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Drive Reduction Theory

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Drive Reduction Theory
299
Concepts and Theories of Motivation
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Tutorial: Homeostasis
and Drive Reduction
Theory
stickleback fish instantly attacks when it sees the red underbelly of another male. Such
behaviors in nonhuman species were originally called fixed action patterns because they
are unlearned, genetically coded responses to specific “releaser” stimuli.
William McDougall (1908) argued that human behavior, too, is motivated by
instincts. He began by listing eighteen human instincts, including self-assertion, reproduction, pugnacity (eagerness to fight), and gregariousness (sociability). Within a few
years, McDougall and other theorists had named more than 10,000 instincts, prompting one critic to suggest that his colleagues had “an instinct to produce instincts”
(Bernard, 1924). The problem was that instincts had become meaningless labels that
described behavior without explaining it. Saying that people gamble because of a gambling instinct or work hard because of a work instinct explains nothing about why these
behaviors appear in some people and not others nor about how they develop. Applying instinct theory to human motivation also appeared problematic because people display few, if any, instinctive fixed-action patterns.
Today, psychologists continue to investigate the role played by inborn tendencies in
human motivation. They have been stimulated partly by research on a number of
human behaviors that are present at birth. Among these are the sucking, grasping, and
other reflexes discussed in the human development chapter, as well as certain facial
expressions, such as grimacing at bitter tastes (Steiner et al., 2001). Further, as discussed
in the chapter on learning, humans appear to be biologically prepared to learn to fear
snakes and other potential dangers. But psychologists’ thinking about instincts is more
sophisticated now than it was a century ago. They recognize that even though certain
behaviors reflect inborn motivational tendencies, those behaviors may or may not actually appear, depending on each individual’s experience. So although we might be biologically “programmed” to learn to fear snakes, that fear won’t develop if we never see
a snake. In other words, motivation can be influenced by inherited tendencies, but that
doesn’t mean that all motivated behavior is genetically determined.
Psychologists who take an evolutionary approach to behavior suggest that a wide
range of behavioral tendencies have evolved because, over the centuries, they were adaptive for individual survival in particular circumstances. Those who possessed and
expressed these adaptive predispositions were more likely than others to live to father
or give birth to offspring. We are descendants of these human survivors. So to the extent
that their behavioral predispositions were transmitted genetically, we should have
inherited similar predispositions. Evolutionary psychologists also argue that many
aspects of human social behavior—including helping, aggression, and the choice of
sexual or marriage partners—are motivated by inborn factors, especially by the desire
to maximize our genetic contribution to the next generation (Buss, 2004). We may not
be consciously aware of this desire (Geary, 2000), so you are more likely to hear someone say “I can’t wait to have children” than to say “I want to pass on my genes.”
By emphasizing the evolutionary roots of human behavior, modern versions of
instinct theory focus on the ultimate, long-term reasons behind much of what we do.
The theories of motivation discussed next highlight influences that serve as more
immediate causes of behavior (Alcock, 2001).
Drive Reduction Theory
homeostasis The tendency for physiological systems to remain stable by constantly adjusting themselves in response
to change.
drive reduction theory A theory that
motivation arises from imbalances in
homeostasis.
need A biological requirement for
well-being.
drive A physiological state that arises
from an imbalance in homeostasis and
prompts action to fulfill a need.
Like instinct theory, the drive reduction theory of motivation emphasizes internal factors, but it focuses mainly on how these factors serve to maintain homeostasis. Homeostasis (pronounced “ho-me-oh-STAY-sis”) is the tendency to make constant adjustments to maintain body temperature, blood pressure, and other physiological systems
at a steady level, or equilibrium—much as a thermostat functions to maintain a constant temperature in a house.
According to drive reduction theory, any imbalance in homeostasis creates a need,
which is a biological requirement for well-being. In responding to needs, the brain tries
to restore homeostasis by creating a psychological state called drive—a feeling that
prompts an organism to take action to fulfill the need and thus return to a balanced state.
For example, if you have had nothing to drink for some time, the chemical balance of
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