in Conjecture Formation.
are, everything we do, especially learning, comes down to motivation.
Motivation is why we are, why we do, and why we learn. Humans have
always speculated as to why they do things. Are we forced to do things
in order to gain relief from internal goads called drives? Are our
actions reinforced by being accompanied by pleasurable stimuli? Does
our motivation come from our external environment or does it come from
inside of us? These are the questions that must be answered if we are
to learn why we act.
The wrong path.
Here is a
thing to know about humans. We want to control our environment, and
that means controlling other people, but we really hate to be
controlled ourselves. For a long while people and science have been
going down the wrong path. We have been trying to find out how to
motivate others instead of trying to find out how to motivate
ourselves. It's the wrong path for many reasons, but primarily because
those who allow themselves to be controlled are useless as human
beings. Such people are not creative. They have to be told what to do.
A truly controlled person has no independent thought or action. A
controlled person is really a logical paradox because he is no longer
human. What we end up with is partly controlled, partly independent,
partly resistant, partly compliant being. This is a volatile being of
revolution and the cause of much social strife.
by common sense.
very recently it was never questioned if we could or should try to
control others. It was assumed that if we rewarded people for doing
something that they would be likely to continue doing that thing and
that thus we could control their actions. The behaviorists tried to
make a science out of this and it is hard to fault them in such,
because everybody thought that this was self evident.
sense failed the test.
1961 graduate student Louise
Brightwell Miller conducted a discrimination experiment where
nine-year-old boys were split into two groups one group of which was
offered money if they succeeded in telling two faces flashed on a
screen apart and the other group was not offered money. Surprisingly
the children who were not offered money did much better at the
following year another graduate student Sam Glucksberg
conducted an experiment where two groups of graduate students were
asked to work out how to mount a candle on a wall with limited
available resources. Again the students in one group were offered
varying amounts of money if they succeeded while the students in the
other group were not offered payment. Again the students who were
offered payment did more poorly than those who were not offered payment.
two graduate students had stumbled on something that nobody before had
previously thought to do, and that was actually check if rewards
actually improved performance. Behaviorists assumed that rewards
improved performance, and because it seemed like common sense, nobody
had bothered to check.
The right path.
In the 1970s experiments
along these lines were coming thick and fast. The new experiments
confirmed the previous experiments and showed that they were not
flukes. The whole idea of getting people to do what others want them to
was being brought into question. Although it seems so obvious, as to
not need saying, people do not want to be the pawns of others. This is
not just in cases where they are ill treated but also where they live
in the greatest comfort. If you are not your own man what are you? Do
you have any worth or meaning? Or are you just cannon fodder for the
masters? It is true that some leaders can, through some great purpose
get people to do what they want them to do and make them like it, but
they do this by bringing people such a convincing message that they
want to follow the leader and do what he asks. He somehow shapes a
message or the environment in such a way that people motivate
Why would people want to do things others want
them to do? Well that is certainly the big question. To find the answer
we need to divide motivation into that which has its causal locus
outside of us (extrinsic motivation) and that which has its causal
locus inside of us (intrinsic motivation). Having discovered that
extrinsic motivation does not work very well, social psychologists
turned to investigating intrinsic motivation. How people motivate
themselves to cooperate with others, is explained in the section on Self-determination
and the research by Deci and Ryan.
Intrinsic rewards and extrinsic rewards.
All rewards strictly speaking are intrinsic
rewards. They derive from
our bodily needs. Obviously, we reward ourselves when we succeed in
satisfying our needs, and this means satisfying all the needs in
Maslow's hierarchy. Most needs are what Maslow described as deficiency
needs. Deficiency needs are all those needs in Maslow's hierarchy that
are dependent to some extent or other on something external to
ourselves. These needs include physiological needs, safety needs, love
needs and esteem needs. Because these needs are dependent on substances
and and others external to ourselves, they can be be used as extrinsic
rewards. Thus they can be exploited by others to intentionally try to
control our actions in the form of extrinsic rewards.
Physiological needs such as hunger, thirst, sex,
shelter, require something back from the environment to be satisfied
and thus the satisfaction of them can be used as extrinsic rewards.
