Achievement Motivation

Achievement Motivation

So far we talked about motivations behind simple human behaviors like eating and sex.  What motivates us the more complicated behaviors, like studying for the AP Psychology test?  What motivates us to work hard in school, video games, sports and all those day to day things that take up our day.  We call this types of motivation, achievement motivation.

Achievement motivation seems to vary from person to person.  Some people have high achievement motivations in school, while others in bowling, while others in nothing at all.    What makes us strive or not strive for that goal- well one easy way to think about it is through extrinsic and intrinsic motivators.

Extrinsic motivators are rewards that we get for accomplishments from outside ourselves (grades, salary etc…).  Intrinsic motivators are rewards we get internally, such as enjoyment or satisfaction.  Think about why you are studying for the AP Psychology exam.  Are you doing it for the college credit or the high school transcript (extrinsic motivation)?  Or are you working because you enjoy psychology and take pleasure in doing well (intrinsic motivation)?  The answer is probably somewhere in the middle.  In general, we enjoy a task more when we are intrinsically motivated.  Sometimes, adding extrinsic motivators actually makes the task less fun.  Lets use baseball as an example.

Almost all little league and high school baseball players rave about how much they love playing the sport.  They think and breath baseball and seem full of intrinsic motivation.  Once that same player gets to college and his or her scholarship depends on baseball- the external motivators kick in.  They may still train hard and perform well, but their enjoyment decreases.  Many professional athletes talk about how they are bored with the sport.  The problem is that society offers too many external motivators linked to their performance.  Now, I am not saying that extrinsic motivation is bad.  Think about it…would your parents go to work if they were not extrinsically motivated?  But knowing what we know about satisfaction and intrinsic v. extrinsic motivators, how can we change school/work to make it more enjoyable?

On a side note, studies have shown that extrinsic motivators work well in the short run, but for long term performance, one needs intrinsic motivation.

Management Theory

Organizational psychologists are the psychologists of the business world and spend the most time studying motivations and how we can use these ideas to increase employee performance in the workplace.  Organizational psychologists spend a lot of time looking at managers (bosses) in the workplace and how they treat the people under them.  They divide managers into two different styles.  If you want to make this more applicable to your lives change the word manager to teacher, and the word employee to student- it will make more sense to you.

  • Theory X: Managers believe that employees will work only if rewarded with benefits or threatened with punishment.  In other words, they believe that employees are only extrinsically motivated.
  • Theory Y: Mangers believe that employees are internally motivated to do good work and policies should encourage this internal motive.  Thus these managers believe that employees can be intrinsically motivated.

Which environment would you rather work under?  Organizations are starting to move to the Theory Y style of leadership and are hiring organizational psychologists to help promote intrinsic motivation in the workplace.

When Motives Conflict

Sometimes what you want to do in a situation is clear to you, but at other times you no doubt find yourself conflicted about what choice to make.  Psychologists discuss four types of motivational conflicts.

  • Approach-approach conflict: occurs when you must choose between two desirable outcomes.  On Friday night, should you go to the movies with your best friend or dinner with that really cute guy/girl from history class.  Assuming both choices appeal to you, you have a conflict because you can only chose one.
  • Avoidance-avoidance conflict: occurs when you must choose between two unattractive outcomes.  If your parents tell you to clean your room or rake leaves and you desire neither one you are experiencing an avoidance-avoidance conflict.
  • Approach-avoidance: exists when ONE event or goal has both attractive and unattractive features.  Let’s say you love cotton candy but the sugar gives you gas.  Cotton candy has both attractive (tastes gooood) and unattractive (farting) features.
  • Multiple approach-avoidance conflicts: here you must choose between two or more things, each of which has both desirable and undesirable features.  The best example is choosing a college that you want to go to.  Obviously you are deciding between Duke and Harvard.  Well Duke has better weather (attractive), but their lacrosse team is not the most upstanding (unattractive).  Harvard has a great legacy (attractive) but crimson is such a horrid color (unattractive).