What motivates people?

Many psychologists are interested in factors that drive people to actions.  In many aspects of life, such as work, study, and other engagements, research on motivation focus on what energizes and gives direction to people acting towards their goals.  A famous theory in psychology on motivation is the Self-Determination Theory (SDT).  SDT assumes that humans are inherently curious, originally active and genetically social beings.  The tendency to be intrinsically motivated of humans is related to their basic needs satisfaction.  SDT states that the basic needs that drive people to actions are autonomy, competence and relatedness.

Humans need to have the sense of being able to self-regulating one’s actions and these actions are congruent with one’s internal interests and values.  When a person have a feeling that he or she is having the autonomy in his or her actions, the drive behind such actions will be significantly increased.  Secondly, individuals have a basic need to feel competent about what they are doing.  If an individual has a sense of mastery in one’s important life domains, he or she will be more motivated in one’s actions.  Lastly, interpersonal factor is also a very important domain in motivation.  If a person feels socially connected with others and feels being cared for by others, he or she will be more motivated to act according to his or her goals.

How to motivate staff in workplace?

According to research on applying SDT to organizational behaviors, management of organziations that fosters autonomous motivation and basic psychological needs satisfaction yields higher quality of employee’s engagement, organizational effectiveness and profitability.  In fact, a well-known finding in management suggested that providing employees with contingent monetary rewards for doing intrinsically satisfying work decreased intrinsic motivation for such work.  However, this is not suggesting that employers or management should not provide employees with extrinsic monetary rewards.  Research showed that if management is able to provide support for cultivating employees’ autonomy, contingent monetary rewards are beneficial for productivity and performance.  Furthermore, management’s ability to give informational feedback (constructive feedback) rather than being very negative and critical while giving feedback, is related to the positive effectiveness of motivating employees with extrinsic monetary rewards.

How to motivate students in school?

To cater for the fast-changing environment of the world, education should not only focus on enhancing cognitive learning in areas such as science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM).  It is very important for schools to develop curriculum to facilitate the development of intrinsic motivation, active participation as a citizen in one’s community, as well as psychological well-being.

SDT is also very useful in guiding educators and parents to nurture holistic development of youngsters.  In fact, research showed that teachers who facilitate autonomous learning of students predicts more intrinsic motivation in learning in students and better educational outcomes, such as grades, classroom engagement, students’ psychological well-being.  Furthermore, parents’ style of parenting also contributes to the learning motivation of students.  Parents who support autonomous learning behaviors rather than being controlling nurture students with higher level of intrinsic motivation in study.

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