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Theoretical Approaches to Motivation

Theoretical Approaches to Motivation

Theoretical approaches to the study of motivation seek to explain and understand the basis of an individual’s motivation in order to be able to work with this to maximise motivation for a successful outcome. Theories can be divided into four types, although there is quite a lot of overlap between them. The four categories are Control, Competence, Beliefs, and Decision Making.


Two of the key approaches which emphasise control as a motivational factor are Rotter’s Locus of Control theory, and attribution theory. Both recognise the importance of the perception of control and expectations. It is also an important factor in models of intrinsic motivation and can help explain individual differences. Autonomy is also a factor linked to the idea of control.
Expectancy-value theories make the assumption that people’s behaviour is guided logically by the anticipated consequences of the behaviour (expectancies) and the value or importance they attach to such outcomes. Whether, and to what degree, we actually make such decisions is debatable and variable but there is a role for such theories. Perhaps they expect humans to be too logical and rational.

It is obvious to any hypnotist that the need to take control is associated with many decisions that clients take to change. Many want to “take charge”, and stop being controlled by cigarettes, food, anxiety, old trauma, other people etc. Going too far down the “control” line can be counter-productive with some clients, however. If the client feels they are being told that they have control it can be interpreted as blame in having been “out of control” before. There is a fine line to be drawn between responsibility and blame. Skinner (1995) proposes a ‘competence system’ model. We include this here, rather than in the ‘Competence’ section as it comprises the various parts that help to explain control. This model analyses the relationship between the components agent (the person), means (behaviour) and ends (outcomes) in conjunction with belief systems. There are various combinations of these factors:

  • Agent, means and capacity beliefs: belief that the person has the means to produce the desired behaviour (but not necessarily an outcome), ie confidence in the process.
  • Means, ends and strategy beliefs: belief that adopting a particular strategy will produce the expected outcome.
  • Agent, ends and control beliefs: belief that the self can control the outcome. This involves both capacity and strategy beliefs.

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