Motivational Theories definition

Motivational theory is tasked with discovering what drives individuals to work towards a goal or outcome. Businesses are interested in motivational theory because motivated individuals are more productive, leading to more economic use of resources.

Most motivational theories differentiate between intrinsic and extrinsic factors: the former are concerned with an individual's interest, enjoyment and willingness to partake in an activity. People with higher self-confidence and beliefs that their own abilities will lead to success are more likely to have high levels of intrinsic motivation. Extrinsic motivations focus on the outcome of the activity i.e. individuals are driven by the outcome rather than the activity itself.

Frequently-cited motivational theories include the escape-seeking dichotomy model, drive-reduction theory, cognitive dissonance theory, and motivations driven by Abraham Maslow's Hierarchy of Needs.

Mono-motivational theories reduce the aspects that drive individuals to act into one term. Evolutionary psychology and economics both provide mono-motivational theories – survival and self-interest respectively. Some theories break down motivational drive into conscious and unconscious factors, which both influence behaviour. Self-interest, for example, could be the unconscious factor influencing the desire to work, with duty to family the conscious factor.

Machiavellianism is a personality trait said to influence motivation, characterised by narcissism, self-interest and the desire for power and strength. Some commentators argue that Machiavellianism is more common among high-powered individuals, such as CEOs and sportspeople, than in the general population, although it may be that these positions encourage Machiavellian qualities to develop – 'those in power crave more power.'


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