I.              General Historical Overview of the Field of Motivation (pgs 1-3)

II.            Historical Overview of Self-Determination and Intrinsic Motivation Specifically (p 5)






Theories of motivation are designed to explain why people behave in a particular way.  Historically, mechanistic theories dominated the field, viewing humans as passive and driven to act by biological disequilibrium toward homeostatic restoration.  Behavior was thought to involve stimulus response contingencies, with little or no attention given to cognitions in behavioral regulation.  However, by the 1960s, with the onset of the cognitive revolution, theories now viewed humans as active explorers with goals, interests, perceptions, values and choices--all of which play a role in understanding behavior.  Theories of intrinsic motivation developed during this time and focused specifically on understanding why people do activities for their own sake rather than for instrumental reasons.  Current research continues to investigate the conditions that support and undermine intrinsic motivation and the consequences that follow.


The following table highlights some of the major theories that dominated the field of motivation over the past 100 years.



                                                                                                                        ------------------------- Intrinsic motivation theories (See next page)---------------------------------------------à


Psychoanalytic Theory: Freud ~1900-1930     
Behaviorism: Drive Theory: Clark Hull 1940-1960
Behaviorism: Operant Conditioning: B. F. Skinner 1948-1960
Field Theory: Lewin 1940-1960
Social Learning Theory: Rotter 1960-1990
Achievement Motivation: Atkinson 1960-1980
Attribution Theory: Heider, Weiner, Kelley 1970-1990

There are physiological                           

needs or instincts

that arise from the Id. 

People are driven

to satisfy these needs,

to reach a state of

homeostasis.  If there

is no socially acceptable

way to satisfy the need,

the ego must plan an

alternate strategy or

suppress the need.



All humans have four biologically based needs: hunger, thirst, sex and avoidance of pain.  When any of these needs are deprived, a person is driven to act in a way that restores a state of biological equilibrium.  Exactly which behavior results depends on how successful that particular act in the repertoire has previously been in satisfying the need (habit strength).

B= Drive X Habit

Contingencies of reinforcement exist in the environment, linking

stimuli to responses.  Those

behaviors that are immediately

rewarded are likely to be repeated,

while those that lead to unpleasant

outcomes are not.  All behavior can

be explained through past reinforcements.

Behavior is a function of both the person and the environment: B=f(P, E)

People have needs and goals that arise from their experience of reality.  These goals cause an energizing or tension in the person until they are achieved.  Goals have worth, potency and psychological proximity.  An individual plans his behavior according to how valuable the desired outcome is and how able he feels to meet it (termed level of aspiration). Force= f(t, G)/e where t=tension, G=goal and e=psychological distance of person from the goal.

Behavior is chosen.  People choose to engage in behaviors that they expect will lead to the most personally rewarding goals: B= f(E, RV) where E=expectancy, RV=reinforcement value.  Expectancies come from past reinforcement for a behavior or experiences of reinforcement in similar situations.

People can feel responsible for their behavior and the reinforcement they receive, i.e, have an internal locus of control OR people can feel that others, luck or uncontrollable circumstances are responsible for their behavior and subsequent reinforcement, i.e, have an external locus of control.

People have a need for achievement that is learned and shaped in childhood by associations between achievement and positive emotional states (Deci, 1975).  The tendency of a person to approach or avoid an achievement activity can be calculated as Ts = Ms X Ps X Is, where Ms is the need for achievement also called the motive for success, Ps is the probability of success and Is is the incentive value of success.  The probability can range from 0 to 1 with higher numbers reflecting perceptions that the task is easier and lower numbers reflecting perceptions that the task is more difficult.  Incentive value is the inverse of probability with easier perceived tasks leading to lower amounts of pride feelings and perceived difficult tasks leading to greater pride.  Atkinson went on to say that tasks of intermediate difficulty lead to the greatest motivation.  Also, individuals with low motive for success would have a tendency to select very easy or very difficult tasks.  Atkinson also developed a mathematical formula for the tendency of a person to avoid failure situations that may lead to shame and anxiety: Taf = Maf X Pf X If.  The overall tendency to approach achievement (Ta) = (Ms X Ps X Is) + (Maf X Pf X If).


