Psychology 101 – Motivation

Evolutionary Perspective

chimp happy

In the early part of the twentieth century, psychologists assumed that most motivated behaviour in humans, as in other animals, was a result of instincts, relatively fixed patterns of behaviour produced without learning. Most psychologists have abandoned instinct theory due to the huge variability in human behaviour across cultures, which led them to believe that learning, rather than instinct, motivates behaviour in humans. Despite this, it is still hard to ignore the patterns in all animal’s behaviour, particularity patterns in survival and reproductive tendencies. While these may appear different across different animals and different cultures, from different courting rituals to different methods of reproducing, they all seem to share the same fundamental instincts that are inherent in any animal. Whether we lay eggs, produce children in a womb, or adopt, or whether we protect our young by living in straw huts, in brick houses or in holes in the ground we all are driven by the same instinctual drives – to reproduce, and to survive.

chimps kiss

Contemporary evolutionary psychologists contend that motivational systems, like other psychological attributes, have been selected by nature for their ability to maximise reproductive success. Organisms that do not replenish their energy by eating do not survive and reproduce. Nature has thus designed humans and other animals with intricate systems for maintaining basic life support processes. Evolutionary psychologists believe throw a phrase around a lot, and that phrase is ‘survival of the fittest’, basically they argue that evolution selects animals that maximise their reproductive success. This theory makes mathematical sense, considering if an animal (humans included) protects its child then the probability that it’s gene will survive is 50% because his child shares 50% of his genes. This is why it is necessary for a lot of male animals in their ‘kingdom’ to ‘spread their seed’ to as many partners as possible; there are no taboos in the animal kingdom, they can do this till they die of exhaustion if they like as they are driven by instinct – as opposed to us humans who are driven by just about everything, except for instinct, which is largely repressed.

So how do these animals, whether it be bees or humans, know who their brothers and sisters are? Who do they protect? Recent research suggests that some species are actually endowed with chemical mechanisms (pheromones) for kin recognition. Pheromones are similar to hormones, except that they allow cell to cell communication between rather than within organisms. Whether pheromonal communication leads to increased investment in close relatives is unknown, but it does help members of some species avoid mating with members of other species and avoid incest, which can produce genetically defective offspring and hence reduce reproductive success. Humans probably do not rely on pheromones for kin recognition, they instead make use of other mechanisms, such as familiarity and facial recognition, particularly from childhood. Throughout the course of much of human evolution, people who grew up together were more than likely family members, so longtime familiarity would be a rough index of degree of kinship. Even if the people you grew up with weren’t genetically your family, a sense of family is still felt between humans.

Humans are an interesting species in that we don’t really know what the hell motivates us! In a way we are motivated by aspects of all of the above theories discussed, but there is no be all end all theory that explains our behaviour, because it all depends on your perspective. If you look at humans from an evolutionary perspective you’re obviously going to look at human motivation in terms of instinct, you’re going to compare humans to chimpanzees and other animals and you will do this until you can’t differentiate the two or your head explodes. On the other hand, you could look through the humanistic perspective, and see that human motivation is really different from animal motivation, but then you lose sight of how animalistic we really are.

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10 thoughts on “Psychology 101 – Motivation

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  9. magnificent put up, very informative. I’m wondering why the other
    experts of this sector don’t understand this. You must continue your writing.
    I’m sure, you have a huge readers’ base already!


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