Instincts and Drives

Instincts and Drives

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Motivation: Instincts and Drives

How do psychologists define motivation? From what perspectives do they view motivated behavior?

Psychologists define motivation as a need or desire that energizes and directs behavior. Our motivations arise from the interplay between nature (the bodily “push”) and nurture (the “pulls” from our thought processes and culture).

The point to remember Our motivations arise from the interplay between nature (the bodily “push”) and nurture (the “pulls” from our thought processes and culture).

If our motivations get hijacked, our lives go awry. Those with substance use disorder, for example, may find their cravings for an addictive substance override their longings for sustenance, safety, and social support.

In their attempts to understand ordinary motivated behavior, psychologists have viewed it from four perspectives:

Instinct theory (now replaced by the evolutionary perspective) focuses on genetically predisposed behaviors. Drive-reduction theory focuses on how we respond to our inner pushes. Arousal theory focuses on finding the right level of stimulation. Abraham Maslow’s hierarchy of needs focuses on the priority of some needs over others.

Multiple-Choice Question

Which of the following BEST describes motivation?

the optimum level of arousal a need or desire that activates and guides behavior toward a goal the priority of some needs above others a balanced physiological and psychological state



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Correct. Motivation arises from the interaction between pushes and pulls that energize our behavior and direct it toward a goal.

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Instincts and Evolutionary Psychology

To qualify as an instinct, a complex behavior must have a fixed pattern throughout a species and be unlearned (Tinbergen, 1951). Such behaviors are common in other species and include imprinting in birds and the return of salmon to their birthplace. A few human behaviors, such as infants’ innate reflexes to root for a nipple and suck, exhibit unlearned fixed patterns, but many more are directed by both physiological needs and psychological wants.

Although instincts cannot explain most human motives, the underlying assumption continues in evolutionary psychology: Genes do predispose some species-typical behavior. Psychologists might apply this perspective, for example, to explain our human similarities, animals’ biological predispositions, and the influence of evolution on our phobias, our helping behaviors, and our romantic attractions.

Drives and Incentives

In addition to our predispositions, we have drives. Physiological needs (such as for food or water) create an aroused, motivated state—a drive (such as hunger or thirst)—that pushes us to reduce the need. Drive-reduction theory explains that, with few exceptions, when a physiological need increases, so does our psychological drive to reduce it.

The point to remember Drive reduction is one way our bodies strive for homeostasis— the maintenance of a steady internal state.

Drive reduction is one way our bodies strive for homeostasis (literally “staying the same”)—the maintenance of a steady internal state. For example, our body regulates its temperature in a way similar to a room’s thermostat. Both systems operate through feedback loops: Sensors feed room temperature to a control device. If the room’s temperature cools, the control device switches on the furnace. Likewise, if our body’s temperature cools, our blood vessels constrict (to conserve warmth) and we feel driven to put on more clothes or seek a warmer environment (Figure 1).

Figure 1



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Drive-Reduction Theory

This illustration of the process of drive-reduction theory shows three boxes connected by arrows. A need, such as food or water, creates a drive, like hunger or thirst. This drive then causes drive-reducing behaviors like eating or drinking.

Drive-reduction motivation arises from homeostasis—an organism’s natural tendency to maintain a steady internal state. Thus, if we are water deprived, our thirst drives us to

drink and to restore the body’s normal state.

Not only are we pushed by our need to reduce drives, we also are pulled by incentives— positive or negative environmental stimuli that lure or repel us. This is one way our individual learning histories influence our motives. Depending on our learning, the aroma of good food, whether fresh roasted peanuts or toasted ants, can motivate our behavior. So can the sight of those we find attractive or threatening.

When there is both a need and an incentive, we feel strongly driven. The food-deprived person who smells pizza baking may feel a strong hunger drive, and the baking pizza may become a compelling incentive. For each motive, we can therefore ask, “How is it pushed by our inborn physiological needs and pulled by learned incentives in the environment?”

Multiple-Choice Question

According to drive-reduction theory, when a physiological need (such as hunger) creates an aroused tension state, what does that tension state do?

It lowers the temperature of the body. It reduces the drive to achieve homeostasis. It drives the organism to reduce the need and return to homeostasis. It creates an instinct.

Correct. The state of tension or need motivates the animal (or human) to take action to reduce or resolve that need and return the body to a state of homeostasis. Drive- reduction theory helps explain why you go to the pantry for a snack when your stomach begins to growl.



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