The broad rubric of motivation and motivation theory is one of the most frequently studied and written-about topics in the organizational sciences, and is considered one of the most important areas of study in the field of organizational behavior. Despite the magnitude of the effort that has been devoted to the study of motivation, there is no single theory of motivation that is universally accepted. The lack of a unified theory of motivation reflects both the complexity of the construct and the diverse backgrounds and aims of those who study it. To delineate these crucial points, it is illuminating to consider the development of motivation and motivation theory as the objects of scientific inquiry.
Early explanations of motivation focused on instincts. Psychologists writing in the late 19th and early twentieth centuries suggested that human beings were basically programmed to behave in certain ways, depending upon the behavioral cues to which they were exposed. Sigmund Freud, for example, argued that the most powerful determinants of individual behavior were those of which the individual was not consciously aware.
According to Motivation and Leadership at Work (Steers, Porter, and Bigley, 1996), in the early twentieth century researchers began to examine other possible explanations for differences in individual motivation. Some researchers focused on internal drives as an explanation for motivated behavior. Others studied the effect of learning and how individuals base current behavior on the consequences of past behavior. Still others examined the influence of individuals' cognitive... [continues]
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