Growth Needs consist of Maslow’s Esteem and Self-Actualization Needs.

3) David McClelland’s Theory:

David McClelland, with his theory, categorized humans with three basic needs: Need for Power; Need for Affiliation and Need for Achievement.

People with a strong need for power strive for control over others. These individuals have characteristics which include being out-spoken, demanding, practical and authoritative. This category of people are motivated to reach and be at the top, where they can exercise control, authorize and influence other people.

In the category for the type of people who have a need for affiliation, the individuals gain their maximum satisfaction through making and maintaining positive connections with others, and thus, they are constantly motivated to please, be loved and accepted by others, all the while ignoring and dismissing the pain of rejection.

The third category is which has an immense need for achievement. This category of people are calculating and opt for taking minimum risk, as it could hinder with their scale of achievement; they give their tasks their maximum and are often observed craving for immediate feedbacks. These individuals are so immensely motivated for achievement that their main aim is the satisfaction of the need rather than the by-product of the completion of the task, i.e. payment, etc.


4) Herzberg’s Motivation-Hygiene Theory:

This theory, presented by Fredrick Herzberg, deals with workplace motivation. Herzberg aimed to theorize exactly what motivated employees and he found two factors: Maintenance or Hygiene factor, and Motivational factor. Due to this, the theory is also known as the Two-Factor Theory.

Hygiene are those factors which are related to the conditions in which a job has to be preformed. They most commonly include salary, job security, decent working conditions, benefits, company policies, etc. Absence of these factors create dissatisfaction, and the individual works to get them back, however, their presence is only a sort-term motivation fix.

Motivational Factors’ presence creates a long-lasting and positive motivation in employees. It includes six factors: Recognition, advancement, achievement, the work itself and the possibility of growth and responsibility.


Process Theories of Motivation:

Process theories deal with how motivation occurs in individuals, and here they are as follows:


1) Vroom’s Expectancy Theory:

Expectancy Theory can be said to be based on a person’s perception and conscious choices. Vroom stated that motivation results from three variables: Expectancy, Instrumentality and Valance.

Expectancy is a belief of a person that high effort leads to a better performance. Expectancy is affected by factors such as having the right material, skills and support for the job, etc.

Instrumentality is the belief for reward after the completion of the task. It is also dependent on factors like a clear understanding between the reward and means/rules to attaining it, as well as the transparency of the process, etc.

Valance is the individual’s personal importance of the reward or outcome. If the importance is higher, then there will be a higher motivation.


2) Adam’s Equity Theory:

This theory basically states that a person is most motivated when he feels that there is an equity between his performance/input and his reward/output. Three are three types of exchange relationships:

Overpaid Inequity is when the the output is more than the input.

Underpaid Inequity is when the input is more than the output. This is the most demotivating.

Equity is when the input is equal to that of the output, and here, motivation can be observed in it’s maximum.


3) Reinforcement Theory:

Or Operant Conditioning, states that individuals are likely to repeat a behavior that will bring about a desirable outcome, and refrain from those which bring forward undesirable outcomes. It includes two types of outcomes:

The first is Reinforcement. It is of two types: Positive and Negative. Positive Reinforcement refers to rewarding an individual, while Negative refers to taking away something undesirable, when the task is achieved.

The second is Punishment which is also of two types: Positive and Negative. Positive Punishment refers to giving something undesirable to the person, while Negative refers to taking something desirable away, if the task is not fulfilled.


4) The Carrot and Stick Approach:

This theory is a traditional one. In essence, it states to reward the individual at performance and give punishments in case of non-performance. However, the punishment has several conditions: It is only effective if the individual then selects the alternative desirable behavior; Punishment should be given at the time of non-performance.


Finally, now as we know exactly how we are motivated, we can apply these theories to our benefit and perhaps, we will succeed in not yielding to the temptation that is the living-room couch.


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

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