Psychology Class Notes > Motivation & Emotion

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Motivation and Emotion - In this section, we will examine motives, motivation, and some related theoretical perspectives.

Then, we'll look at Emotions, some of the components or elements to emotions, and some theoretical perspectives.


Some "Why" questions: Why do you go to class each day? Why did Cain kill Abel? Why do students study for hours (sometimes even days) to pass examinations (and don't say, "to pass examinations")? Why do professors teach students, and why do they test students? Why did you pick out those shoes or those pants to wear today?

Each of these questions has an answer...there is some motive for engaging in those behaviors. We may define a motive (or motivation) as a need, want, interest, or desire that propels someone (or an organism) in a certain direction.

This motivating mechanism can be called many things--a habit, a belief, a desire, an instinct, a need, an interest, a compulsion, or a drive--but no matter what its label, it is this motivation that prompts us to take action. Indeed, the motivation comes from the verb "to move."

Some Introductory Psychology books define the field of motivation as the study of goal-directed behavior. With this definition in mind, are humans the only type of living organism that can have motivation? (this is for you to think about, not a question I am going to answer for you at this point)

I. Theoretical Perspectives

A) Instinct Theories

Many of the different theories of motivation are similar, except for the amount of emphasis they place on either biology or environment. Most include some level of both (some nature, some nurture). However, there is one theory that completely emphasizes biology...Instinct theory.

1) Instinct Theory -- states that motivation is the result of biological, genetic programming. Thus, all beings within a species are programmed for the same motivations.

a) At the heart of this perspective, is the motivation to survive - we are biologically programmed to survive. And, all of our behaviors and motivations stem from biological programming. Thus, are actions are instincts.

For example, a human mother, unlike many other species, will stay awake with a crying infant all night long trying to provide comfort. Why? Instinct theory suggests that she is programmed to behave in this manner - it is not due to learning or conditioning, not to being raised properly or poorly, not to having strong female role models or weak role models, or anything else, other that pure biology.

This perspective is very much the sort that was offered recently in the controversial article that stated, Parents don't matter that much in the development of their children.

b) William McDougal (1908) - influential theorist who viewed instincts as behavior patterns that are:

1. unlearned

2. uniform in expression

3. universal in a species

For example, within a species of bird, all the members may build identical nests and work in the same ways. This is true even for those birds of that species born and raised in captivity and isolation, and thus could not have learned the appropriate nest building behavior from other, experienced role model birds.

McDougal carried it a step further by stating that humans are the same and have instincts for behaviors such as: parenting, submission, jealousy, mating, and more.

c) Problems with this perspective

1. theorists have never been able to agree on a list of instincts; Many instincts are NOT universal and seem to be more dependent on individual differences (for example, jealousy. Not all humans exhibit the same jealously levels, behaviors, etc.).

2. today - instinct theory has a more biological emphasis for specific motives and not all (like aggression and sex). But, there is still a strong instinct perspective in the study of animals (ethology)

B) Sociobiological Perspective (Sociobiology) -- the study of genetic and evolutionary bases of behavior in all organisms, including humans. This view spawned from instinct theory, but it is not purely an instinct theory.

1) Major Viewpoint - sociobiology states that natural selection favors social behaviors that maximize reproductive success. Thus, the primary motivating force for living organisms (including humans) is to pass on our genes from one generation to the next.

This theory, inspired by Charles Darwin, argues that in the last 15 million years the human species has evolved socially as well as physically. Through the process of natural selection, individuals who were even slightly predisposed to engage in adaptive social behaviors were the "fittest" and tended to survive longer and to be more successful in passing their genes along to future generations. Over countless generations, this selection process weeded out individuals who lacked these predispositions and those who possessed them prospered. Even though these tendencies may not enhance our fitness in today's world, eons spent in harsher environments have left us genetically predisposed to perform certain social behaviors when situational cues call forth ancient instincts

Instinct theory argued that people try to survive, and that any quality that increases survival will eventually become genetically based. However, sociobiology has changed this view slightly by arguing that the organism's fundamental goal is not mere survival, or even the survival of its offspring. Rather, the fittest individual is the one that succeeds in passing the maximum number of genes on to the next generation. Why, for example, do animals go to all the trouble of breeding and raising offspring? Because having children is an extremely effective means of ensuring the survival of one's genes in a future generation. Caring for offspring may seem self-sacrificing, but these actions are prompted by the gene's selfish tendency to seek survival at all costs. Even if the parent perishes protecting its young, its genes will continue to flourish in its offspring. To Darwin, the fittest animal is the one that can survive longest. To Hamilton, the fittest animal is the one that maximizes the survival of its genes in future generations.

2) This perspective can explain motives such as competition, aggression, sexual activity, and dominance.

