Motivation: Thoughtful versus Emotive Perspectives


Motivation is a hypothetical construct that represents individual's complex psychological processes. Therefore, many researchers would agree with the idea that motivation includes some different components and that it includes rational and automatic psychological processes. In this review, I will first define motivation. Then I will introduce both rational and automatic aspect of motivation using different motivational theories. Finally, I will integrate these perspectives using the idea of distal and proximal motivational processes (Kanfer, 1990) or goal choice and goal striving (Austin & Vancouver)

Definition of motivation

Motivation is defined as the goal-directed psychological process that includes (1) arousal, (2) attention and direction, and (3) intensity and persistence (Mitchell, 1997). There are some underlying assumptions about human being with regard to motivation. First, human being is a "goal setter". That is, people are future looking, they set meaningful goals, and they try to attain such goals. This assumption is closely related to the theory of goal setting (e.g., Locke & Latham, 1990), expectancy theory (e.g., Vroom, 1964), and self-regulation (e.g., Wood & Bandura, 1989). Second, human being seeks pleasure and avoids pain. This second assumption is related to the external factors that increase motivation. Operant conditioning or reinforcement theories (e.g., BF Skinner) are relevant theories. The third assumption about human being is that people prefer control. This is related to the intrinsic type of motivation (e.g., Deci & Lyan, 1985). In sum, motivation can be defined as multiple psychological process that can be explained from different point of views.

Motivation as thoughtful and rational decision-like process

There are some theories that suggest motivation is thoughtful and rational decision-like process. One of the major theories from this type of approach is expectancy theory (e.g., Vroom, 1964). Expectancy theory basically says that people choose their behaviors based on the subjective estimation that such behaviors lead to the valued outcomes. Vroom's valence-instrumentality-expectancy theory (VIE theory) states that there are three main components that affect human motivation. Valence is the degree in which the outcome the person will have is valuable for him/her. Instrumentality represents the degree in which the first outcome (e.g., performance) leads to the final valued outcome. Expectancy refers to the subjective probability that a certain effort or behavior leads to the first outcome or performance. VIE theory suggests that the multipricative function of valence, instrumentality and expectancy represents motivational force, which predicts a person's choice (e.g., goal choice).

As described above, expectancy theory is a very rational approach to motivation. The strength of this approach is that it predicts a person's choice (e.g., such as occupational choice) well and is predictive if the task is fairly simple and easy for the estimation of VIE. However, the weakness of this theory is that its predictive power might be low for complex tasks, uncertain environment, and so on. Meta-analysis shows that the multiplied VIE factors doesn't explain human motivation better than each independent component alone (VanElde & Thealy, 1996).

Goal setting theory (Locke & Latham, 1990) also includes some thoughtful, rational process of motivation. The major finding of goal setting research is that difficult, specific goals lead to high performance. Mitchell et al. (2000) suggest that there are direct and indirect effects of goal setting. Direct effect of goal setting is that goals stimulate arousal, attention and direction, and intensity and persistence. This might rather automatic process than thoughtful process. Indirect effects of goal setting is that goals increase task strategies if there are enough time, tools, alternatives, etc. The indirect effect of goal setting become more important as task complexity increases (e.g., Wood & Locke, 1990). This indirect effect of goal setting can be said as thoughtful process That is, people will carefully analyze goals, current situations, and alternatives, then they will develop effective task strategies that increase the probability of goal attainment.

Self-efficacy (e.g., Gist & Mitchell, 1992) also includes thoughtful, rational process in estimating how people can perform well in a specific task, although the estimation might be influenced by affect and other non-rational factors.

Recent trend is that expectancy theory, goal setting theory and theory of self-efficacy (e.g., Gist & Mitchell, 1992) are integrated into the theory of self-regulation, in which self-efficacy or effort-performance expectancy predicts goal choice, which in tern predicts performance. Then the knowledge of results (i.g., feedback) affect self-efficacy through attributional process. Gist (1997) calls this process as "motivational hub".

This self-regulatory process includes rational process as well. For example, people make attributions about the knowledge of results, which affect self-efficacy or next goal choice, although there might be some attribution biases (e.g., internal-external, stability-uncertainty, controllability; Gist & Mitchell, 1997).

Motivation as emotive or automatic process

Some theories focus on the emotive or automatic aspect of motivation. One of these theories is social facilitation theory (e.g., Ferris & Mitchell, 1987). The simplest proposition of this theory is that the presence of others increases motivation. Because people want to be liked, want to be looked as competent, and want to maintain positive self-concepts, the presence of others increase self-monitoring or self-evaluation. This process increases the level of arousal. Also, people may react to the social cues that other person exerts, which increases attention and direction components of motivational process. This process of social facilitation is rather automatic and emotive than thoughtful and rational. Similarly, other social influence theories such as culture and norms explain the automatic motivation (e.g., Mitchell, 1997). For example, norms are the set of expectations about the behaviors and attitudes of the menders. People within the group may be automatically motivated to do things as the social norms prescribe.

The other approach for automatic motivational process is control theory perspective (e.g., Klain). Control theory states that people compare the goals or standers and their own positions in order to detect discrepancy. Then, people are motivated to reduce that discrepancy.

Overall approach to motivation

In order to reconcile different perspective of motivation (i.e., thoughtful, rational process vs. emotive, automatic process), I will describe distal and proximal motivations (e.g., Kanfer, 1990) or, in other words, goal setting and goal striving processes (e.g., Austin & Vancouver)

The main argument from this overall approach is that the distal motivation or the goal choice is more thoughtful and rational psychological process and proximal motivation or goal striving process is more automatic psychological process. That is, people may carefully choose their goals. But once goals are chosen, the behaviors become more automatic than rational. Also, I would add the argument that contextual factors such as social norms or affective states such as moods and emotions influence both distal and proximal motivational process as emotive factors.

Distal motivation includes decision making about how much resource should be devoted to the certain tasks as well as choose appropriate goals based on the estimation of past performance, valence of goals, instrumentality that performance leads to valued outcomes. Distal motivation is also affected by individual traits such as conscientiousness (e.g., hardworking), achievement motivation, and affective dispositions (i.e., positive affectivity (PA) and negative affectivity (NA)). Social norms and cultures also affect the major decision making such as goal choice and amount of efforts.

Proximal motivation process includes control theory perspective, in which people detect discrepancy and automatically behave in order to reduce discrepancy. Task complexity may moderate the degree of automaticity in this process. That is, if task is more complex, even goal striving process become more thoughtful (e.g., through developing task strategies). Individual traits such as conscientiousness and achievement motivation affect the intensity and persistence though this process. Mood or emotion, and contextual factors such as norms and presence of others influence this proximal motivational process.

Conclusion and future research

In conclusion, the motivational process includes both rational and automatic psychological processes. The degree of these processes depends on whether the process is distal or proximal. Also other factors such as task complexity, individual traits, affective states, and contextual factors affect the degree of automatic processes in motivation.

Future research should enrich the integrative motivational approach that I descried above. Especially, how people choose goals, and striding goals in the natural setting should be understood further. Mitchell & Wood's (1994) article about managerial goal settings proposes the real-world application of goal setting studies that are mostly conducted through laboratory studies. Field experiments and other qualitative research may be able to provide us more detailed understanding of human motivation.