Motive (psychology)

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In psychology, motive is a relatively stable personality trait that describes how important a certain type of goal is to a person .

Since around the middle of the 20th century, the concept of motive has to be differentiated from the concept of motivation , which is defined as a variable willingness to act at a certain point in time.

Motives are also viewed as components of self-control, as they enable creative and flexible (adapting to new situations) needs to be satisfied, and also support the effort to develop self-image , self-defined goals, individual and cultural values, social roles, etc. a. meet. They organize and represent cognitively which experiences in life were made in connection with needs, in particular implicitly perceived options for action and their consequences. You are not necessarily aware of it.


Classification of motive types

The motivational psychology has proposed a variety of motives. The majority of research has dealt with the achievement motive , the connection or intimacy motive, and the power motive .

The declaration oriented psychotherapy assumes that interactional behavior through relationship motives is controlled. Individual goals are summarized under the motives of recognition (affection, love), importance, reliable relationship, solidarity, autonomy and limits.

A further distinction is made between implicit and explicit motives. These can influence a person's actions in different ways. When motives diverge, motive mismatch can occur and affect the person's wellbeing.

Classification of motive discrepancies

If one compares the respective (measured) expression in unconscious and conscious motives, two types of discrepancy arise:

  1. Head> belly. A person consciously (linguistically / cognitively) indicated more motivation than was measured unconsciously (visually / associatively).
  2. Head <belly. A person has more motivation "hidden" in their unconscious (as a source of strength or drive) than their linguistic-cognitive "is clear and conscious".

Explicit and implicit motives do not correlate with each other and predict different behaviors, which is why they are recorded using different methods. Because of the low correlation between implicit and explicit motives, the probability of finding motive discrepancies in a person is very high (with a zero correlation around 50 percent).

As I said, both motive discrepancies can affect well-being. There are some statements from people that indicate a certain motive discrepancy well:

  • Category 1 people (pushing themselves to do something and getting tired) say e.g. B. "I feel stressed", "I have to overcome myself for these activities". This can be someone who has been pursuing goals for years that are hardly compatible with their unconscious powers (e.g. people who live out their parents' career aspirations without being unconsciously and powerfully identified with them - they do not really enjoy their job ).
  • Category 2 persons (did not use their inner power source completely) say z. B. "I am missing something", "I do not feel fulfilled". This can be someone who is underchallenging himself at the performance level (unconsciously he might want more challenges), who is lonely (unconsciously there is a higher contact motive than is consciously there), who avoids leadership positions or political engagement (although perhaps unconsciously more urge and Desire for positions of power is present than is allowed on a conscious level) or who feels forced, oppressed, bullied, restricted in autonomy (subconsciously there would be a lot of power to implement one's own ideas, but then according to one's own statement it is not yet used).


The measurement methods for subjects differ depending on whether they are unconscious or conscious subjects.

The unconscious motives are traditionally determined with the Thematic Perception Test ( TAT) or the more recent Operant Motive Test (OMT). Both tests are projective, they measure motifs by asking for associations with images:

  • What is important to the main character in this situation and what is he doing?
  • How does she feel?
  • Why is she feeling this way?

In the operant motive test, five implementation modes are postulated in these associations, which are crossed with the four motives of connection, performance, power and being free. At the theoretical level, this results in twenty different codings in the OMT.

Also, questionnaires can be used to compose images measurement, but they cover only conscious motives.

See also


Individual evidence

  1. Joachim Stiensmeier-Pelster, Falko Rheinberg: Diagnostics of motivation and self-concept . Hogrefe Verlag, 2002, ISBN 978-3-8409-1674-8 ( [accessed on February 28, 2020]).
  2. Schüler, J., Brandstätter, V., Wegner, M., & Baumann, N .: Testing the convergent and discriminant validity of three implicit motive measures: PSE, OMT, and MMG. Motivation and Emotion, No. 39 , 2015, p. 839-857 .
  3. Schultheiss, OC, & Köllner, MG: Implicit motives, affect, and the development of competencies. International handbook of emotions in education, 2014, p. 73-95 .
  4. Mempel, G .: Moderator effects of conscious and unconscious factors on implicit and explicit motives as well as motive congruence . In: Doctoral dissertation . Humboldt University of Berlin, Philosophical Faculty IV 2013.
  5. Wegner, M., Bohnacker, V., Mempel, G., Teubel, T., & Schüler, J .: Explicit and implicit affiliation motives predict verbal and nonverbal social behavior in sports competition. Psychology of sport and exercise, No. 15 , 2014, p. 588-595 .
  6. Schultheiss, OC, & Brunstein, JC: Assessment of Implicit Motives With a Research Version of the TAT: Picture Profiles, Gender Differences, and Relations to Other Personality Measures. Journal of Personality Assessment, No. 77 , 2001, p. 71-86 .
  7. Giovanna Eilers: PSI diagnostics course, introduction to PSI (TOP) competence analysis . March 2019, p. 10-11 .