3) It can also explain differences in men and women's mating preferences. For example:

In one study an attractive man or woman (the researchers' accomplice) asked strangers of the opposite sex one of the following questions: "I have been noticing you around campus. I find you very attractive." The accomplice then asked one of the following questions, depending on the group the subject had been assigned to: (a) "Would you go out with me tonight"; (b) "Would you come over to my apartment tonight?" (c) "Would you go to bed with me tonight?"

The Results: None of the women agreed to the third request compared to the 75% hit rate for men. Is it possible that the differences were due to instincts or do you think they must be due to something else?

In another example: Studies have shown that women are more likely to engage in extramarital affairs during ovulation, when they are more likely to get pregnant (the studies did NOT state or even insinuate that the women were making conscious efforts to get pregnant from a male other than their spouse or boyfriend, only that women were indeed more likely to be ovulating during the time they decided to have the extramarital affairs).

4) Seems Selfish - this perspective may seem selfish, but it can also explain seemingly altruistic behaviors:

For example: A Blackbird will risk death to signal the flock that a hawk (a predator) is nearby? In so doing, the Blackbird increases its chance of getting killed, but also increases the chances of the other Blackbirds surviving and, therefore, increasing the odds that more genes will be passed on.

an organism will risk its own life to keep the possibility of passing on familial genes alive. Others of the same genetic strain will survive and keep the gene pool going even if that particular bird does not.

so this may be a selfish perspective, but it has the potential to produce remarkably unselfish behavior.

C) Drive Theories

a) A Drive is an internal state of tension that motivates an organism to engage in activities that should (hopefully) reduce this tension.

b) Most organisms seem to try and maintain Homeostasis - a state of physiological equilibrium.

For example, we have a homeostatic temperature of 98.6 degrees Farenheight. If this temperature begins to waiver enough you have a number of possible autonomic responses: if temperature increases, you perspire. If temperature decreases, you shiver.

So, when you experience a drive, you are motivated to reduce this state of tension and pursue actions that will lead to a drive reduction (reduce the state of tension).

For Example - hunger leads to physical discomfort (internal tension - drive), which leads to the motivation to get food, which leads to eating, which leads to a reduction in physical tension (drive reduction), which finally leads to the restoration of equilibrium.

c) There are some problems:

1) homeostasis seems irrelevant to some human motives - "thirst for knowledge"...what the heck is that?

2) motivation may exist without a drive arousal. For example, humans do not eat only when they are hungry. Don't believe me? Ever go out for a nice dinner, eat enough to be full, but then still decide to have that great chocolate desert anyway? I thought so.

D) Incentive Theory

An incentive may be defined as an external goal that has the capacity to motivate behavior. This does not mean that it will always motivate behavior, only that it can.

Now, we get to a situation in which we can see a difference with previous theories:

Drive theory acts by an internal state pushing you in a specific direction. However, incentive theory acts when an external stimulus pulls you in a certain direction.

This is directly related to Skinner. Here we can see a move away from biological influence toward the environment and its influence on behavior. You attend class not because you were biologically programmed to become a student, but rather, because there is something external that is rewarding to you. Is it the grade you seek? Is it the desire to avoid going into the job market? Is it the desire to obtain a better job with a degree than possible without one? Regardless which it is, the idea is that the motivation is something external, not internal.

E) Malsow's Need Hierarchy

This Humanistic perspective is a blend of biological and social needs and is a sweeping overview of human motivation. Because Maslow believed that all needs vary in strength, he arranged them in a pyramidal form to indicate which have more strength. The most basic needs (like shelter and food) are vital to daily survival, and are at the bottom, while needs that are less important to staying alive are higher on the pyramid.

We may define the Need Hierarchy as - a systematic arrangement of needs according to priority, which assumes that basic needs must be met before less basic needs are aroused. Thus, like stage theories, we must meet one need before we move on to the next.


1) physiological - these include the need for food, water, and other vital components of life. If these needs are not met, the organism can't survive. Thus, these are the most basic and important.

2) safety and security - these needs refer more to the long term survival than day to day needs. Humans tend to seek out order and have a desire to live in a world that is not filled with chaos and danger. As a result, they seek out stable lives with careers, homes, insurance, etc.

3) belongingness and love - after obtaining a safe environment to live and establishing some long term plans, people seek out love and affection from family members, friends, and lovers.

4) esteem - at this level, people become concerned with self-esteem which may be based on achievements that they earn, recognition from others for jobs they do, etc.

5) cognitive - needs at this level are based on acquiring knowledge and understanding of the world, people, behavior, etc. If you are in college to learn (not simply to get a degree) then you are attempting to fulfill your cognitive needs.

