Theories on Motivation

Motivation is the desire a person has to do something. There have been many different theories that have attempted to explain motivation. This post will look at some of the lesser know theories that have helped to shape views on motivation. In particular, we will look at the following theories.

  • Drive theory
  • Expectancy-Value theory
  • Self-Worth theory
  • Views on Control

Drive Theory

Drive theory is one of the simplest and earliest theories of motivation. In drive theory, there are three critical component.

  1. A need is noticed
  2. The need leads to a drive to do something
  3. The drive causes a behavior.

An example of this is someone who has a need for food. This leads to a desire to eat which culminates in the person finding food and actually eating.

The simplicity of the model was actually one of the criticisms of it. Many people there was more to motivation than just these three components.

Expectancy-Value Theory

Another influential theory in motivation is the expectancy-value theory. This theory states that the amount of motivation a person has depends on the expectation of what the person will get if the complete the activity. If the person highly values the expected reward the will be highly motivated and vice versa.

For example, if a parent promises a child a new bike if they learn how to ride on two wheels. If the child highly values the new bike they will be highly motivated to learn to ride a bike on two wheels because of the expectation of the reward of a new bicycle.

Self-Worth Theory

Self-worth theory tries to explain motivation through how a person sees their own ability.  If a person believes they have high ability they will put forth high effort. This often leads to excellent results.

This means that the opposite is true as well. If a person believes that have low ability they will not try hard and they will produce poor results. The difference lies in how each person sees their ability level.


This last point involves a collection of related terms on motivation. Control has to do with a person’s perspective that they have authority over what they do and what happens to them. Two common terms related to control are locus of control and learned helplessness.

Locus of control has to do with a person’s perception of the control they have over their decisions and life. People with an internal locus of control believe they have the authority. People with an external locus of control believe that others control their destiny.

Highly motivated people have an internal locus of control and tend to be more assertive than people with an external locus of control.

Learned helplessness is a person becoming convinced that they cannot do something. This is often a result of an external locus of control. Individuals who accept a learned helplessness viewpoint are characterized by a lack of motivation and assertiveness.


Motivation is a critical part of teaching. This post provided insights into some basic concepts found in the realm of motivation.

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