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Theories of Motivation

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Theories of Motivation

It's 8pm on Sunday. You set your alarm clock and prepare yourself for the week ahead. Perhaps you're thinking about how you'll get through another work or school week. Reality hits you the following day, telling you that you need to get your act together. What motivates you to continue showing up at work may not be as inspiring to someone else, but this shows that we all need motivation in some form or another.

Motivation is what compels a person to do something. It is the process that stimulates a person to make decisions and work ways to achieve desired goals. The process involves biological, psychological, and environmental factors that affect behavior.

  • Why is motivation important?
  • What are theories of motivation?
  • What is Maslow's theory of motivation?
  • What is the cognitive theory of motivation?
  • What is the expectancy theory of motivation?

Theories of Motivation, scrabble pieces reading motivation, StudySmarterScrabble pieces reading 'motivation', pexels.com

The Importance of Motivation

Motivation plays a significant role in business, education, health, the environment, and the community in general. The individual in the workplace learns to adapt and be productive when motivation drives him to develop competencies, become creative, make plans, and set personal goals.

A student who performs better in class becomes an enthusiastic learner and has persistent effort when motivation compels him to complete his education.

The motive to take corrective actions is needed when people face fluctuating circumstances in their health and the community or environment. A sick person is motivated to make lifestyle changes to improve their health. People who become aware of society's problems and solutions become involved in community development because they want to improve society.

Factors That Influence Motivation

There are two types of factors that influence our motivation - extrinsic and intrinsic.

Extrinsic Factors

External factors such as avoiding punishment or receiving a reward can affect a person's behavior.

A teen who doesn't want to be constantly nagged by her mother for not putting out the trash now makes it a point to do so every morning. Another example is a salesperson who is determined to meet his sales target because of promised trip rewards from his employer (receiving a reward).

Intrinsic Factors

A person does something because of the satisfying experience and not the desire for external reward.

When people enjoy baking for others or gardening because they find it calming or practice a difficult musical piece on the piano because they like challenges, they are intrinsically motivated.

What is Motivation Theory?

Motivation theory is the understanding of mechanisms that influence a person's behavior to attain an objective. There are many theories of motivation in psychology that explain these mechanisms. Some psychologists attributed internal factors as an explanation for driving certain behaviors. Other researchers described mental processes and external consequences of behavior as the reason for motivation.

Theories of Motivation in Psychology and examples

Some motivation theory examples include Maslow's Hierarchy of Needs, Alderfer's ERG theory, Goal-setting theory, and Expectancy theory. Researchers have classified them into content and process theories. In a nutshell, content theories explain motivation, and process theories show how "motivation" occurs.

Content Theories of Motivation

Theories of Motivation, a hand holding a mug with flower and motivational quote, StudySmarterMug with flower and motivational quote, pexels.com

The idea behind content theories is that internal factors drive a behavior. These theories think of motivation as the result of such internal factors prompting an action (behavior) to satisfy needs.

One example may be thirst and hunger, motivating an individual to eat and drink to reduce these unpleasant feelings.

The four common content theories of motivation are the following: Maslow's hierarchy of needs, Alderfer's ERG theory, Herzberg's motivator-hygiene theory, and McClelland's learned needs theory.

Maslow's Theory of Motivation

Abraham Maslow, a psychologist, introduced the Maslow theory of motivation, where he suggested that human needs have a specific hierarchy.

Theories of Motivation, Maslow's Hierarchy of Needs, StudySmarterAbraham Maslow's Heirarchy of Needs, StudySmarter Original

Physiological needs are vital for survival, such as food, water, oxygen, and sleep.

Safety and security refer to the protection from harm, for instance, natural calamities, violence, injustice, and emotional pain.

Social needs include the need for friendships, intimacy, and affection from others. When these are unmet by family members and relatives, romantic partners, or friends, it can lead to pain and disappointment.

Esteem needs include desires for admiration and regard for one's skills and accomplishments. These desires focus on both internal and external. The need for self-assurance, a sense of accomplishment, and autonomy corresponds to internal. External refers to the need for public approval, good reputation, and acknowledgment from others.

Self-actualization relates to self-fulfillment or the realization of one's potential. These needs are met by continuously upgrading skills and talent to their full potential.

Physiological and safety needs precede social needs, esteem needs, and self-actualization. Fulfilling the first two needs activates social needs. After meeting social needs, esteem needs come next.

Esteem desires take the longest for people to satisfy because many get preoccupied when they reach this level. After esteem, a realization of self-actualization needs occurs. It is the uppermost level in the hierarchy. Satisfying self-actualization is continuous, and this warrants perpetual personal growth and improvement.