Attribution theory states that people try to understand what causes events and behaviors in the world by considering personal and environmental forces.  He contends that personal causality comes from intentionality.  He also states that there are many paths to achieve an intended behavior, but that personal causality implies that the individual must set a goal and choose the specific path that he thinks will lead to its accomplishment (Deci, 1975).  Building on Heider’s work, Weiner (1986) specified three dimensions of causality: locus (internal/external), stability (stable/unstable), and controllability (controllable/uncontrollable).  The locus dimension influences pride and self-esteem experienced after an event if there is an internal attribution, the stability dimension influences future expectancies and the controllability dimension can influence future volition.




Intrinsic Motivation

SDT incorporate ideas from each of theses theorists (White, Hull, deCharms)

as well Heider’s notion of perceived locus of causality (see Attribution Theory p.2):


                                                                                       ---pure IM leads to flow---


Effectance Motivation: White 1959

Optimal incongruity: Hunt 1965

Personal Causation: deCharms 1968

Self-Determination Theory: Deci and Ryan 1975-present

Flow Theory: Csikszentmihalyi ~1979-present:

Effectance Motivation: Harter 1978-present:

All humans have a need to feel effective in the world.  We actively work to develop ourselves.  Ex. Exploration, attempts at mastery and skill development.

Hunt proposed that organisms need an optimal amount of psychological incongruity and will seek it out.  When they encounter an incongruity between a stimulus and a personal standard they will be intrinsically energized to act until the discrepancy is resolved. 

People need to feel that they are origins of their own behavior, i.e., they incite their own behaviors out of will rather than being forced to act, or acting only to gain rewards and avoid punishments.

People have three innate psychological needs: a need for competence, autonomy and relatedness.  Intrinsic motivation develops out of these needs.  When people feel competent (challenged and able to conquer challenge), autonomous (free to set goals and choose behaviors) and self-determined (internal locus of causality), they will freely seek what interests them

(See Main Body of Paper for more detail).

Flow theory was developed from Csikszentmihalyi’s interest in how an intrinsically rewarding experience feels.  From his research and interviews, he has concluded that pure intrinsically motivated behaviors involve enjoyment, complete immersion in the activity, detailed focus, feelings of competence and loss of conception of time.  He stated that the enjoyment from the flow experience further motivates the individual to seek additional challenges (1988). This experience or ‘flow’ can only result from a situation where high challenges are matched with high skills.  A skill/challenge imbalance leads to less than ideal emotional states: when challenge is higher than skill, anxiety will be experienced; when challenge is low and skills are high, boredom will result; when both skill and challenge are low, apathy will be experienced.   Csikszentmihalyi goes on to say that although leisure activities typically lead to flow, any activity has the potential for creating it (i.e., people may increase challenge in more mundane tasks by trying to do them more creatively or more efficiently).  However, flow cannot be sustained unless challenge and skill continue to complexify (Brophy, 1998). 

Harter’s (1983) effectance theory builds on White’s (1959) ideas of a need for, and inherent enjoyment in, mastery.  When mastery of challenging tasks is successful, the person experiences feelings of enjoyment, and internal rewards of competence and control.  When he is unsuccessful, intrinsic motivation decreases, with a rise in need for external reinforcement to restore a sense of self and alleviate anxiety.  Harter developed a self-report mastery scale to measure children’s intrinsic versus extrinsic motivation toward learning and school mastery.  It is divided into 5 subscales with intrinsic/extrinsic poles: learning motivated by curiosity verses learning in order to please the teacher, incentive to work for it’s own satisfaction verses working to please the teacher and to get good grades, preference for challenging work verses preference for easy work, desire to work independently verses dependence on the teacher for help, and internal criteria for success verses external criteria.




Historical Overview References




Csikszentmihalyi, M.  (1988). Optimal Experience.  New York: Cambridge University Press


Deci, E.L. (1975).  Intrinsic Motivation. New York: Plenum Press


Eccles, J.S., Wigfield, A., Schiefele, U.  (1998) Motivation to Succeed.  In N. Eisenberg and W. Damon (Eds.), Handbook of Child Psychology.  New York: Wiley.


Graham, S., Weiner, B.   (1996) Theories and principles of motivation.  In D. C. Berliner and R. C. Calfee (Eds.), Handbook of Educational Psychology.  New York: Simon and Schuster Macmillan.


Harter, S.  (1981).  A new self-report scale of intrinsic verses extrinsic orientation in the classroom: motivational and informational components.  Developmental Psychology, 17(3), 300-312.