Motivation is a powerful concept that is often discussed within the context of behavioral psychology. In its general understanding, the motive is a driving force that pushes an individual toward a decision or an action. In most cases, this effect appears through the perceived alignment of the expected outcome and a person’s needs, both internal and external. In a way, those needs become an indispensable component of motivation, as individuals create imagery of an ideal situation in which these needs are met in their minds. Then, their actions are aimed at bringing this ideal image into reality by following their needs patterns. At this point, motivation reflects the degree, to which such actions are expected to contribute to the formation of a positive outcome, making ideal imagery closer to reality. Spoken differently, a motive aligns with a person’s expectations of reality and desired outcomes. In this regard, the exact relationship between motivation and actual behavior has remained a subject of increased interest for psychologists. This essay argues that behavior is largely determined by a combination of intrinsic and extrinsic motives that stem from a hierarchy of needs within an individual.
Behavior is a complex notion that results from a combination of internal and external factors, affecting the perception of the ideal and reality. Researchers identify a strong hierarchy of interrelated needs that address the motivational levels of an individual from basic, psychobiological requirements to abstract concepts and ideas. One of such hierarchies has been proposed and developed by Henry Murray in 1938 (Grigorov, 2020). In his classification, Murray provides six key categories of needs that interact within a mind of an individual, prompting them to behave in a certain way as a result. The list of these categories comprises ambition, materialistic needs, power, status defense, affection, and information. The purpose of this classification is to reflect the various sides of life that complement each, creating a fuller image of it. Furthermore, this imagery does not fully reflect the present state. Instead, the needs reflect the inconsistencies between the current perception of reality and its ideal state desired by the individual. Motivation is born through the willingness to converge the two versions, bringing the real closer to the ideal.
Nevertheless, the mere presence of the various needs does not fully explain how motivation ties into a person’s willingness to commit certain actions. From one perspective, the process is clear, as there are two major points of perception and a space between them. One point is the current state in which an individual lives, whereas the second one is the ideal state. By subconsciously comparing the two states, a person identifies certain discrepancies between the ideal and the real. In simpler terms, they begin to notice that something is missing from the present that prevents them from enjoying this aspect of life. Thus, a feeling of unfulfillment is created that prompts this individual to take action and eliminate the inconsistencies by making their life fuller. This exact feeling may be deemed as the origin of the motive, or the phenomenon that prompts people to think and act in the way they do.
However, original motivation does not directly translate into behavior in the form of actions and thoughts. Instead, the process undergoes an important analysis stage, during which the identified needs and stimulated motivation are affected by the inherent psychological features of the individual. In the reverse theory, there is an important categorization of individuals on the basis of telic and paratelic states. These terms originate from Greek, meaning ‘serious’ and ‘playful’ respectively. These are not merely brief descriptions of how people are perceived by others. The importance of the telic-paratelic dichotomy is that it reflects a strong force that affects the behavior and decision-making of an individual (Kuroda et al., 2017). Telic-state individuals are concentrated on the ultimate destination of their endeavors. In their case, the most important aspect of behavior is always the outcome of it, rendering the preceding actions irrelevant to a considerable degree. In other cases, paratelic-state people draw enjoyment from the process of an activity, often focusing on the present benefits rather than distant returns.
In a way, this dichotomy represents the eternal clash between the people living in the moment and long-term planners, also known as journey versus the destination. These two states dictate varying approaches to the identification and fulfillment of needs, thus affecting the behavior in different ways. For telic people, the destination is key, making the completion of a goal the most important aspect of an activity. In light of these characteristics, people in telic states are likely to resort to all means in order to have their needs met. Their behavior reflects the seriousness embedded in the term, becoming methodical and sacrificing the present for a better future. Paratelic people will exhibit a stronger emphasis on the present enjoyment, not discarding it for the future. They will behave in a way that generates higher immediate returns, whether those returns are material or spiritual.
Therefore, motivation can be processed through different paradigms of thought and planning horizons. At the same time, the point of a motive’s origin can also vary depending on the force that prompts its creation. Within the framework of a self-determination theory, Carr (2011) explores the dichotomy of intrinsic (or internal) and extrinsic (or external) motivation. In the first case, the motivation to perform an action is created by the inner sense of enjoyment, fulfillment, or necessity. Extrinsically-motivated people focus on the external factors that dictate that certain behavior is necessary (Moneta, 2014). For example, intrinsically motivated artists will engage in the creation of a painting because of the need for self-actualization and the pleasure that is drawn from the process. In the case of extrinsic motivation, art is created because there is a demand for it, and the piece needs to be sold to provide the artist with money. Carr (2011) argues that intrinsic motivation is stronger than extrinsic one, accounting for better performance and results. Intrinsic motivation is drawn from the core of a person’s mind, becoming their inspiration in its true sense.
Ultimately, behavior is a complex phenomenon that is influenced by an array of interrelated factors. First of all, it originates with the needs of a person that can vary in terms of categories and their hierarchy. Needs are the inconsistencies between the preferred and the present state that create this original intent to change the situation within an individual. This force is then processed through the particularities of a mind, acquiring a telic or paratelic vision. Then, the ultimate influence of motive on behavior is determined by the former’s point of origin. Intrinsic, or internal, motivation is found to be stronger and more lasting, leading to major shifts in behavior. In comparison, extrinsic motivation only has a temporary, contingency effect as only weak, external needs are engaged.
Carr, A. (2011). Positive psychology: The science of happiness and human strengths. New York, NY: Routledge.
Grigorov, G. (2020). Analysis of McGregor, Alderfer, and Murray,’s motivation theories and their applicability in the military. Science, Business, Society, 5(2), 76–78.
Kuroda, Y., Hudson, J., Thatcher, R., & Legrand, F. B. (2017). Telic-paratelic dominance and state effects on responses to resistance and endurance exercise. Journal of Motivation, Emotion, and Personality, 6, 15–22.
Moneta, G. (2014). Positive psychology: A critical introduction. New York, NY: Red Globe Press.