Early Concerns with Motivation

During the late nineteenth century, Austrian psychoanalyst Sigmund Freud (1856-1939) developed theories about motivation that are usually categorized as the psychodynamic approach. He contended that people have psychic energy that is essentially sexual or aggressive in its origins. Such energy seeks results that please, satisfy, or delight. This pleasure principle, as it was called, had to function within the bounds of certain restraints, identified as the reality principle, never violating the demands of people's conscience or of the restrains or inhibitions that their self-images imposed. In Freudian terms, the superego served to maintain the balance between the pleasure principle and the reality principle. In Beyond the Pleasure Principle (1922), Freud reached the conclusion that all motivation could be reduced to two opposing sources of energy, the life instinct and the death instinct.

Heinz Hartmann (1894-1970) went a step beyond Freud's psychody-namic theory, emphasizing the need for people to achieve their goals in ways that do not produce inner conflict, that are free of actions that might compromise or devastate the ego. More idealistic was Robert White, who denied Freud's contention that motivation is sexual or aggressive in nature. White contended that the motivation to achieve competence is basic in people. Everyone, according to White, wishes to be competent and, given proper guidance, will strive to achieve competence, although individual goals and individual determinations of the areas in which they wish to be competent vary greatly from person to person.

Such social psychologists as Erik Erikson (1902-1994), Carl Jung (18751961), and Karen Horney (1885-1952) turned their attention away from the biological and sexual nature of motivation, focusing instead upon its social aspects. They, like Freud, Hartmann, and White before them, sought to understand the unconscious means by which psychic energy is distributed as it ferrets out sources of gratification.

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