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Definition: motivation from Collins English Dictionary


1 the act or an instance of motivating

2 desire to do; interest or drive

3 incentive or inducement

4 psychol the process that arouses, sustains and regulates human and animal behaviour

› ˌmotiˈvational adj

› ˈmotiˌvative adj

Summary Article: Motivation
from Encyclopedia of Emotion

Motivation is the drive, energy, or activation to engage in goal-oriented behaviors. Motivation may be external (extrinsic) or internal (intrinsic). Intrinsic motivation comes from the rewards inherent to a task or activity, for example, the pleasure, interest, or enjoyment of playing a musical instrument, painting a picture, or learning for its own sake. Extrinsic motivation comes from an external source. External motivation may be positive, such as reaping a reward (earning money, getting a good grade, making the football team), or negative (e.g., avoiding punishment, fear of breaking the rules). Competition is generally an extrinsic motivator; the drive to compete is motivated by a desire to win or to beat others.

In 1981, psychologist Susan Harter developed a motivational scale, with extrinsic and intrinsic motivation on opposite poles of a single dimension. Children were asked whether they read books for intrinsic (e.g., because they enjoyed reading) or extrinsic (e.g., to please the teacher) reasons. However, there was no way for children to indicate that both types of motivations might be valid. More recent research seems to indicate that extrinsic and intrinsic motivation may coexist (they are not mutually exclusive); motivation varies depending on individual factors (e.g., age), activity or task, and other factors. Numerous studies have examined the relationship between motivation (primarily intrinsic or extrinsic) and academic achievement. It has been found that higher levels of intrinsic motivation are linked to greater academic achievement. Developmentally, intrinsic motivation appears to decrease significantly (and extrinsic motivation increase) as children progress through the elementary and middle school years. There is speculation that this is related to the heavy use of rewards in American classrooms as well as increased emphasis on grades and test scores, especially as students get older (Lepper, Iyengar, & Henderlong Corpus, 2005).

Emotions motivate behavior, and different emotions have unique functions related to motivation. For example, interest provokes curiosity, wonder, and the urge to explore or discover. Interest is an intrinsic motivator that helps focus attention and provide the energy to promote interaction and engagement with the environment. Happiness follows from achievement of a goal; joy serves as a reward that promotes returning to a reinforcing activity. Sadness (e.g., grief about the death of a loved one) can motivate renewal and strengthening of social bonds with friends and loved ones. Anger can mobilize and sustain energy, with a corresponding increase in motor activity at high levels. Shame acts as a force for social cohesion and conformity; the anticipation of shame (or desire to avoid shame) may motivate an individual to accept responsibility for the welfare of the family or community. Fear motivates escape from dangerous situations (Izard & Ackerman, 2000).

The ability to plan and follow through (related to executive functioning) is not always associated with motivation. Difficulties with organization or planning, together with a high degree of motivation, can lead to frustration and negatively affect one's sense of self-esteem. In bipolar disorder, mania (or hypomania) is characterized by expansive, elevated, or irritable mood, inflated sense of self (feelings of superiority or importance), decreased need for sleep, pressured speech, flight of ideas, increased involvement in goal-directed activities, excessive pleasure seeking, and/or risk-taking behaviors. Mania may be associated with increased energy, motivation, and creativity. However, because of the nature of mania—and the cognitive features of bipolar disorder—this can lead to many ideas, plans, and unfinished projects.

Amotivation means lack of motivation. Amotivation may be a feature of depression. It may also be associated with the use of certain drugs (e.g., marijuana).

See also bipolar disorder, curiosity, depressant drugs, desire, evolutionary psychology (human sociobiology), learned helplessness, libido, locus of control, Abraham Maslow.

Further Readings
  • Brewer, M. B., & Hewstone, M. (2004). Emotion and motivation. Bodmin, England: Wiley-Blackwell.
  • Reeve, J. (2009). Understanding motivation and emotion (5th ed.). Hoboken, NJ: John Wiley.
  • References:
  • Harter, S. (1981). A new self-report scale of intrinsic versus extrinsic orientation in the classroom: Motivational and informational components. Developmental Psychology, 17, 300-312.
  • Izard, C. E., & Ackerman, B. P. (2000). Motivational, organizational, and regulatory functions of discrete emotions. In M. Lewis & J. M. Haviland-Jones (Eds.), Handbook of emotions (2nd ed., pp. 253-264). New York: Guilford.
  • Lepper, M. R., Iyengar, S. S., & Henderlong Corpus, J. (2005). Intrinsic and extrinsic motivational orientations in the classroom: Age differences and academic correlates. Journal of Educational Psychology, 97, 184-196.
  • Copyright 2010 by Gretchen M. Reevy

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