Psychologists have developed numerous theories about the psychology of motivation. Some of these theories include the drive reduction theory, hierarchy of needs theory and the attribution theory. Though other theories exist, an exploration of these three can give you a basic understanding of the types of ideas developed by motivation psychologists. The ideas contained in these theories are frequently used to develop exercises in self motivation, employee motivation and student motivation.

Drive Reduction Theory of Motivation

The drive reduction theory holds that what motivates people to act are the drives they feel: Hunger motivates you to find food, cold motivates you to find heat and loneliness motivates you to find companionship, for example.

Experiences can produce new drives, addiction being a good example of this. Ingest too much nicotine or cocaine, and you may begin to feel a new drive for the substance, and that drive motivates you to seek more. Once you have acted to satisfy a drive, it is reduced, and so is your motivation to satisfy it — temporarily, at least.

Hierarchy of Needs Theory of Motivation

This theory states that what motivates people is the fulfillment of their needs, and that these needs exist in a hierarchy. People whose lives put them at different levels within the hierarchy can have vastly different motivations.

The first level consists of physiological needs, such as hunger, thirst and shelter. The second level consists of safety needs, like the need to feel protected from danger. The third level consists of love needs, such as the need to belong to a group or have companionship. The fourth level consists of esteem needs, which includes the need to feel self-love and self-respect. The final level is the need for self-actualization, which is your need to find that perfect niche for yourself in society and feel that you are doing what you’re “meant to do.”

Although everyone feels all of the needs from time to time, typically the lower-level needs must be fulfilled before we feel motivated to fulfill the higher-level ones.

Attribution Theory of Motivation

The attribution theory holds that people will be motivated to perform a task if they can attribute a certain control over success to themselves. This theory especially comes into play with student and employee motivation.

The basics are as follows: when presented with a task, people confront four main factors that will determine their success:

  • Luck
  • The difficulty of the task
  • The effort they put in
  • Their natural ability.

For a person to feel motivated, ability and task difficulty must be on par. People feel limited in their control over their natural abilities and can dither in the face of a task they perceive as too difficult.

If they deem the task is within their ability or skill, they can determine the amount of effort they put in, which gives them a feeling of control and power that can enhance motivation. Luck is an external factor beyond anyone’s control that can influence motivation one way or the other.


Psychology Organization. (2010). Drive reduction theory. Retrieved September 17, 2010, from

Psychology Classics at Arizona State University. (2010). The theory of human motivation. Retrieved September 17, 2010, from

Purdue University. (2010). Attribution theory. Retrieved September 17, 2010, from

 Posted on : June 12, 2014