What is the difference between situation and state

Basic concepts and questions

In this section we are concerned with the question of which concepts motivational psychology has created and which questions it tries to answer with them.

We know terms like "motive" and "motivation" from everyday language. Could you define what they mean? Probably not that easy. So that we all understand the same thing about these terms, we need to define them as clearly as possible.


A motive is a disposition to strive for a certain value-laden target state. In short, a motive is a disposition to evaluation: If I tend to orient my activities frequently towards the goal of achieving good performance (e.g. at school and at work) (and thus seeing performance as something positivevalues) I can speak of a "achievement motive".
A motive is thus one lasting willingness to act with a specific person. "Motive" can be used to subsume related concepts such as "instinct", "drive", "need" or "interest", the first two of which are described in more detail below.
This should also make it clear that in motivational psychology the term "motive" is a bit more abstract than in everyday life, where the "motive" of the perpetrator means his specific motive, e.g. to get the father's inheritance.

In addition to the already mentioned motive for performance, one can of course distinguish many others, e.g. for aggressiveness, sexuality, hunger, help, power, connection. This is a first basic question in motivational psychology: the so-called Motif classification. The question here is how many and what motifs there are.
Another question is that of the (ontogenetic) Development of motifs: How does a child "learn" to want certain things? Or which "basic needs" are innate?
No less difficult is the question of Subject measurement: How do you determine empirically whether a person is e.g. more achievement-motivated or more motivated than another person? Motives cannot be observed directly, but can only be inferred by observing certain behaviors. Once the motive has been identified, predictions can be made about future behavior.
A fourth question related to motives is that of Motive stimulation: When does a motive become "active", when is the latent willingness to act actually converted into action, or more precisely: When does a motive become a concrete motivation?


Motivation is a current process that is triggered by the stimulation of a motif. While a motive has been defined as an enduring quality of a person, motivation is a person's state at a particular point in time, i.e. in a particular situation. That is why Graumann defines motivation in 1969 as "the interaction between the motivated subject and the motivating situation". Heckhausen wrote in 1989: "Motivation is a momentary focus on a goal of action, a motivation tendency, to explain the factors that one does not have to use on the side of the situation or the person, but on both sides."

The concept of motivation is mostly used to Action statement drawn. Motivation is then called Product of "expectation" and "value" conceived. "Expectation" means the subjective probability with which one can achieve one's goal. "Value" means the subjectively assessed value of the desired goal. In other words: the more likely it seems to me that the goal will be achieved and the more important the goal is to me, the more motivated I will be.
With this "calculation" one can explain why a person has decided on a certain action and has neglected an alternative one. Example: Michaela decided to study pedagogy, although her interest in medicine is actually a bit bigger. But because she judged success in studying medicine to be very unlikely, she decided to go for pedagogy. In this example, the variable "expectation" ultimately made the difference.


Roughly speaking, volition is what happens - in terms of time - between the motivation and the execution of the action: If one is currently motivated to perform, one must first consider how one can perform: one has to grasp an intention, i.e. plan a concrete action. In addition, you have to put this planned action into practice, you have to "pull yourself up" and begin. You can be motivated to do a lot - but whether and when you can keep up your motivation is a completely different question.
Accordingly, Volition defines Heckhausen 1989 as "the formation of an intention as well as the post-intentional phases before and after an action". Volition roughly corresponds to what we call "Willpower" describe.


Now let's finally explain what we mean by the term "action". What is the difference between action and behavior or between action and behavior?
If we from behavior speak, it can mean any externally observable movement of a person. The concept of behavior used in this way has its origin in behaviorism, which - in its radical form - dealt only with the externally observable changes in human beings. Strictly speaking, one should therefore leave aside any interpretation when describing a person's behavior. But this was sustained in the rarest of cases: According to this requirement, for example, only the mouth movements and vocal cord vibrations would be the subject of psychology, but not the meaning of the words that a person speaks!
Nevertheless, the concept of behavior is still popular today; but one no longer uses it so radically, but means that part of human activity that is if possible can be grasped free of evaluation and interpretation.

On the contrary, the concept of plot. When one speaks of an action, one means a goal-oriented, deliberate, subjectively meaningful, consciously decided action. The "slight downward movement of the head while at the same time briefly closing the eyes" (= behavior) becomes a "greeting" (= action). In this way, of course, one interprets a meaning, an intention, into the behavior, thus understanding action as a kind of language. That is dangerous; but if you don't do that, you have to be prepared for endless, meaningless descriptions of movements.

Modern motivational psychology has clearly opted for the concept of action. The terms "motive" and "motivation", as we have just defined them, both contain subjectively existing goals. In short: behavior (in this modern sense!) Cannot be motivated, only an action. Or to put it another way: a behavior cannot be explained by goals, but only by mechanisms that act involuntarily, such as classical or operant conditioning.
It should be emphasized once again: action and behavior are not parallel categories of human activities, they are different Description levels or Points of view one and the same object.

More terms

The four terms mentioned above dominate current motivational research. However, there are other terms that can look back on a long tradition and still have an influence:

instinct. An instinct is a behavioral disposition of a person or an animal that exists without prior learning and must therefore be innate. In addition, this disposition must lead to meaningful or expedient behavior, i.e. there must be an obvious goal-directedness of the behavior without the person performing the task being aware of this. She "instinctively does the right thing", as we say in everyday life.
Researchers like James or McDougall created in the early 20th century Instinct lists: They listed all the instincts that they thought existed. The lists got quite long ... Examples of instincts are "foraging", "socializing", "fear" or "disgust".
These approaches were further developed by ethology (= behavioral research, not to be confused with ethnology!), Which tried to transfer findings from animals to humans. In recent times, sociobiology or evolutionary psychology has been fighting on this front, quite loudly, as its frequent appearances on the covers of large magazines reveal. We discuss evolutionary psychology in more detail in the Emotion module, Chapter 3.

Drive. This term is of course closely related to Sigmund Freud; however, it is also common in behaviorism. But let's start with Freund's concept of instinct.
Freud thought of the drive as a psychophysical concept: the drive emanates from the body, so it has an organic source, the object and the goal of the drive, on the other hand, lie in the realm of the psychic (i.e. the conscious, preconscious or subconscious). More on this in Chapter 2.
Behaviorism, on the other hand, sees drives as objectively verifiable organismic needs. The organism eliminates by itself - without psychological mediation - occurring deficiencies with regard to eg eating, drinking, cold, warmth, breathing air, sleep, sexuality etc. These so-called "biogenic drives" (or also "primary drives") are innate and therefore do not have to be to be learned. Logically, only objective physiological measuring instruments were used to research the biogenic instincts. We will go into this in more detail in Chapter 2.

How are the four basic concepts mentioned at the beginning - motive, motivation, volition and action - related to one another? Can you put them in a meaningful time sequence? We present a possible answer to this in the next section ...