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Psychology and Motivation

What are some of the limitations of traditional approaches to motivation? Discuss this question, referring to at least three specific management theories and considering the historical context in which these ideas were developed or adopted.

Motivation in general refers to the result of behavioral changes in reaction to internal or external stimuli. Analysis can be done at the individual psychological level too. The studies attempt to understand people’s behaviour and come up with general conclusions from individual cases. (Encyclopedia Britannica, 2009) Some classified motivation as either a product or a process (Winne & Marx, 1989).

In viewpoint as a product, motivation refers to willingness, desire, or condition of stimulation. On the other hand, it can also be known as the cognitive and affective processes where level of motivation or goal-directed behaviour is determined (Pintrich & Schunk, 2002). From this viewpoint, motivation refers not just to an end state, but also to the cognitive processes that control how the end state is achieved (Winne & Marx, 1989).

This perceptive contradicts with the hypothesis to which one relates motivation with achievement or performance (Alexander & Winne, 2006). Numerous theories have been made on motivation. Some of the traditional approaches from most quoted theorists would be the classic theory from Frederick W. Taylor and the traditional motive approach pioneered by Henry Murray. Taylor advocated the theory that people will be extremely motivated if their reward is tied directly to performance. It creates assumption that one would choose the path that is most financially profitable and that money is the best motivation.

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Studies have shown that financial opportunity can definitely result in improvements especially in jobs with lower socio-economic rankings. It cannot be denied that money can motivate most people, but many have risen above it. Example would be religious missionaries, whereby they renounced financial security for greater spiritual satisfaction (Lorenzana, 1993).

Murray’s work contributed most to the roots of the achievement motive tradition. Summarizing from his classic work, Explorations in Personality, he uses the concept of need, to explain motivation in two district senses. First, when one is in a state of need, fulfilling end situations usually come to mind, resulting in one experiencing a sense of desire or wish. Desire will lead to intention and purpose and subsequently to strivings. Whereas the bulk of Murray’s theoretical attention focused on needs as motivational processes, he also used the term need to describe individual differences in hidden nature. In the second sense, a need indicates a potentiality or readiness to respond toward a particular end under particular stimulus conditions. The needs account for majority of motivated behaviour. Viscerogenic needs such as need for food that involves bodily tensions and satisfactions, and psychogenic need such as need for affiliation that involve psychological tensions and satisfactions are directly link to the achievement area.

The first is the need of achievement, which he defined as the desire to accomplish something difficult; to excel one self and to surpass others, to increase self-regard by successful exercise of talent. The second is the need for in avoidance, defined as the desire to avoid humiliation, quit embarrassing situations or to avoid conditions which may lead to belittlement. Although for subsequent motivation researchers, Murray’s need proved too numerous and too broadly defined, his influence in the development of the field is unmistakable (Efklides, Kuhl & Sorrentino, 2001). The research and finding of Frederick Herzberg and Abraham H. Maslow is the basis of much of the work in the field of human motivation. In Year 1941, Maslow witnessed a pathetic and beggarly civilian parade, after the bombing of Pearl Harbor, thereafter; Maslow developed his theories of motivation through observation by distinguishing the two types of motives: deficiency motives and growth motives.

The previous involve drive reduction and filling an internal lack, while the latter correspond to a higher level of functioning, including pleasurable tension increases and fulfilling one’s unique potential (Ewan, 2003). Building on Murray’s work, Maslow form one of the most well recognized theories of motivation. He identified that there is a hierarchical relationship between the different needs that one have and the basic needs have to be met before the higher level of needs can act as behavioural motivators. The hierarchy of needs from the lowest to highest is: physiological (physical survival) needs, safety and security needs, social needs, self-esteem needs and self-actualization needs (Maslow, 1943) (Refer to Appendix 1). However, there were limitations to the hierarchy of needs model. In reality, people do not work necessarily in accordance to the levels. They are less structuralizing in satisfying their needs. Many can overcome some needs not being met and go on to higher level. Different people with different cultural backgrounds and in different situations may have different hierarchies of needs too.

Furthermore, his theory is almost non-testable. The concept is rather vague with many important questions unanswered such as all the needs to be included in each category. Although Maslow clearly states the characteristics of the self-actualizing individual, he has chosen these features primarily on his own subjective judgment using little objective statistical analysis. And due to the limitations, his perspective generated very little experimental research (Carducci, 2009). Herzberg’s two-factor theory of motivation was based on Maslow’s hierarchy of needs. (Hollway, 1991) In a research conducted by Herzberg and his associates on 200 engineers and accountants, they identified two groups of factors which give explanation on motivation known as the hygiene factor (job context) and motivator factor (job content).

The hygiene factor consisted environmental factors such as salary, supervision, status, job security, working conditions, company policy and administration and interpersonal relations. They named this as hygiene factors as it aids to remove potential cause of dissatisfaction in job situation. Although these factors will not motivate people, they must, however, be present or dissatisfaction will arise. In the other group of factors, Herzberg and his associates revealed what they considered to be real motivators or “satisfiers.” These factors include the work itself, recognition, and advancement, the possibility of growth, responsibility and achievement (Lorenzana, 1993) (Refer to Appendix 2). In short, hygiene factors allow one to satisfy basic needs and avoid pain, while motivators reflect people’s need for esteem and self-fulfillment (Sargent, 1990).