Likewise safety, security, love, friendship, belonging, and esteem all
require some response from the environment so that the satisfaction of
them can be used that can be used as extrinsic rewards.
satisfaction and intrinsic rewards.
however, we manage to
satisfy our own deficiency needs without the intervention of others, it
can be said that we are rewarded by being self fulfilled.
The actual satisfaction of these needs, if we can
accomplish them through our own efforts, provide us thus, with
intrinsic rewards. The satisfaction of such needs produce chemicals
that flood our bodies and brains that produce the intrinsic rewards by
activating the pleasure centers of our brains. When we enable ourselves
to feel safe or secure our bodies and minds are flooded with pleasure,
when we make friends, are accepted into groups, or we are loved, again
our bodies and brains are flooded with pleasure. When we earn honor or
otherwise earn the esteem of others our bodies and brains are likewise
are flooded with pleasure.
As of this moment we do not have a complete
understanding of how and when the pleasure centers of the the brain are
activated. Perhaps in some cases the needs, such as such as that of the
safety need, satisfaction is more of a relief from the anxiety of being
unsafe. Or then again it is possible that the pleasure centers of the
brain are stimulated in this way when we feel accepted, when we are
loved, when we are honored, when we are held in high esteem and when we
feel we are safe from danger. The point is we receive an intrinsic
reward of some sort whenever we satisfy a need.
"The reward of a thing well done is to have done it."
Ralph Waldo Emerson
Constructs that can only
provide intrinsically pleasurable sensations.
There is another set of circumstances when we are
rewarded by our
bodies and brains. These circumstances are caused by the satisfaction
of yet another series of needs. Maslow called these needs, being needs,
aesthetic needs or meta needs. These meta needs require no response
from the environment and it is said of them, that the pleasure gained
from them, is in the satisfaction of them. The rewards from them are
always intrinsic. It is difficult to imagine how they could be given as
an extrinsic reward from others. Our bodies and minds automatically
reward us when we satisfy these meta needs, when we do things that we
believe have value:
- Goodness. When
we try to do something good and succeed in doing it.
- Uniqueness. When
we try to do something unique and succeed in doing it.
- Perfection. When
we try to do something perfect and succeed or nearly succeed in doing
- Necessity. When
we try to do something necessary and succeed in doing it.
When we try to bring about something just and succeed in doing it.
- Simplification. When
we try to simplify something and succeed in doing it.
- Truthfulness. When
we try to find out the truth of something and succeed in doing it.
- Richness. When
we try to find the wonder and intricacy of something and succeed in
- Wholeness. When
we try to integrate something into a unity and succeed in doing it.
- Completion. When
we try to finish or close off something and succeed in doing it.
- Usefulness When
we try to do something useful and succeed in doing it.
- Accomplishment. When
we try to accomplish something and succeed in accomplishing it.
- Achievement. When
we set goals for ourselves and succeed in achieving them.
When we try to combine things to forge order out of chaos and succeed
- Creativity. When
we try to create something and succeed in creating it.
- Productivity. When
we try to be productive and succeed in being productive.
- Competence. When
we try to and succeed in increasing our abilities.
When we try to improve some skill and succeed in doing so.
When we try to master some skill or task and succeed in doing it.
- Efficiency When
we try to and succeed in avoiding the waste of time, energy and
- Worth. When
we try to do something we consider worthwhile or worthy and succeed in
When we try to actualize some of our potential and succeed in doing so.
- Learning. When
we try to learn something personally interesting and we succeed in
Success as motivation.
Clearly it is our ability to succeed at any
endeavor that is mostly
responsible for our motivation. Success is therefore not desirable for
its own sake, but rather for its ability to move us forward. Success is
desirable for its ability to allow us to feel engaged. Success is
desirable for its ability to enable us to feel all 23 of the values,
just previously mentioned, within ourselves. Success is desirable for
its ability to enable us to take risks. Success is desirable for its
ability to enable us to overcome failure and proceed anyway.
intrinsic motivation is all about
interest. Whatever it is we are trying to do, whether it is to
accomplish something, achieve some goal, to become more skillful, to
create something, to actualize one of our potentials, or especially to
learn something we will be unable to do it unless we are interested in
doing it. Of course interest is partly a function of success, in that
we become interested in what we are successful at. But interest is also
partly building on what we already know and in this it is closely bound
to learning. That is to say we become interested in learning about that
which is similar to what we know and understand, that which we feel
will make our model of reality more accurate.
