Mathehu's Weblog

mulling over (research) ideas

A selection of psychological theories on motivation

Below is a quick overview of the main motivation theories used in psychology, education, economics, and public health. I took most of the information off the net and provided links to informative, yet brief, sites.

Content theories of motivation

Content theories explore the forces or building blocks driving peoples actions.

The main content theories of motivation are:

–     Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs

–     ERG

–     Herzberg’s Two Factor theory

Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs

Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs model has definitely become part of common knowledge. A short but educational summary of the main tenets of this theory can be found at

ERG Theory

Clayten Alderfer modified Maslow’s Hierarchy of Need by summarizing the levels of need into three basic categories: existence needs, relatedness needs, growth needs (ERG). More about ERG and the differences to Maslow’s model can be found in a short and concise overview at .

Herzberg’s Two-factor Theory

Herzberg’s theory takes a different perspective on what motivates (satisfies) or de-motivates (dissatisfies) us. In a nutshell, Herzberg’s theory did not define satisfaction and dissatisfaction as being at opposite ends of the same continuum. The opposite of satisfaction is not dissatisfaction, but no satisfaction. The opposite of dissatisfaction is not satisfaction, but no dissatisfaction.

The following figures provide schematic overviews of the traditional view of viewing satisfaction and dissatisfaction on two ends of the same scale. Herzberg, as discussed above, saw different factors leading to satisfaction and dissatisfaction.

For more information, including critical views of the theory’s validity, see one of the links below:

Here is a link to Herzberg’s book in which he outlines his two-factor theory: Motivation to Work

Process theories of motivation

Process theories explore the cognitive processes determining people’s actions.

The major process theories are

–     Equity theory

–     Expectancy theory

–     Goal-setting theory

Equity theory

According to equity theory the perception of unfairness in a social or organisational setting leads to tension, which in turn motivates the individual to act to resolve that unfairness.
For more information, see

Expectancy theory

F = ∑(V x I x E)

Expectancy theory argues that the strengths or ‘force’ of an individual’s motivation for behaviour change is expressed as the product of the valence of the outcome from that behaviour, the expectancy that effort will lead to good performance, and the instrumentality of good performance in leading to valued outcomes.

For more information, see

Goal-setting theory

Goal setting is both a process theory of motivation and a motivational technique, based on the argument that work performance can be explained with reference to characteristics of the objectives being pursued, such as goal difficulty, goal specificity and knowledge of results.

For more information, see


April 15, 2010 Posted by | Uncategorized | 1 Comment

Evaluability assessment

Here is a manuscript I started to write a couple of years back. I never finished it to a standard that made me consider submitting it to a journal. However, it should contain enough information to provide an overview of the nature and benefits of evaluability assessments.

Evaluability assessment

April 15, 2010 Posted by | Uncategorized | Leave a comment


As a first and quick response to David’s blog, I uploaded a Powerpoint presentation on Salutogenesis. This should provide a rough overview of this inspiring perspective on health promotion

April 15, 2010 Posted by | Uncategorized | 1 Comment