6) aesthetic - aesthetic needs include beauty and order in life. Getting your life in order may provide a sense of comfort that people often lack. In addition, spending time finding and observing beauty in the world becomes an option and a desire as people do not have to struggle and fight to stay alive. Remember the episode of Star Trek: The Next Generation in which people from our century who had been frozen are found and thawed? These people could not understand that money was no longer important, that starvation had been abolished on Earth, and that people now had the opportunity and will to better themselves through learning about art, music, etc. Picard was preaching the aesthetic level of Maslow's hierarchy.

7) self-actualization - this is the highest and most difficult level to reach. In fact, according to Maslow, very few people actually reach this level. Self-actualization is the need to fulfill one's own potential. As Maslow stated, "What a man can be, he must be." Interestingly, Maslow indicated that people will be frustrated if they can't pursue their true loves and talents. For example, if a person has a talent for painting, but they become a doctor, they will be forever frustrated because the need for self-actualization will be hindered.


We all have them, and yet most of us can't explain them. Do people really know why they have them, when they have them, how to control them, etc.? Like so many other aspects of our psychological makeup, emotions are comprised of several components. We will discuss emotions in terms of the cognitive, physiological, and behavioral components.

A. Cognitive Level (this is the label or name associated with the emotion)

1) One key aspect of emotions, according to Woodworth & Sehlesberg, is that we have perceptions of them that usually ranges from :

pleasantness-unpleasantness & weak-strong (this is the level of activation)

So, we perceive our emotions as having some level of pleasantness and strength. For example, if your boyfriend or girlfriend breaks up with you, you experience some type of emotion, like sadness. Then, you experience this emotion along the pleasantness and strength dimensions - if you loved this person, you may experience sadness that is very unpleasant and intense (strength).

1. Usually, research on emotions involve a person's subjective report or experience of an experience. Aside from all of the normal problems associated with self-report data, there are a few others that occur with self report measures of emotions:

a) there are over 400 words in the English language that refer to emotions. So how do we know exactly what is meant (how do we operationalize) when someone says, for example, they feel "sad"? What does that mean compared to all the other words?

b) people can't turn emotions on and off so control over these for study is very difficult.

c) as we know, emotions involve some type of personal evaluations that normally ranges from pleasant-unpleasant. However, we may have experiences that involve both. For example - getting a promotion = more money, but also more responsibility and more time away from others activities. So there are both pleasant and unpleasant emotions associated with this one experience.

B. Physiological Level

Emotions are accompanied by physiological arousal, usually at an autonomic level (involuntary/automatic).

For example - have you ever had the experience of being in a car when it spins out of control on an icy road? Almost instantly upon the car spinning off track, you experience an increase in heart rate, blood pressure, breathing, your pupils dilate, etc. This occurs, at some level, with all emotions. The systems involved with this activity are:

1) Central Nervous System (CNS): limbic system and cortex

2) Peripheral Nervous System (PNS): somatic and autonomic, sympathetic and parasympathetic

But, very often physiological changes are too small to notice. In these cases, we rely on:

1) Galvanic Skin Response (GSR) - measures fluctuations in electrical conductivity of the skin that occur when sweat glands increase activity.

2) Polygraph - "lie detector" - used to measure the subtle variations in muscle tension, heart rate, etc., associated with emotion that occur very subtly.

C. Behavioral Level: Nonverbal Expression

Very often organisms communicate without words. They may rely on smiling, frowning, clenching their fists, turning their backs, etc. Thus, we may communicate emotions nonverbally; through body language.

One of the most influential and important researchers in the field of emotion, is Ekman. Here are a couple of examples from Ekman's work:

Ekman showed photos to people and asked them to identify what emotion was being expressed in those photos. He found that people from different cultures could recognize common facial features (people from different cultures all identified, for example, smiling as a sign of happiness).

He found 7 basic emotions most often identified from photos of facial expressions: happiness, sadness, anger, fear, surprise, disgust, and contempt.

He also indicated that the use of facial expressions to communicate seems to be innate - people who have been blind from birth make many similar facial expressions.



1. Background:

James and Lange (a Danish physiologist) proposed the same explanation of emotion at about same time - thus the theory was named for both of them.

2. A common sense idea about emotion would be:

Environmental influence (some event) ---> Psychological experience ---> Physiological state changes (emotion)

BUT: the James-Lange theory states:

Environmental influence (event) --> Physiological change --> Psychological experience

In other words, James and Lange would say, "I feel afraid because I tremble". If a person sees a bear while walking along in the woods, James and Lange would suggest that the person would tremble and then realize that, because they are trembling, they are afraid.

