Psi man mascot

Summary: Cognitive Motives

Partly in reaction to Hullian motivational theory and its single-minded focus on biological motives, psychologists in the 1950s and 1960s proposed many non-biological motivational principles. Many of them involved information processing, so they could be called cognitive motives.

White wrote an influential article about competence motivation. Other theorists cited needs for control, consistency, and the need to satisfy curiosity.

Brehm's proposal of a "need for free­dom" led to the concept of psychological reactance or rebellion against control and manipulation. Reverse psychology is based based on this need for freedom and the psychological reactance engendered by attempts at control.

To achieve a desired result using reverse psychology, one pushes in the opposite direction one wants a person to go. If the person pushes back, this leads them in the desired direction.

Learned helplessness was a phenom­enon discovered by Seligman when he studied escape learning in dogs. Dogs became helpless after their attempts to escape were futile. At that point, they would stop trying, even if escape was now possible.

Dogs get over learned helplessness in about 48 hours. Humans, using language and belief systems, can keep learned helplessness going until it turns into mild depression by ruminating (thinking repetitively) about their own negative qualities and the impossibility of change.

The opposite of learned helplessness is effectance. This concept, originally from Bandura, was developed by Seligman and others into a program of self-help through learned optimism. Self-efficacy has been found to correlate with better outcomes in counseling, education, and careers.

So-called willpower or self-control requires not only a positive outlook but resistance to distractions. Metcalfe and Mischel described the frequently conflict­ing demands of "hot" (emotional) and "cold" (intellectual) motivational systems.

Other researchers found that immediate, small rewards could divert people (and laboratory animals) from the pursuit of longer-term, larger rewards. To maintain willpower over a long period of time, one must use planning skills to engineer an environment in which short-term temp­tations are minimized, so long-term goals can be pursued over time.


Write to Dr. Dewey at psywww@gmail.com.


Don't see what you need? Psych Web has over 1,000 pages, so it may be elsewhere on the site. Do a site-specific Google search using the box below.