we try and fail in any endeavor we may feel some feeling of
unpleasantness or pain although this does not seem to be intrinsic. It
is rather a learned feeling that comes from the building of unpleasant
associations with the act of failing over time. If you are able to
watch babies or young persons when they try and do not succeed, you
will discover that they are not phased in any way, and immediately try
and try again until they succeed. We must ask therefore do babies need
to learn to be afraid of failure? Sure they need to learn to be afraid
of some things, but being afraid of failure causes motivation to
evaporate. John Holt in his book
"How Children Fail" made this lack of fear of failure in
babies abundantly clear.
summer days I spend many hours watching this baby. What comes across
most vividly is that she is a kind of scientist. She is always
observing and experimenting. She is hardly ever idle. Most of her
waking time she is intensely and purposefully active, soaking up
experience and trying to make sense out of it, trying to find out how
things around her behave, and trying to make them behave as she wants
In the face of what looks like
unbroken failure she is so persistent. Most of her experiments, her
efforts to predict and control her environment, don't work. But she
goes right on, not the least daunted. Perhaps this is because there are
no penalties attached to failure, except nature's - usually if you try
to step on a ball you fall down. A baby does not react to failure as an
adult does, or even a five-year-old, because she has not yet been made
to feel that failure is shame, disgrace, a crime. Unlike her elders,
she is not concerned with protecting herself against everything that is
not easy or familiar; she reaches out to experience, she embraces life."
may seem a little unusual, but intrinsic motivation can be understood
in terms of behaviorist theory. The behaviorists have ignored the fact
that our bodies and minds reward us just as surely as we are subject to
external rewards. They ignore the idea that the rewards that others can
try to use to motivate us are some of the same ones with which we
motivate ourselves. For instance we do not need to be conditioned to
eat food, it is intrinsically rewarding. If we did find a food
distasteful, however, it would not be rewarding and could not be used
to motivate us. But then again if we do not like a particular type of
food we could be conditioned to like it perhaps by following it with
something we do like. In other words what constitutes a behavior and
what is considered reinforcement can vary from organism to organism and
this is most evident in humans. Reinforcement or rewards, that are
intrinsic in humans, are thus understood in terms of behaviorist
theories and this should be considered when analyzing the effects of
external rewards and punishments.
A behaviorist outlook on
intrinsic associations in learning.
Though internal rewards are only one factor in
motivation, they are now
considered to be the most important. Intrinsic motivation is far more
effective and reliable because it is always acting. Despite this,
external rewards must also be factored into any attempt to understand
motivation. It has also been discovered in experiments by Deci, Ryan
and others that the most important factor governing the effectiveness
of extern rewards, is whether those extrinsic rewards are intentionally
instituted by some other person. This is especially so, if it is
applied in order to control us. Unintentional, (usually accidental) or
random pleasures (rewards) that may cause us to think, that they will
accompany some item of learning, tend to conjure up far less resistance
and do not reduce intrinsic motivation.
development of pleasure associated with learning.
pleasure associated with learning may itself be learned, or it may be
intrinsic in the act of learning, or both pleasures may exist in
When learning, we can and usually do so, in
association with some pleasurable experience.
pleasurable experience may come from the act of learning itself or from
any other intrinsic or extrinsic pleasure.
this happens we undoubtedly form a conjecture, that we will experience
some sensory or other pleasure or satisfaction while in the process of
learning that particular item of knowledge.
Thus it can be said we come to expect or
anticipate that such learning is accompanied by or followed by
As explained previously this is because, learning
triggers a number of internal intrinsic reward mechanisms. Firstly
learning itself probably produces an intrinsic reward. Either the
learning produces the reward or it triggers a mechanism in the mind or
body for creating pleasure.
If the learning is concerned with the success of
goodness, uniqueness, perfection, justice, simplification,
truthfulness, richness, wholeness, completion, necessity, usefulness,
accomplishment, achievement, orderliness, creativity, productivity,
competence, skillfulness, mastery, worth or the actualization of the
self, a further amount of pleasure is produced or administered by
triggered intrinsic reward mechanisms.
A single experience of these self administered
rewards, is sufficient to enable the formation of a conjecture that
pleasure will accompany or follow the item of learning.
