What’s Our Motivation?


[Photo by clickykbd]

Motivation is at once one of
the most exciting and one of the most troubling areas of psychology. In asking
what makes us human, motivation seems to hold the key to some of the most
profound questions about our existence. And yet, by asking what drives human
nature, it also exposes our dark hearts.
Vansteenkiste & Sheldon
(2006) touch on these ideas in an article published in The British Journal of
Clinical Psychology which attempts an integration of Self-Determination Theory
(SDT) and Motivational Interviewing (MI). In this article the authors look for,
and find, many commonalities between these two theories. It turns out SDT has a
considerable theoretical contribution to make towards MI, which, itself, was
largely an intuitive atheoretical creation.
Still, I find myself with
mixed feelings about this article. One major reason why I admire Vansteenkiste
& Sheldon’s (2006) work is that it focuses on the integration of ideas. It
searches for, and finds, links between the theoretical and practical domains
such that each is informed by the other. Bearing in mind previous discussions
on unity in psychology, this has to be applauded.
On the other hand, for me
there is a problem with the fundamental assumptions of both SDT and MI. As
essentially humanistic theories, they assume people already have the potential
for positive change within them. In other words, by implication, it assumes
people will choose goals and behaviours that are good for them.
Goals, presumably, come from
needs. SDT identifies three main needs for which humans search. The first is a
need for competence, the second a need for autonomy and the third a need for
relatedness. All three, apparently good, positive, humanistic needs. Admittedly
SDT does not constrain the world of motivational drives to just these three,
but nevertheless these are thought, within this theory, to be the most
important. Does that really cover everything?
For me it is difficult to
reconcile even a small proportion of the human evil in the world with these
three needs. Perhaps I’m not being creative enough: when I kill people I want
to be good at it, to choose who I kill and to have backup. Does that satisfy
the needs for competence, autonomy and relatedness?
Pulling my head back out of
the clouds and thinking about the implementation of MI, however, there is an
argument that this meta-theoretical quibbling is not practically relevant. SDT
is a content-free theory so clients and therapists choose those motivations
which are applied. Theoretically, then, it would be possible to use it to
implant any types of motivation in another person; although, of course, if
these were detrimental to the individual, extremely unethical. We would then
have to assume the therapist discerns what is good for the client, or can help
the client towards that realisation.

About the author

Psychologist, Jeremy Dean, PhD
is the founder and author of PsyBlog. He holds a doctorate in psychology from
University College London and two other advanced degrees in psychology.
He has been writing about
scientific research on PsyBlog since 2004. He is also the author of the book
“Making Habits, Breaking Habits” (Da Capo, 2003) and several ebooks.

Kayode Ojo
Kayode Emmanuel Ojo is the Co-Founder and Managing Director at SHEFFA Limited. He is presently studying Computer Science at the National Open University, Victoria Island, Lagos.