3. James stated:

"My theory ... is that the bodily changes follow directly the perception of the exciting fact, and that our feeling of the same changes as they occur is the emotion. Common sense says, we lose our fortune, are sorry and weep; we meet a bear, are frightened and run; we are insulted by a rival, and angry and strike. The hypothesis here to be defended says that this order of sequence is incorrect ... and that the more rational statement is that we feel sorry because we cry, angry because we strike, afraid because we tremble ... Without the bodily states following on the perception, the latter would be purely cognitive in form, pale, colorless, destitute of emotional warmth. We might then see the bear, and judge it best to run, receive the insult and deem it right to strike, but we should not actually feel afraid or angry."

4. Problems:

later studies separated the internal organs that James said caused arousal from the CNS, but this did not eliminate emotional responding. So, perceptions of bodily changes could not be the only factor involved in emotions.

B. The Cannon-Bard Theory

1. Background: again two people had the same perspective at roughly the same time (although Cannon was considered to be the more influential one). This theory made use of information about physiological structures not available to James and Lange.

2. Cannon's critique (1929) of James-Lange Theory - He indicated that some of the problems with the James-Lange theory were:

a) People who show different emotions may have the same physiological (visceral) state - Example: cry when happy & sad

b) visceral changes are often too difficult to notice by a person having the experience to be used as cues

c) visceral changes are often too slow to be a source of emotions, which erupt very quickly. For example, when something bad happens to you, do you always cry before you feel sad? Or can you feel sad before crying?

d) physiological arousal may occur without the experience of an emotion:

For example: exercise --> increased heart rate --> no emotional significance

3. back to common sense theory:

Emotion occurs when the thalamus sends signals to BOTH the cortex (which produces conscious experience of emotion) and autonomic nervous system (visceral arousal) at the same time.

BUT - as we already know, the thalamus is not the only player involved in emotion. The limbic system, hypothalamus and others are all involved. So, this leads us to the Cognitive view.

C. Cognitive View: Schachter and Singer Two Factor Theory

1) Schachter and Singer maintain that we don't automatically know when we are happy, angry, or jealous. Instead, we label our emotions by considering situational cues. We feel some emotion. To really understand what emotion we are having at that particular time, we use the cues in the environment at the time to help us determine the current emotion. This labeling process depends on two factors:

a) some element in the situation must trigger a general, nonspecific arousal marked by increased heart rate, tightening of the stomach, and rapid breathing.

b) people search the situation/environment for cues that tell them what has caused the emotion.

The infamous Schachter-Singer study of emotion:

1) Schachter and Singer told men who volunteered they were studying a vitamin supplement called Suproxin. The men were asked if they were willing to take the drug, and those who consented were injected with epinephrine or a placebo. Epinephrine, which is also called adrenaline, is released by our hormonal system whenever we face a stressful situation, and generally increases blood pressure, heart rate, and respiration. Thus the men who received the epinephrine were more physiologically aroused than those who received the inert placebo.

2) Schachter and Singer manipulated subjects' interpretations of their physical sensations. They told some of the epinephrine-injected subjects that even though the drug wasn't harmful, side effects were quite common: they might feel flushed, their hands might shake, and their hearts might pound. The other subjects, in contrast, were given no information at all about the effects of the drug. Schachter and Singer reasoned that once the epinephrine kicked in, their subjects would begin to search for the cause of their arousal. People who had been told that the drug would arouse them should have assumed that the drug was causing their hands to shake and their heart to pound. But if they weren't warned about the drug's effects, then they would be more likely to interpret their arousal as an emotion.

3) What kind of emotion would these uninformed subjects experience? Schachter and Singer believed that their reaction would depend on the available situational cues. They therefore manipulated this variable as well. They arranged for their subjects to wait for the Suproxin's effects in a small room with another person. This individual was one of Schachter and Singer's accomplices, and he was trained to behave in either a euphoric or angry fashion. The euphoric confederate clowned around during the 20 minutes, doodling on scratch paper, playing a game of "basketball" with wadded up balls of paper, making and flying a paper airplane, building a tower out of file folders, and playing with a Hula Hoop. The angry confederate, in contrast, became increasingly agitated during the 20 minutes. The subjects were asked to complete questionnaires that contained very personal questions. The accomplice, after loudly criticizing questions that requested information about childhood diseases, father's income, and family members' bathing habits and psychiatric adjustment, flew into a rage at the question "How many times each week do you have sexual intercourse?"

4) Schachter and Singer observed and coded the actions taken by each subject, and also asked them to describe their emotion state. As they had predicted, the physiologically aroused subjects who hadn't been told about the drug's side-effects responded with emotions that matched the confederate's actions. If they were aroused and hadn't been expecting the arousal, then they felt happy when their fellow subject was happy, but angry when their fellow subject was angry. Forewarned subjects and unaroused subjects who received a placebo, however, did not display any pronounced emotion. Also, the subjects in a special control condition--people who had been given epinephrine but had been misinformed about its possible effect -- also displayed the emotions enacted by a euphoric confederate

Additional Support -- Dutton & Aaron (1974)

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