Allport's Motivation, Functional Autonomy and Study of the Individual

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VI.    Motivation
To Allport, an adequate theory of motivation must consider the notion that motives change as people mature and also that people are motivated by present drives and wants. Allport believed that most people are motivated by present drives rather than by past events and are aware of what they are doing and have some understanding of why they are doing it.

A. Reactive and Proactive Theories of Motivation
Adult behavior is both reactive and proactive, and an adequate theory of motivation must be able to explain both.        An adequate theory of personality, Allport contended ,must allow for proactive behavior. It must view people as consciously acting on their environment in a manner that it permits growth toward psychological health. A comprehensive theory must not only include an explanation of reactive theories, but must also those proactive theories that stress change and growth. In other words, Allport argued for a psychology that, on one hand, studies behavioral patterns and general laws (the subject matter of traditional psychology) and on the other hand, growth and individuality. Allport insisted that a useful theory of personality rests on the assumption that people not only react to their environment but also shape their environment and cause it to react to them. He criticized psychoanalysis and animal-based learning theories as being reactive because they saw people as being motivated by needs to reduce tension and to react to their environment. Personality is a growing system, allowing new elements to constantly enter into and change the person.

B. Functional Autonomy
Allport’s most distinctive and controversial concept is his theory of functional autonomy, it is Allport’s explanation for the myriad human motives that seemingly are not accounted for by hedonistic or drive reduction principles, which holds that some (but not all) human motives are functionally independent from the original motive responsible for a particular behavior. Motives that are not functionally autonomous include those that are responsible for reflex actions, basic drives, and pathological behaviors. If a motive is functionally autonomous, it is the explanation for behavior, and one need not to look beyond it for hidden or primary causes. Functional autonomy represents a theory of changing rather than unchanging motives and is the capstone of Allport’s idea on motivation.

1. Perseverative Functional Autonomy
Allport recognized two levels of functional autonomy. Perseverative functional autonomy is the tendency of certain basic behaviors to continue in the absence of reinforcement. Allport borrowed the word “perseveration” which is the tendency of an impression to leave an influence on subsequent experiences. Perseverative functional autonomy is found in animals as well as humans and is based on simple neurological principles. Addictive behaviors are examples of perseverative functional autonomy.

       2.      Propriate Functional Autonomy
The other level is propriate functional autonomy; it is the master system of motivation that confers unity on personality, which refers to self-sustaining motives that are related to the proprium. Examples of propriate functionally autonomous behaviors include pursuing interests that one holds dear and important.

       3.      Criterion for Functional Autonomy Present motives are functionally autonomous to the extent that they seek new goals. That is, functionally autonomous behaviors will continue even after the motivation behind those behaviors change.

       4.      Processes That Are Not Functionally Autonomous  Allport listed eight processes that are not functionally autonomous: (1) Biological drives, (eating, breathing and sleeping)
(2) Motives directly linked to the reduction of basic drives, (3) Reflexes actions (eye blink) 
(4) Constitutional equipment (physique, intelligence, and temperament) (5) Habits in the process of being formed, ...
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