Alderfer's ERG Theory

Clayton Alderfer's theory matches the identified needs in Maslow's theory. These are categorized into existence, relatedness, and growth needs.

  • Existence needs relate to Maslow's physiological, safety, and security needs.

  • Relatedness needs are the equivalent of Maslow's social needs level and the need for confidence and safety in one's social environment.

  • Growth needs are equivalent to Maslow's esteem and self-actualization.

There are four core principles in understanding this theory: satisfaction progression, frustration, frustration regression, and aspiration.

The first is satisfaction progression, wherein both Alderfer and Maslow agree that there must be increasing satisfaction of prior needs before moving on to upper-level needs. However, unmet needs may cause frustration after multiple failed attempts to satisfy them, leading to frustration regression. Frustration regression means redirecting one's attention to specific and actual fulfilled needs. Lastly, aspiration is associated with growth. Increasing growth activates the desire to grow more, highlighting its importance and the need to satisfy it even more.

Herzberg's Motivator-Hygiene Theory

Frederick Herzberg's work on motivator-hygiene theory became influential in the 1950s and 1960s. His motivation theory described more closely work situations and motivations around them. He proposed two types of needs: motivator and hygiene.

Motivators are associated with a sense of fulfillment resulting from work duties performed. Jobs that give a sense of achievement are therefore considered motivators. Hygiene refers to work situations such as tenure, salary, and working conditions.

Herzberg suggested that hygiene doesn't add to any motivation in the workplace. However, it can prevent dissatisfaction when maintained at a reasonable level. Motivators are what drive high performance in the workplace. It is essential to meet these needs to bring satisfaction, allowing for more achievements at work.

McClelland's Learned Needs Theory

David McClelland's theory suggested three needs learned at a young age, mainly: the need for achievement, the need for affiliation, and the need for power. The need for achievement compels a person to work hard towards his goals and value feedback. The need for affiliation relates to a desire for healthy and positive relationships with other people. The need for power reflects a desire to be in control and to be able to influence people.

Cognitive Theory of Motivation

The picture below shows an example of facial expression.

Theories of Motivation, a woman playing chess, StudySmarterPlaying chess, understanding mental processes, pexels.com

Process or cognitive theories of motivation aim to explain how mental processes produce motives and direct behavior. The four common examples of cognitive theory of motivation are expectancy, goal setting, reinforcement, and equity theory.

Expectancy Theory of Motivation

Victor Vroom theorized that expectations of performance, outcomes, and rewards determine behavior towards a goal. This theory considers the decision-making process based on the following expectations: effort-performance, performance-outcome, and valences.

Effort-performance or E1 reflects the belief that effort can result in performance. When people view high performance as associated with great effort, they exert high effort to accomplish their tasks. It is also closely related to Albert Bandura's self-efficacy, which is the confidence in one's ability to become successful in any given situation. Self-efficacy may explain why there are some people with low E1. Weak faith in one's capabilities influences the effort put in, resulting in poor performance.

Performance-outcome or E2 reflects the belief that performance can lead to outcomes. High-performing people believe that working hard will help them achieve valuable results, while low-performing people think that performance doesn't necessarily lead to good outcomes. They do not pay much attention to their performance.

Valences reflect the perception of outcomes as desirable or not. People place different values on consequences as influenced by their morals, endeavors, and life circumstances. In essence, people determine their level of effort based on outcomes that are most favorable for them.

One classic example is weighing the pros and cons of transferring from one career to another. People determine which job is most rewarding for them, given their values and circumstances.

Another example would be in pursuing different hobbies and interests. A teenager might be initially interested in filmmaking and running their own company. They find that having a business leads to more favorable outcomes rather than filmmaking. The teenager is motivated to exert a lot of effort in knowing how to operate a business and believes that they can succeed.

Goal-Setting Theory

Edwin Locke and Gary Latham conceptualized this theory relating to how goal setting can boost performance. There are five factors in goal setting influencing the degree to which a person is motivated to perform well.

  1. The intention to meet the goal should be present. People only work hard toward goals they plan to achieve.

  2. The difficulty of goals. The more challenging the goal is, the more likely it will produce better performance.

  3. The goals should be specific. Specific goals give more motivation than unclear goals.

  4. The acceptance of goals should also be present. People may intend to achieve their objectives but have not accepted them entirely.

  5. Goal commitment is also essential in persisting towards achieving goals.

To sum up, setting goals contributes to performance if it is specific and challenging, in addition to a person's intention, acceptance, and commitment to achieving his goals.