This is a self fulfilling prophesy, as some
pleasure will always accompany learning unless some associations with
displeasure have been built up.
The more pleasure actually does accompany
learning, the more we generalize this conjecture to other similar items
This creates an anticipation, that similar items
of learning will also bring this internally generated pleasure and thus
a desire to learn those similar items.
It seems likely, that ultimately we could form a
conjecture, that any kind of learning will be accompanied by or
followed by pleasure.
It seems almost self evident that the pleasure of
learning should develop and increase in this way. However, if we begin
to feel that we are being controlled forced to do something our
conjectures about the pleasure intrinsic in learning will falter as
extrinsic motivation competes with it. Instead, as we perceive
ourselves being motivated by the extrinsic motivation our brains assume
the intrinsic motivation is unimportant. This in turn reduces our
ability to experience intrinsic motivation and causes it to diminish
more and more as time passes.
As conjectures go, those concerning intrinsic
pleasures are more reliable and consistent than conjectures concerning
extrinsic rewards. Extrinsic rewards may be, and often are, counter
productive for the very reason that they originate outside, and are
thus dependent for their existence on the external environment. When a
reward is not forth coming, as is the case with many extrinsic rewards
after a while, not only does the reward stop, but possibly the lack of
reward is experienced as a kind of punishment, causing the formation of
conjectures that learning will be accompanied by or followed by this
punishment. There is now considerable evidence to suggest that
intrinsic motivation not only motivates us better than contrived or
extrinsic contingencies, but is actually must be central in
any real motivation affecting us positively. Indeed, there is
much experimental evidence to not only show that extrinsic reward will
be demotivating if experienced as being controlling or if the reward is
withdrawn, but that it will actually damage our ability to rebuild
intrinsic motivation. As may be imagined, this can lead to a
lowering of overall motivation and thus a gradual lowering of interest
and a general decrease in learning as people proceed in their lives.
John W. Gardener American
educator said. "One of the reasons mature people stop learning
is that they become less and less willing to risk failure."
A new theory on the dynamics of
extrinsic and intrinsic motivation.
Edward Deci, Richard Ryan
colleagues, have been studying the interrelationship and dynamics of
extrinsic motivation and intrinsic motivation. From this study
they have derived and generated a general theory of motivation called
Self-Determination Theory or STD. Here is a breakdown of the theory as
it appears in
"The Handbook of Self-determination Research":
"The primary agenda of self-determination
theory...has been to provide an account of the seemingly discrepant
viewpoints characterized, on the one hand by humanistic,
psychoanalytic, and developmental theories that employ an organismic
metatheory and, on the other hand by behavioral, cognitive and post
modern theories that do not. In other words, recognizing that there is
compelling evidence in favor of human tendencies toward active
engagement and development and that there is as well, manifold
indication of fragmentation and conditioned responses. SDT provides a
framework that integrates the phenomena illuminated by these discrepant
SDT begins by embracing the assumption
that all individuals have natural, innate and constructive tendencies
to develop an ever more elaborated and unified sense of self. That is
we assume that people have a primary propensity to forge
interconnections among aspects of their own psyches as well as with
other individuals and groups in their social worlds. Drawing on the
terms used by Angyal (1963) we characterize this tendency toward
integration as involving both autonomy (tending toward inner
organization and holistic self regulation) and homonomy (tending toward
integration of oneself with others). Healthy development involves the
complementary functioning of these two aspects of the integrative
For Deci and Ryan the reason why we do things (our
motivation), comes down to the manner in which intrinsic motivation and
extrinsic motivation influence each other, and how our perception of
the motivation of others influences these two types of motivation. SDT
was generated out of a series of experiments which initially seemed to
show that any attempt to influence others to be active, (in other words
to extrinsically motivate them) would result in a decrease in intrinsic
motivation, and thus seemed to preclude the learning of anything that
was not personally interesting.
However, further experiments brought to light the
fact that it was not the presence of extrinsic motivation that was
causing intrinsic motivation to fall, but rather each person's
perception of the other persons motives. It was more likely, for
instance, that intrinsic motivation would fall in situations where
there were clear signs of other people wanting you to act in a
particular way. Where others were trying to motivate you to learn,
(such as in school for instance) there would be usually fairly clear
signs of extrinsic motivators, such as rewards if you do and
punishments if you do not. In this case, intrinsic motivation would
tend to fall. But in situations outside school, the same lesson (such
as in the cartoon of Calvin and Hobbes below), might be very attractive
because intrinsic motivation would remain high.
