Motivation refers to the initiation and maintenance of corporal and psychic activities. Motivations are commonly separated into two types. Drives describe acts of motivation like thirst or hunger that have primarily biological purposes, while motives are fueled primarily by social and psychological mechanisms.
Drive Reduction Theory
Drive reduction theory is based on the principle that organisms are born with certain psychological needs, and that a negative state of tension is created when these needs are not satisfied. When a need is satisfied, the drive to satisfy that need is reduced and the organism returns to homeostasis. In this way, a drive can be thought of as an “excitatory state produced by a homeostatic disturbance.” It is an instinctual need that has the power to motivate behavior. According to the theory, drive tends to increase over time and operates on a feedback control system, much like a thermostat.
Drive reduction theory was developed by Clark Hull in 1943 (Figure 1) and was the first theory of motivation. According to Hull, drive reduction is a major aspect of learning. Primary drives are innate biological needs (e.g. thirst, hunger, and sex), whereas secondary drives are learned by conditioning (e.g. the desire for wealth). Individuals faced with more than one need at the same time are said to endure multiple drives. Research has shown that this condition has an impact on learning capacity. In psychological vernacular, “generalized (multiple) reinforcers have greater potential for learning than a simple (single) conditioned reinforcer.”
Critiques of Drive Reduction Theory
There are several problems that leave the validity of drive reduction theory open for debate. The first problem is that it does not explain how secondary reinforcers reduce drive. For example, money does not itself satisfy any biological or psychological need, but it reduces such other drives on a regular basis simply by the receipt of a pay check. Secondly, drive reduction theory has trouble explaining why humans and other animals voluntarily increase tension by exploring their environments, even when they are not hungry or thirsty. There are also complications to drive reduction theory caused by so-called “pleasure-seeking” behaviors, which seem to be contradictory to the theory’s precepts. Why would an individual actively seek out more stimulation if it is already in a state of relaxation and fulfillment? Proponents of drive theory would argue that one is never in a state of complete fulfillment, and thus, there are always drives that need to be satisfied. Drives are thought to underlie all behavior in that behaviors are only conditioned, or learned, if the reinforcement satisfies a drive.