Reinforcement Theory

Burrhus Frederic Skinner proposed that people learn behaviors through positive or negative reinforcements. Positive reinforcement involves rewarding good behavior with favorable consequences, while negative reinforcement involves removing anything undesirable to encourage good behaviors and increase the likelihood of being repeated.

Verbal praise is an example of positive reinforcement, whereas reducing workload is negative reinforcement. People respond to the environment and act accordingly to the consequences received.

Equity Theory

According to this theory, people get motivation by measuring one's performance and outcome against another. People want to ensure that their effort and rewards correspond to what others put in and receive. Inequity happens when a person perceives an imbalance between their effort-reward and a referent's effort-reward ratio. The amount of value attributed to the effort and reward influences the fairness perceived.

There are two classifications of inequity: over-reward and under-reward. Over-reward inequity is when the quality or quantity of rewards exceeds the effort—in other words - receiving great rewards for investing less effort.

Meanwhile, under-reward inequity is when rewards fall short as measured against the effort invested. In other words, fewer rewards for more effort. This perceived inequity may drive people to lower their efforts, modify their rewards, adjust their referent's behavior or results, and even escape the situation.

Theories of Motivation - Key takeaways

  • Motivation theory is the understanding of mechanisms that influence a person's behavior to attain an objective.

  • Maslow's hierarchy of needs includes physiological, safety, security, social needs, esteem, and self-actualization. Satisfaction of these needs moves in an orderly fashion.

  • Alderfer's ERG theory is similar to Maslow's, but the needs are condensed into three levels. Satisfaction of these needs may occur in ascending and descending order.

  • Herzberg's motivator-hygiene theory relate to motivations in the workplace. Motivators are associated with a sense of fulfillment resulting from work duties performed. Hygiene refers to work situations such as tenure, salary, and working conditions.

  • McClelland's learned needs theory suggested three needs learned at a young age, mainly: the need for achievement, the need for affiliation, and the need for power.

Frequently Asked Questions about Theories of Motivation

Edwin Locke and Gary Latham conceptualized this theory relating to how goal setting can boost performance. There are five factors in goal setting influencing the degree to which a person is motivated to perform well. 


  1. The intention to meet the goal should be present. People only work hard toward goals they plan to achieve. 

  2. The difficulty of goals. The more challenging the goal is, the more likely it will produce better performance.

  3. The goals should be specific. Specific goals give more motivation than unclear ones.

  4. The acceptance of goals should also be present. People may intend to achieve their objectives but have not accepted them entirely. 

  5. Goal commitment is also essential in persisting towards achieving goals.


To sum up, setting goals contributes to performance if it is specific and challenging, in addition to a person's intention, acceptance, and commitment to achieving his goals.

There are many theories of motivation in psychology that explain these mechanisms. Some psychologists attributed internal factors as an explanation for driving certain behaviors. Other researchers described mental processes and external consequences of behavior as the reason for motivation.


Some motivation theory examples include Maslow's hierarchy of needs, Alderfer's ERG theory, goal-setting theory, and expectancy theory. Researchers have classified them into content and process theories. In a nutshell, content theories explain what motivation is, and process theories show how it occurs.

Motivation theory is the understanding of mechanisms that influence a person's behavior to attain an objective. 

Frederick Herzberg's work on motivator-hygiene theory became influential in the 1950s and 1960s. His motivation theory described more closely work situations and motivations around them. He proposed two types of needs: motivator and hygiene.


Motivators are associated with a sense of fulfillment resulting from work duties performed. Jobs that give a sense of achievement are therefore considered motivators. Hygiene refers to work situations such as tenure, salary, and working conditions.

Final Theories of Motivation Quiz

Question

Which of the following does not apply in the goal-setting theory of motivation?

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Answer

Goal difficulty should be set low.

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Which of the following is true for Maslow's motivation theory?

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Answer

Self-actualization comes after the fulfillment of basic human needs.

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Which of the following needs immediate satisfaction?

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The need to sleep.

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How is Maslow's theory different from Alderfer's ERG theory?

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Answer

Unmet needs may lead to frustration regression.

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According to Herzberg's Motivator-Hygiene Theory, which is an example of hygiene factor?


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Salary

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Based on McClelland's Learned Needs Theory, what type of person will probably make a good manager? 


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A person who desires to be in control.

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Which of these statements represents a view in the Expectancy Theory of Victor Vroom?


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The outcome of good performance will have a positive reward.

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Choose the situation that best explains the Expectancy theory.

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A gymnast is diligent in training because his efforts will help him win a medal.

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Based on the goal-setting theory, which statement is applied to boost performance?

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Goals must be clear, challenging, and accepted with commitment.

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The need for affiliation is one of the stated needs in this theory.

