591: Motivation

A Thousand Things to Talk About
591: Motivation

What motivates you?

Full episode script

Motivation science – or at least the study of motivation – has changed pretty significantly in the last few years. This isn’t necessarily because of any one single research finding, but more because of a combining of effort.


As one researcher wrote in American Psychological Science in 2018, quote:

A number of motivation theories [are] proposed in educational psychology, but these theories are not connected with the motivational theories studied in social psychology or organizational psychology. Furthermore, the way motivation is defined and theorized is fundamentally different in cognitive/affective neuroscience. In other fields such as cognitive psychology, motivation has been normally treated as a nuisance factor that needs to be controlled.


Some of the findings of studies both before and after this development of an emerging field of motivation show that motivation is not so much a direct one-to-one of reward or  punishment.


There’s a number of theories of motivation. Some say that we are motivated by living up to our personal “mission statements” or values, others theorize that motivation is to avoid pain, and yet others consider that just maybe motivation is about rewards we’re given. There have been very interesting studies, however, that find that being offered financial rewards for work or creativity may actually be de-motivational.


A few studies have also found that dopamine – and specifically, where in the brain dopamine tends to live – that has an impact on how we’re motivated. In one part of the brain, dopamine encourages action. In another part, and someone may be considered closer to a “slacker.”


There’s also the consideration that as we work our way through a task, our thinking about it might change. As was written in The Week, quote:

Olya Bullard and Rajesh V. Manchanda, both of the University of Winnipeg, ran a series of five experiments to see how different ways of structuring and framing goals […] affect behavior. The authors’ key findings concerned a switch that seems to occur during the process of completing a goal. Early on, “individuals represent goals as promotion-focused,” write Bullard and Manchanda, meaning they focus on what they’re positively trying to gain or achieve. But “in later stages of goal pursuit, individuals represent goals as prevention-focused” — If I don’t complete this, I’m going to be losing something important. That’s likely because early on, people tend to compare their state of progress to the point at which they started, when they hadn’t yet accomplished anything. Later, they can envision the completed goal, and begin comparing their current state of progress to the promised land.

This script may vary from the actual episode transcript.