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Arkansas State University

Learn About Motivates People With a Degree in Psychology

To succeed in life and get things done, we need to be motivated. Unfortunately, motivation is sometimes hard to find or even define. This can lead us to question what best motivates us. Not surprisingly, psychologists spend much of their time researching the factors that drive motivation.

Psychologists and behavioral scientists classify motivation into two categories: intrinsic and extrinsic. Intrinsic motivation comes from an innate desire to perform a task. Extrinsic motivation comes from an outside factor, such as some kind of reward or payment. While extrinsic motivators are common (salaries, bonuses, medals), intrinsic motivators (such as familial love) play an important role in maintaining human connections and relations.

Common Factors That Motivate Human Behavior

Human beings are shaped by emotions and biological factors that still elude understanding. When it comes to the workings of the mind, psychologists have seemingly endless mysteries to solve, but there are several known factors responsible for much of human behavior.

Biological drivers, such as the desire to find a suitable mate, are hardwired into our DNA. These motivating factors form the “nature” portion of the nature-versus-nurture paradigm. On a daily basis, hormones and other built-in signals remind us to eat when we are hungry or drink when we are thirsty. Performing an act that is desirable can trigger the release of certain chemicals within our brains. Many of our cravings, or even addictions, come from the desire for a dopamine release.

The field of cultural psychology explores the role that culture plays in shaping the thought processes of individuals within society. Examples of cultural motivators include expectations surrounding marriageable age for men and women. When it comes to industry, the types of work that cultures and subcultures value have a hand in shaping the workforce itself.

Modern thought on motivation is highly influenced by the work of American psychologist Abraham Maslow who published his paper “A Theory of Human Motivation” in 1943. The theory described five universal human needs: physiological needs, the need for safety, love/belonging, esteem, and self-actualization. Human motivation, he wrote, can be explained as a desire to progress from base needs like food and shelter to higher needs like self-actualization.

Why Is It Important to Understand Motivation in Business and Life?

Numerous scientific studies have explored motivation in the workplace, places of higher learning and elsewhere. The results of those studies have real-world application when it comes to employee policies, public health policy and rules that govern many aspects of everyday life.

A 2013 study in the American Journal of Preventive Medicine found that financial incentives could encourage adults to exercise, but the benefits waned after six months. A 2015 study published by the National Institutes of Health explored ways of boosting intrinsic motivation among college students. Steps like encouraging students and providing emotional support, the report found, led to measurable improvements in how motivated students were when it came to studying.

Low motivation is known to be contagious, and boosting motivation is often a top priority for educators, business leaders and parents. The insights that psychologists gain on the complex factors that shape motivation will inform how students are taught, employees are trained and possibly even how children are raised.

Gain Insight Into Motivation With A-State’s Bachelor of Arts in Psychology Online

In A-State’s online B.A. in Psychology program, students learn what motivates people to make decisions and how to apply those insights to careers in psychology, marketing, human resources and other rewarding fields.

Learn more about Arkansas State University’s online B.A. in Psychology program.


Psychology Today: What Motivates Us and Why

Harvard Business Review: What Motivates Us

ScienceDirect: Financial Incentives for Exercise Adherence in Adults: Systematic Review and Meta-Analysis

NCBI: How to Encourage Intrinsic Motivation in the Clinical Teaching Environment? A Systematic Review From the Self-Determination Theory

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