Herzberg’s were criticized by some researchers as the theory was largely based on research with accountants and engineers, so the findings may not apply to shop-floor employees or clerical staff (Sargent, 1990). The age group, gender, job scope and other significant factors might be overlooked in conducting the research. Besides, salary might be one of the motivation factors too, not just to settle dissatisfaction. One prominent attempt to show the connection between different models of motivation and managerial practice was made by Douglas McGregor in his book, The Human Side of Enterprise (1960). He wrote in his book that “Man is a wanting animal – as soon as one of his needs is satisfied, another appear in its place.” McGregor was greatly impacted by Maslow, building on Maslow’s hierarchy of needs framework, he came up with two sets of assumptions about people: Theory X and Theory Y. He strongly believed that effective leadership depends on management assumptions about the nature of management and people in general (Sargent, 1990)

Theory X stress that the average mankind is naturally lazy, dislike work of any kind and will avoid it whenever possible. One has no ambition and prefers to be led rather than lead and take responsibility. One can be self-centred and unconcerned to the needs of the organization. Moreover, he is gullible and not particularly bright or judicious. Worst, he is resistant to change. They need a mixture of carrot and stick to perform (Lorenzana, 1993) (Refer to appendix 3). Theory Y, on the other hand, defend that the average mankind is not laid-back, nor is he without urge to assume responsibility. He can be self-motivated, and find self-satisfaction in work if the right kind of environment is provided by managers. They are people not by nature passive or resistant to organizational needs (Lorenzana, 1993). One weakness of Theory X is that it exercises a form of social control characterized by strict obedience to the authority of the organization, and maintenance and enforcement of control through the employ of oppressive dealings including intimation and mockery of employees.

Theory X and Theory Y could hardly be applied as perfect models in the real world. It cannot be accepted too literally due to the dichotomy of unrealistic extremes (Stevens, 2009). Back to where I started from, a more philosophical direction can be used to approach motivation as some theorists see motivation as a much more positive experience. Motivation itself can form behaviours that lead to increases in future motivation. Maslow’s concept of self-actualization could be applied within this framework (Encyclopedia Britannica, 2009). Many theorists build on one another theory in aspiration to come up with a more comprehensive approach to motivation, as well as through the research of psychology and behaviour of one. Though there might be limitations to each theory, they are still vastly used by the modern organization, usually a mixed choices of theories. Substantial improvements in the effectiveness should be seen as the social science will continue to contribute to the development of motivation.

Physiological Needs

Physiological needs are the very basic needs such as air, water, food, sleep, sex, etc. When these are not satisfied we may feel sickness, irritation, pain, discomfort, etc. These feelings motivate us to alleviate them as soon as possible to establish homeostasis. Once they are alleviated, we may think about other things.

Safety Needs

Safety needs have to do with establishing stability and consistency in a chaotic world. These needs are mostly psychological in nature. We need the security of a home and family. However, if a family is dysfunctional, family members cannot move to the next level because they have safety concerns. Love and belongingness have to wait until they are no longer in fear. Many in our society cry out for law and order because they do not feel safe enough to go for a walk in their neighbourhood. Unfortunately many people, particularly those in the inner cities, are stuck at this level.

Need to Belong

Love and sense of belonging are next on the ladder. Humans have a desire to belong to groups: clubs, work groups, religious groups, family, gangs, etc. We need to feel loved (non-sexual) by others, to be accepted by others. Performers appreciate applause. We need to be needed. We see numerous examples in advertising where our need for group belonging is tied to consumption of a particular product.

Esteem Needs

There are two types of esteem needs. First is self-esteem which results from competence or mastery of a task. Second, there’s the attention and recognition that comes from others. This is similar to the sense of belonging level; however, wanting admiration has to do with the need for power. People, who have all of their lower needs satisfied, often drive very expensive cars because doing so raises their level of esteem.


The need for self-actualisations is “the desire to become more and more what one is, to become everything that one is capable of becoming.” People who have everything can maximize their potential. They can seek knowledge, peace, aesthetic experiences, self-fulfilment, and oneness with God etc. It is usually middle-class to upper-class students who take up environmental causes, go off to a monastery, etc. (Maslow, 1970)

Appendix 2:

There are two classes of factors that influence employee motivation; intrinsic factors and the extrinsic factors. The intrinsic factors were also called the motivator factors and were related to job satisfaction. The extrinsic factors were called hygiene factors and were related to job dissatisfaction. Motivators (intrinsic factors) led to job satisfaction because of a need for growth and self actualization, and hygiene (extrinsic) factors led to job dissatisfaction because of a need to avoid unpleasantness. The negative or positive KITA or “kick in the ass” approach to employee motivation yields short- range results, but rarely generates any actual motivation.

In fact, to call it an “approach to motivation” is to clearly misunderstand motivation as Herzberg understood it. KITA yields movement — the avoidance of pain — not motivation. Positive KITA, in the form of raises and incentives reduces time spent at work, inflates wages and benefits, and overemphasizes human relations. K-I-T-A techniques fail to instill self-generating motivation in workers. Job content factors, such as achievement and responsibility, are motivators, while job environment factors are hygiene or KITA factors. Motivators are the key to satisfaction. (F. Herzberg, ‘Management Review, 1971, pp. 2-5)

Appendix 3:
Theory X

Theory X’s hard-line approach is grounded in coercion, implicit threats and intimation, close supervision, and tight command and control. Such an approach typically results in hostility, purposely low output, and hard-line union demands. In contrast, a softer approach might produce an ever-increasing request for more rewards and ever decreasing work output.


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Psychology and Motivation. (2016, May 01). Retrieved from

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