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McClelland's Learned Needs Theory

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Which statement defines positive reinforcements based on Burrhus Frederic Skinner's theory?

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Positive reinforcement involves rewarding good behavior with favorable consequences.

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Which of the following situations shows negative reinforcement?

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A teacher decides to remove the next day's homework if the students study hard.

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According to this theory, people get motivation by measuring one's performance and outcome against another.

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Equity theory

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Based on the Equity theory, what would likely happen if an employee sees that a co-worker is paid a higher salary for the same job he is doing?

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He will feel discouraged and demotivated.

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What might a person who feels under-rewarded not do based on Equity theory?

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He might try harder.

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What are the five levels of Maslow's Hierarchy of Needs?

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Physiological, safety, love and belonging, esteem, and self-actualization.

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What is self-actualization?

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Self-Actualization means that a person has realized their potential, set goals, and developed their abilities.

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What are the parts of the physiological level?

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Basic human needs such as the ability to breathe, having food, water, sex, sleep, a steady internal and physical condition that is well maintained, and excretion (being able to expel waste).

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What are the parts of the safety level?

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Feeling secure in your body, job, morality, family, resources, property, and health.

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What are the parts of the love and belonging level?

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Family, friendships, and intimacy.

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What are the parts of the esteem level?

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Confidence in oneself, respect of/for others, self-esteem, achievement, and being respected by others.

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What are the parts of the self-actualization level?

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Problem solving, spontaneity, morality, lack of prejudice, creativity, and acceptance of facts.

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What type of people did Maslow study to create the hierarchy of needs?


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Maslow studied people that he thought were ‘exceptional’.

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What is the end goal to achieve in Maslow’s hierarchy of needs?


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Self-Actualization

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What are some examples of characteristics that Maslow felt people who had achieved self-actualization possessed?


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Independence and Self-Acceptance

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Needs at the physiological level are considered to be what?


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Needs at the physiological level are considered to be basic needs to survive.

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Who was Abraham Maslow?

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Maslow was a psychologist from America that developed Maslow’s hierarchy of needs.

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Maslow used the hierarchy of needs to try and explain what?


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Maslow used the hierarchy of needs to try and explain what motivates people.

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When looking at a pyramid example of Maslow’s hierarchy of needs, which level is at the top and which is at the bottom?


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At the top of Maslow’s pyramid model of his hierarchy of needs is self-actualization. At the bottom of Maslow’s pyramid model of the hierarchy of needs is physiological.

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Did Maslow later refine any of his findings in research, and if so, how?


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Maslow did later change some of his findings including that not all people need to achieve all levels in order to get to self-actualization.

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Describe the drive-reduction theory of motivation.

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The theory is founded on the idea that motivation comes from the body’s physiological need to maintain homeostasis

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Who founded the drive-reduction theory?

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Clark L. Hull (1943)

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Define homeostasis.

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The American Psychological Association defines homeostasis as the regulation of balance in an organism's internal state 



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Eating when you are hungry and sleeping when you are tired are examples of the drive theory. True or False?

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True.

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What is the strength of drive-reduction theory?

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With this theory, natural motivators become easier to explain and observe 

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Name a criticism of the drive-reduction theory.

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Motivation outside of the biological and physiological realm cannot be explained

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The drive-reduction theory fails to explain the motivation for financial success and monetary wealth. True or false?

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True

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Why does the theory fail to explain the motivation behind skydiving?

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It cannot account for a human’s motivation to endure a tension-filled act of behavior because it is not an act to restore a balanced internal state

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drive-motivation theory cannot be applied to all factors of motivation. True or False?


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True

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Drinking a Gatorade when you are thirsty is not a display of the drive-reduction theory. True or False?

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False.

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Drive-reduction theory is the most reliable explanation for motivation. True or False?

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False.

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Is sweating a display of the drive-reduction theory?

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Yes.

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Is saving money an example of the drive-reduction theory?

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No.

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Describe how the drive reduction theory is applied to eating.

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Eating will satiate the biological need disrupted by feelings of hunger. The body can only reach homeostasis once an individual eats.

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Are there other theories of motivation besides drive-reduction theory?

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Yes.

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What is the instinct theory?

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A psychological theory that explains the origins of motivation as being based on our biological instincts. 

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What is an instinct?

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A pattern of behavior exhibited by a species that is biologically innate and does not originate from learned experience 

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What is an example of an instinct?

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A baby nursing from his mother

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What is William James instinct theory. 

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William James believed that our behavior is purely based on our instincts to survive. 

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What is a major criticism for instinct theory?

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Instinct theory does not explain all behavior as humans exhibit learned behaviors too. 

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