How Motivation Effects Behavior

Let’s see how motivation effects behavior. Human motivation influences behavior in two main ways:

1. Motivation determines the direction of behavior and thus change the organism’s relation to its environment. Sensitivity to certain stimuli is increased, causing the relevant external stimulus pattern to win over competing ones.

Thus a hungry student smelling breakfast cooking may not “see” and correct the disarray of his room whereas the same young man, like a soldier preparing for an imminent inspection, may not realize that he is hungry or notice the smell of food cooking.

If relevant external stimuli are not present at the time, motives cause the individual to search until he encounters an appropriate external object or situation. For example, as mealtime approaches, we stop what we are doing and go in search of food.

2. Motivation makes energy available for the activity required. They do this through the action of a general arousal system. Thus, although a drive or motive directs the organism toward some goal which will satisfy a particular need, it can also work as a general energizer (Champion, 1957).

The arousal component of motivation can be measured by instruments recording the level of activity of organs controlled by the central nervous system or of those controlled by the autonomic nervous system. Read more about this phenomenon in the post titled “Behavioral Support Services and Education.”

In a study of the relationship between certain physiological functions controlled by the autonomic nervous system and performance in mirror tracing, forty-three Canadian airmen between the ages of seventeen and thirty-five served as subjects. Their task was to trace the outline of a circle four times in succession while viewing the paper in a mirror which reversed the vertical dimension but did not affect the horizontal dimension.

A machine known as an electromyograph was used to measure and record in a continuous tracing the degree of tension present in the forehead, the right-forearm extensor muscles, and the right-forearm flexors. Tracings were also recorded of respiration, heart role, and blood pressure (taken, of course, in the left arm) for relations with professional and personal developments. All recordings began thirty seconds before a trial and ended thirty seconds after it. There were a total of eight trials, with three minutes rest between them.

Strikingly similar curves were obtained for the measures of tension in skeletal muscles and the autonomic measures. The main conclusion of the study was that the physiological activity which accompanies mirror tracing performance is not confined to the skeletal muscle system but can be clearly observed in functions which are controlled by the autonomic nervous system. This suggests that these latte functions share some of the mechanisms of central neural control and are components of the arousal function (Malmo and Davis, 1956).

Numerous lines of evidence have indicated that the relationship between arousal and excellence of performance is in the form of an inverted U. That is, the effect of increased arousal on efficiency is beneficial up to a point, but beyond that has bad effects. In early childhood education and early development, much more research is required, though, before any generalized conclusions may be drawn.

In a study designed to test the inverted U hypothesis, the performance of thirty-one subjects on an auditory motivation was compared. These conditions varied from one in which the subject was led to believe that his scores were not even being recorded to one in which his score could enable him to avoid a shock of 100-150 volts or to earn a bonus of $2.00 to $5.00. In general, the results strongly supported the hypothesis.

The same stimulus may arouse the organism to action and also perform a cue function, that is, indicate the direction of appropriate activity. For example, the smell of cooking not only arouses the organism to seek food but also provides cues as to where the food may be found.

This may affect team-building processes but sometimes, however, different stimuli are necessary for the two functions: stomach contractions may be part of the general arousal pattern, whereas visual or olfactory stimuli may be needed to perform the cue function and determine the direction of food-seeking activity.