Deci and Ryan postulated
that this interrelation between intrinsic and extrinsic motivation was
caused by the presence of three basic needs, which through their action
could explain all the dispirit phenomenon. They postulated a need to be
self-determined, a need to be competent, and a need to be related to
A need for
self-determination or autonomy explained both, why there was
a difference between intrinsic and extrinsic motivation, and why the
person tended to become more integrated. Firstly, extrinsic motivation
was motivation that did not satisfy the need for self-determination.
Secondly, the person tended to become more integrated, because a
fragmented self likewise did not satisfy the need for self
determination. (How could the self be determined, if it was fragmented
into non connected or conflicting pieces.)
A need for competence
explained both, why people need to internalize
external regulations, and why people were motivated to do things at
all. People need to internalize certain agreed upon ways of acting in
groups of others i.e. society, because that was the way they could
satisfy their need for social competence. People needed to learn how to
do things so they could satisfy their need for competence.
A need for relatedness
explained both, why people need to gather into
groups, and why regulations needed to be internalized. People need to
gather into groups because that is how they are able to satisfy their
need for relatedness. People need to internalize customs, rules for
interaction and generally what is expected, because if they do not,
groups will be fractured and fragmented and thus not really groups at
intrinsic motivation fall in the presence of extrinsic motivation?
Intrinsic motivation within
this theory occurs when both the need for
competence and the need for self-determination are satisfied, but is
also stronger, when the need for relatedness is also satisfied. The
perceived presence of extrinsic motivation usually prevents these three
needs being satisfied. For
more information about self-determination theory click here.
It has been inferred in some of the
psychology literature, that what is referred to as intrinsic pleasure,
may not really be intrinsic at all, but rather a learned psychological
state that any person can attain for any activity. If the pleasure
attained by the entering of this mental state is what is being
measured, and not some property innate in the activity itself, this
would cause a host of problems for researchers working in this field.
Interestingly it would also provide some solutions to difficulties
within some of the theories, such as that of SDT.
Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi in his book
"Flow", presents some interesting evidence for this idea of a
pleasurable mental state which he called flow. Strictly speaking,
Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi was not interested in intrinsic motivation as
such. His position is, that life is not about being motivated, but
rather about attaining an this optimal state of being or flow state. In
terms of Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi's view we perform activities not in
order to get things done, but instead in order to attain a state of
flow and the things are gotten done as a sort of side effect of that.
The research by Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi was
conducted in two ways. First, masses of people, in all walks of life,
were asked to respond by reporting the kinds of activities they found
pleasurable. Second a sample of people, in all walks of life, took part
in an experiment where they were beeped randomly as the continued their
daily lives. When beeped, they would write down what they
were doing and how they were feeling at that moment, in a sort of
diary. This information was then synthesized to see what patterns
emerged. Many of the findings turned out to be as expected, but the
biggest anti intuitive finding was that people in general did not find
a lot of pleasure in leisure activities, but did find a considerable
amount of pleasure in working.
The really high pleasure, people described,
corresponded to a state of mind where the person was challenged in some
way, and was competently able to rise to and cope with that challenge.
Perhaps not so strangely, this tended to happen much more when the
person was working. But curiously, did not happen much when they were
relaxing or playing. As far as the idea that activities might not have
innate properties such as being pleasurable or unpleasant Mihaly
Csikszentmihalyi had little to say. Indeed most of the activities that
were reported as being pleasurable, were ones that could be easily
understood as being intrinsically pleasurable, such as those that
Some people however, especially those who had
lived and worked in simpler communities often reported finding the most
pleasure in performing the simple everyday tasks such as milking, that
others of our present society might think of as drudgery. One person
who was well integrated in our present culture, was singled out for a
special mention by Csikszentmihalyi. He was singled out because, while
his work was simple, (originally a welder) and what might be considered
by most of current society as unpleasant, he had transformed it into a
symphony of creativity. His name was Joe and his story is presented
below as depicted in "Flow":
"Although he stood on the lowest rung of
the hierarchy in the plant, everyone knew Joe, and everyone agreed that
that he was the most important person in the entire factory. The
manager stated that if he had five more people like Joe, his plant
would be the most efficient in the business. His fellow workers said
that without Joe they might as well shut down the shop right now.
