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What Motivates Us As Humans? A Truth That’ll Surprise You

What is the power that drives us to do something? Is it fear of punishment for performing a wrong task? Is it the anticipation behind receiving a reward for a job well done? Or is it a little phenomenon called motivation? Well, it’s actually all of the above. Fear and reward are just two very common types of motivation.

What Is Motivation?

Motivation is a combination of emotional, social, and psychological forces that actuate a certain behavior. The term motivation goes hand in hand as a reason for why an individual does something. In short, it is the driving force behind human actions.

Contrary to popular belief and school books, motivation does not only exist in the workplace. Every action we perform is because we are motivated to achieve its reward. Why do you drink water? Because you’re motivated to eradicate your thirst.

Different Types of Motivation

Motivation is important as much as it is confusing. What leads to this confusion is the expectations that individuals have. These expectations can vary drastically from person to person based on their background. Every person is unique so while most would be motivated when they receive a reward, some are motivated by punishment.

Rewards are not always tangible. They can be broken into two distinct categories: extrinsic and intrinsic. Extrinsic rewards are external mostly tangible rewards. These are the expectations that we have from people around us. An extrinsic reward for an employee can be a salary bonus or a work vacation. An extrinsic reward for a student can be a new car for graduating high school.

Intrinsic rewards on the other hand are mostly intangible. They mostly come from within the individual. An intrinsic reward for a student would be healthy relationships among their social circle. Whereas a sense of purpose and accomplishment would be the intrinsic reward for a worker.

Does Punishment Really Motivate?

Burrhus Frederic Skinner, an American psychologist proposed the Reinforcement Theory of Motivation. In his research, Skinner did not use the terms rewards or punishment. The terms used were reinforcers and punishers, both positive and negative. Unlike the traditional and more academic concept of motivation, punishment does not directly endorse good behavior. What it is known to do is that it removes the likeliness of an adverse behavior which creates an opportunity for a favorable action to be performed.

Positive punishers weaken behavior by administering an aversive stimulus. For example, grounding your children for bad behavior. While it would not exactly motivate them, the children would know that whatever action they performed was unfavorable and that they should avoid it in the future. On the other hand, negative punishers weaken behavior by removing a positive stimulus. For example, confiscating your child’s phone or television for getting bad grades in school is a great example of negative reinforcement that might weaken future behavior.

Motivations And Expectations

A study was conducted by MIT, where economics professors tried to measure motivation at different reward levels. In North America, the highest reward was received by the best performance and the lowest reward was received by the poorest performance. However, when this experiment was carried out in Southern India the results were completely opposite.

An individual’s demographic background can significantly affect the rewards that they would want for performing a task. Individuals in North America would have their bar set higher for what reward they would want, so achieving the highest payout was their motivating force. However, the participants in India would be used to having luxuries that the lowest reward offered, so getting the lowest reward was their key motivator.

This relationship between motivation and expectations can be seen in multiple instances in our practical lives. The CEOs of a company will not be motivated by their salary, but a more motivating factor for them would be a success in their industry. However, a low-level employee of the same company would be motivated by other factors. These may include their salary or the acknowledgment they receive from their superiors.

You as an individual would have to define what motivates you. Getting the same rewards as everyone else can be motivating for some and demotivating for others. The best tactic is to explore exactly what you want out of action before you go ahead to execute it.

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