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The set of reasons that determine a person to engage in a particular behaviour or course of action.


Various factors might act as motivators:

  • To obtain essentials (food, drink, shelter, rest)

  • Minimise pain

  • Maximise pleasure

  • To achieve a desired object or goal

  • Altruism / morality / immortality


(One is reminded of Maslow's Hierarchy of Needs.)





Frederick Herzberg proposed a theory of motivation that differentiated between "Motivating Factors" and "Hygiene Factors".


Hygiene factors do not motivate (of themselves) but if they are absent they can result in de-motivation.  (The name derives from the fact that hygiene does not make you healthier – but its absence can cause deterioration in health.)  Under normal circumstances, they include basic needs such as:

  • being adequately "fed and watered"

  • working (studying) in a safe environment

  • status

  • security (of job or role)

  • adequate remuneration

Motivators, on the other hand, when appropriately introduced, can spur individuals (or teams) to make greater efforts.  They include:

  • an appropriate level of challenge

  • recognition of achievement (or effort)

  • responsibility





When considering motivation, most of us would immediately think of offering incentives or rewards (although the thoughts of some might conceivably concern the use of punishment as a disincentive.) These work by establishing an association between the desired behaviour and the reward being offered (do Pavlov's dogs spring to mind?) and hence will work most effectively when the reward is actually awarded (rather then merely being promised.)  It has been suggested that the more immediate the reward the more effective it is.


(Relating this back to Herzberg's theory, one might suggest that the absence of "the stick" is a "hygiene factor" rather than a "motivator".)


The ability to work towards goals that are distant (without necessarily involving an immediate reward) is known as "deferred gratification" and is quite a sophisticated "ability".





In order for  goal to be an  efficient motivator it needs to be:

  • Specific (clearly defined & intelligible to the candidate)

  • Appropriate level of difficulty/challenge (neither too hard or too easy)

  • Close at hand time-wise (generally - the nearer the better)



Extrinsic (those that come from "outside" the individual) - such as money, food, praise (and one might also include the absence of: punishment.)


Intrinsic (those that are generated from within the individual) - such as a sense of satisfaction (the "feel good factor") that comes from accomplishment or mastery of a skill.


David McClelland proposed a theory of Need Achievement

  • Need to achieve (does this relate to Maslow's "self actualisation"?)

  • Need for power (which may explain why “mastery” is such an incentive - because of the need to be “in control” of the skill / subject.)

  • Need for affiliation (to “belong” – to a family or group.  Also relates to Maslow.)





Maslow, A H (1943) “A Theory of Human Motivation.” Psychological Review 50 pp 370-396


Herzberg, F (1959) "The Motivation to Work." New York; John Wiley and Sons


McClelland, D (1987) "Human Motivation." Cambridge; Cambridge University Press



A Theory of Human Motivation


Abraham Maslow


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The Motivation to Work


Frederick Herzberg


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Human Motivation


David McClelland


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