Oneonta EPSY 275
CHAPTER 2 | MOTIVATION 35
2.1 Motivation: Behavioral and Attribution
What Is Motivation?
Selected+Key+Concepts+and+Examples+of+Motivation) —the energy or drive that gives behavior
direction and focus—can be understood in a variety of ways, each of which has implications for
teaching. Since modern education is compulsory, teachers cannot take students’ motivation for granted,
and they have a responsibility to ensure students’ motivation to learn. Somehow or other, teachers must
persuade students to want to do what students have to do anyway. This task—understanding and
therefore influencing students’ motivations to learn—is the focus of this chapter. Fortunately, as you
will see, there are ways of accomplishing this task that respect students’ choices, desires, and attitudes.
Like motivation itself, theories of it are full of diversity.
One perspective on motivation comes from behaviorism, and equates underlying drives or motives
with their outward, visible expression in behavior. Most others, however, come from cognitive theories
of learning and development. Motives are affected by the kind of goals set by students—whether they
are oriented to mastery, performance, failure avoidance, or social contact. They are also affected by
students’ interests, both personal and situational. And they are affected by students’ attributions about
the causes of success and failure—whether they perceive the causes are due to ability, effort, task
difficulty, or luck.
A major current perspective about motivation is based on self-efficacy theory, which focuses on a
person’s belief that he or she is capable of carrying out or mastering a task. High self-efficacy affects
students’ choice of tasks, their persistence at tasks, and their resilience in the face of failure. It helps to
prevent learned helplessness, a perception of complete lack of control over mastery or success.
Teachers can encourage high self-efficacy beliefs by providing students with experiences of mastery
and opportunities to see others’ experiences of mastery, by offering well-timed messages persuading
them of their capacity for success, and by interpreting students’ emotional reactions to success, failure
An extension of self-efficacy theory is expectancy-value theory, which posits that our motivation
for a specific task is a combination of our expectation of success and how important or valuable the task
is to us. Yet another related idea is self-determination theory, which is based on the concept that
everyone has basic needs for autonomy, competence, and relatedness to others. According to the theory,
students will be motivated more intrinsically if these three needs are met as much as possible. A variety
of strategies can assist teachers in meeting these needs.
Behavioral Views of Motivation
Sometimes it is useful to think of motivation not as something “inside” a student driving the student’s
behavior, but as equivalent to the student’s outward behaviors. This is the perspective of behaviorism.
In its most orthodox form, behaviorism focuses almost completely on what can be directly seen or
heard about a person’s behavior, and has relatively few comments about what may lie behind (or
“underneath” or “inside”) the behavior. When it comes to motivation, this perspective means
minimizing or even ignoring the distinction between the inner drive or energy of students, and the
outward behaviors that express the drive or energy. The two are considered the same, or nearly so.
Equating the inner and the outward might seem to violate common sense. How can a student do
something without some sort of feeling or thought to make the action happen? As we will explain, this
very question has led to alternative models of motivation that are based on cognitive rather than
behaviorist theories of learning. We will explain some of these later in this chapter. Before getting to
them, however, we encourage you to consider the advantages of a behaviorist perspective on