Monday, December 6, 2010

Final Project Post

Motivation has been a subject on the minds of philosophers, psychologists, teachers, instructors, and students for thousands of years; almost every person to ever exist has had to wonder, at some point in their lives, about what causes behaviors to occur. Scientists from Aristotle to Darwin have had theories about what causes behavior, and there is a multitude of research being done today to uncover the answers to the same question: what motivates behavior to happen?
There are hundreds, if not thousands, of responses to stimuli on a daily basis that affect our behavior. Thousands of years of evolution may suggest why we are attracted to certain types of people, why we prefer the tastes of some food, and why we experience certain emotions. This led to the development of universal motives, or as Brown (1991) would describe them, "traits that exist in almost all cultures and societies throughout the world". Motives such as developing goals, appreciating the arts, and the ability to control the environment are considered as universal motives. From these universal motives, our culture then shapes these motives; culture influences why we think certain things are funny, why we dress the way we do, and why we believe what we believe. There are a myriad of smaller motivations from the environment that affect us as well: how much food on a plate changes how much we eat, the people around us change how we act, even the places we go can affect our body (as seen with heroine addicts who go to the same places to shoot up). As people we all belong to "groups", whether the group is "student", "musician", or "athlete". Research shows that our membership in a group affects our goals and standards, and that, in being part of a group, the overall goals of the group become the same as the goals of the individuals within the group itself, and this brings me to my next point: our behaviors are not just a result of external stimuli; our personality affects much of what we do and how we act. How aroused (excited or active) we are affects our performance on tasks, which can in turn affect our self-esteem, and this, in turn will affect our future goals. To succinctly wrap up, through this course I learned that there are tons of factors that affect our motivation to do everything.
I found the section on extrinsic and intrinsic motivation to be the most interesting part of the course. Personally, I had thought that a majority of my motivation comes intrinsically, from within. My work situation is this: I work a low-paying, low-skill job, and I play music on the weekends with a band. Now money certainly motivates me to work, but my motivation to play music comes from within. Joshua had an excellent blog post describing this phenomenon, and he linked a video that describes how money does not affect people who have jobs that require cognitive skill, autonomy, and mastery (a musician for example) the same way that money motivates mechanical behavior. Money does not serve the same reinforcement purpose towards people who have a passion for what they do as it does for people who do not. Reinforcement is simply any consequence that will increase the frequency of a behavior, and for me just playing and making music with friends and family is enough of a reward that it continues to reinforce my behavior as a musician. This section covered incentives, or anticipated external stimuli that motivate behavior; for me this is simple, the incentive is simply just having fun and sharing my fun with others. This section also covered the theory that losses loom larger than gains, meaning a loss is more hurtful than a gain is rewarding. There have been plenty of times on eBay where I was set on buying a unique guitar only to have someone else win the bid at the last second; every time I was more frustrated about not getting a guitar than I was happy that I would save the money I was about to spend.
I think that for now, the best way I can apply what I took away from this class is to apply everything I can into real-life situations. I believe that understanding why my personality changes around different people or understanding why I procrastinate on work can help me overcome the weak areas of my personality and ultimately have a positive affect on my self-esteem. On a macro scale, I think everyone can benefit from learning how others (as well as themselves) are motivated. Perhaps a better understanding of motivations can one day help very different countries understand each other's views and beliefs more adequately and alleviate tensions between countries on the brink of war, and one day make the world a better place. As the video that will conclude this post is going to show, throughout history certain behaviors or group identities have predicted empathy between people, and we are at a unique point in history where people can soon begin to see others not as different people with labels, but as fellow humans, and this empathy can significantly improve the world. Just as it was thousands of years ago, motivation is still a topic of significance, and through breakthroughs in research, people are finally able to apply what science has shown us about motivation into improving the world.

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