The reason for his fame was simple. Joe
had apparently mastered every phase of the plant's operation, and he
was now able to take anyone's place if the necessity arose. Moreover,
he could fix any broken down piece of machinery, ranging from huge
mechanical cranes to tiny electronic monitors. But what astounded
people most was that Joe not only could perform these tasks, but
actually enjoyed it when he was called upon to do them.
[even so] ...Joe has never been a
workaholic, completely dependent on the challenges of the factory to
feel good about himself. What he did at home was perhaps even more
remarkable than his transformation of a mindless, routine job into a
complex, flow producing activity.
...The quality of experience of people
who play with and transform the opportunities in their surroundings, as
Joe did, is clearly more developed as well as more enjoyable than that
of other people who resign themselves to live within the constraints of
the barren reality they feel they cannot alter."
Did Joe manage to take activities that others would
find a drudge, and turn them into something that was pleasurable to
him? Is it possible that rural workers might achieve the same state of
ecstasy as a great artist or scientist? What about people who climb
mountains? Climbing a mountain of any worth involves suffering the
worst kind of adversity. Most of us would say, "Why would anyone in
their right mind want to climb a mountain." Yet those who do so say,
"There is no other pleasure like it." They say, "To pit yourself
against the elements, to overcome the forces of nature, is to be as one
with the gods." Do they do it just for the pleasure of
succeeding, or the fame it brings, or is there some pleasure just in
the doing of it?
What if such pleasure is not innate in the activities?
Why is it that
one person can enjoy himself while waiting for the bus,
while another cannot be entertained no matter what is available to him?
One person takes what is available to him through his senses, and turns
it into an enjoyable experience, the other cannot modify his experience
at all, and so is continually distracted. He is distracted by a few
unpleasant elements, that lie normally buried in any reasonably large
amount of sensory information. This is not merely an optimist
perceiving what is not there, but rather the perceiving of something
pleasurable that is there because that is what is being perceived. It
has just as much claim to validity or truth as any other claim. We can
only know things through what we perceive.
If intrinsic pleasure is not actually intrinsic, it
may in fact be possible for it to be learned. In other words, no task,
no activity, may be unpleasant in itself. It may be that we learn that
certain tasks are unpleasant or pleasant, by watching others perform
those tasks and inferring its pleasure or displeasure from cues in
their performance. It would mean that tasks and activities are what we
perceive them to be, that they are what we understand them to be, and
what we believe them to be. It would mean that the pleasure or
displeasure of doing something is just a state of mind, which we should
be able to adjust.
Intrinsic motivation is
motivation for life.
Deci poses us the question, "How
can I create the conditions within which people will motivate
themselves?" This question seeks to to resolve
the problem that others always want learners to learn what
they think is best for them, while learning is only accomplished at all
if the learner wants to learn. Why do we not want people to learn in
to gain some prize dangled by others? There are many reasons, but the
most important reason is that any kind
of extrinsic motivation is only temporary. The moment some prize
others is withdrawn, not only is the extrinsic motivation
to learn gone with it, but the genuine intrinsic joy they
previously felt when learning is likewise extinguished. In his book "Why
We Do What We Do" Edward Deci shows that motivating any
creature poses the same problem, even seals:
"...you can get a
glimpse of the problem even with the seals. Just as soon as the feeders
disappear, so too do the entertaining behaviors. The seals no longer
have interest in clapping their flippers together or waving to the
crowd. Rewards may increase the likelihood of behaviors, but only so
long as the rewards keep coming.
With our children, students
and employees we typically hope that the desired behaviors will
continue even if we are not there to toss them a fish."
Essentially what we want is for our children to
fall in love with learning, and so much so, that they will continue to
learn deeply and enthusiastically throughout their lives. When people
have learned because they were motivated by their own internal needs
and interests, when they have been intrinsically motivated to learn,
they will remain so motivated and become life long learners. Such
motivation is deeply embedded in the person's approach to life. If
people spend their childhood being intrinsically motivated to learn
will never lose that motivation to learn. The desire to continue to
learn by delving deeply into subjects throughout our entire
lives will become part of what that person is.