In This Article Expand or collapse the "in this article" section Motivation

  • Introduction
  • Textbooks
  • Journals
  • Societies and Conferences
  • Action Control Theory
  • Cognitive Dissonance Theory
  • Empathy-Altruism Hypothesis
  • Field Theory
  • Frustration-Aggression Hypothesis
  • Goal-Setting Theory
  • Goal Systems Theory
  • Hull’s Drive Reduction Theory
  • Instinct Theories
  • Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs
  • Mcclelland’s Theory of Human Motives
  • Motivational Intensity Theory
  • Objective Self-Awareness Theory
  • Reactance Theory
  • Regulatory Focus Theory
  • Reinforcement Sensitivity Theory
  • Risk-Taking Model
  • Rubicon Model of Action Phases
  • Self-Determination Theory
  • Terror Management Theory
  • Theory of Planned Behavior
  • Theory of Uncertainty Orientation
  • Vroom’s Expectancy Theory of Work and Motivation

Psychology Motivation
Michael Richter, Rex A. Wright, Kerstin Brinkmann, Guido H. E. Gendolla
  • LAST REVIEWED: 09 November 2017
  • LAST MODIFIED: 26 February 2013
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780199828340-0039


References to the construct of motivation are ubiquitous in most domains of life. Parents worry about how to motivate their children to apply themselves at school; business organizations send their employees to motivation seminars to improve the quality and quantity of their performance; women wonder how to motivate their husbands to devote more time to household chores. Given the frequency with which the motivation construct is referenced, one might think that there would be strong agreement about its meaning, at least within the motivation research community. However, there is in fact only modest agreement. Most researchers agree that goals, motives, needs, and incentives are key concepts; however, researchers vary in their understanding of defining characteristics. Thus, for example, whereas some would define motivation in terms of increased desire to attain or avoid an outcome, others would define it in terms of increased energy or effort expended at a given point or across time. The lack of agreement about definition has worked against the emergence of a coherent approach in the study of motivation and complicated the transfer of motivation knowledge. This is highlighted by a review of motivation textbooks, which reveals marked variation in organizational structure and theories presented. Fortunately, motivation definitions within the motivation research community do have a commonality. Specifically, they have in common an emphasis on variables and processes that determine the initiation, direction, and maintenance of behavior. We have drawn on this commonality in preparing this bibliography, listing theories and relevant references that we view as central to motivation as an area of study. We have refrained from explicitly discussing the key concepts of motivation psychology and from presenting theories in the context of a classification scheme. The references included in this article cover the most important key concepts. By studying them, readers will learn about the concepts and be able to organize the theories as they see fit. Importantly, our listing of theories is neither exhaustive nor evaluative. It is a mere sampling of perspectives, with conceptual focuses ranging from grand to limited. Readers can—and, indeed, are encouraged to—make their own judgments about the legitimacy and utility of the perspectives presented.


Textbooks on motivation psychology aim to cover the whole range of aspects of human motivation. However, given the diversity and heterogeneity of motivation research, the content and structure of textbooks differ. There is currently no single textbook that covers all phenomena and theories related to motivation psychology. Most textbooks present motivation-related aspects grouped around one main theme. Geen 1995 approaches motivation from a social psychological perspective. McClelland 2009 focuses on needs and motives. Petri and Govern 2004 emphasize biological and physiological process. Atkinson and Birch 1978 extensively discuss drive and instinct theories. Weiner 1980 presents in detail attribution theories related to motivation. Heckhausen and Heckhausen 2008 focus on processes that are characteristic of human motivation.

  • Atkinson, J. W., and D. Birch. 1978. An introduction to motivation. 2d ed. Princeton, NJ: Van Nostrand.

    This textbook extensively discusses drive and instinct theories. It presents in detail early theories that are rarely discussed in more recent motivation textbooks.

  • Geen, G. R. 1995. Human motivation: A social psychological approach. Pacific Grove, CA: Brooks/Cole.

    Good textbook for undergraduate students. The book has a strong emphasis on social psychological aspects of motivation. The level of detail differs between the presented approaches.

  • Heckhausen, J., and H. Heckhausen. 2008. Motivation and action. New York: Cambridge Univ. Press.

    DOI: 10.1017/CBO9780511499821

    Good textbook for undergraduate students. Most individual chapters are well written and provide a good overview of the discussed topic. However, the individual chapters are only loosely connected, and only phenomena that are characteristic of human motivation are discussed.

  • McClelland, D. C. 2009. Human motivation. New York: Cambridge Univ. Press.

    This textbook provides a very good introduction to the motive perspective of motivation but lacks information on many other important approaches.

  • Petri, H. L., and J. M. Govern. 2004. Motivation: Theory, research, and applications. 5th ed. Belmont, CA: Wadsworth/Thomson Learning.

    Good textbook for undergraduate students, with a strong focus on biological and physiological processes related to motivation.

  • Weiner, B. 1980. Human motivation. New York: Holt, Rinehart, and Winston.

    A very readable textbook with a limited scope. It covers Freud’s and Hull’s drive theories, Lewin’s field theory, Atkinson’s achievement theory, and social learning theory, as well as an extensive discussion of attribution theory of motivation.

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