Re: Motives and goals

From: Andy Blunden (
Date: Sun Feb 01 2004 - 22:36:56 PST

Have I understood you right, Eugene:
    * bowling along without thinking cannot be considered having a
"motive", because you are coasting along with inertia - no motive force is
    * to change direction you need a motive force;
    * you can feel the need to change course without knowing which way to
go: a goal?
At 04:14 PM 1/02/2004 -0500, you wrote:
>Dear Phil, Mike, and everybody-
>Goal without a motive and motive without a goal: can it be? Are these
>notions redundant?
>I'm preparing to teach a grad seminar on motivation so this discussion is
>very "handy" for me. I wonder if there is overuse of such terms as "motive"
>in some conceptual frameworks and underuse in some others. For example,
>behaviorism, a dynamic system approach (Thelen, Fogel), and, probably,
>connectionism (please correct me if I'm wrong) would try to avoid use of the
>notion of "motive" as the driving/explanatory force of human behavior. In
>contrast, attribution theories, some information processing approaches,
>Freudian psychoanalysis, Leotnev's activity theory, and so on make motive
>and motivation as their main conceptual focus.
>I personally feel uncomfortable with both tendencies: approaches that deny
>motive and motivation are losing agency while approaches that embrace motive
>and motivation are too individualistic (even including Leontev's one)
>treating an individual as a container possessing motives and motivations. In
>this regard, I've found gestalt-psychology an interesting way to find a
>"third way". Specifically, I find useful gestalt-psychology notion of
>psychological field and its notion of mediation (arguably, it was gestalt
>psychologists who introduced this notion of "mediation" and "mediated
>action" into psychology and not Vygotsky who referred to gestalt
>psychologists on this issue). Gestalt psychologists talked about "tensions
>in psychological fields" blurring the boundary between a person and
>environment (Gibson's notion of affordances grew out of that). These
>tensions are not motives because they do not belong fully to the individual
>and are not controlled by the individual. Zegarnik's studies of unfulfilled
>actions under guidance of Kurt Lewin investigated these "tensions in
>psychological fields". The second idea comes from gestalt psychologist
>Kohler who, in his famous studies of caged apes, defined intellect as
>mediated action. Putting these two ideas together, it is possible to define
>"motive" as mediated conflicting tensions in psychological fields (it is
>interesting to note that criminal law has known about this definition for
>long time distinguishing "manslaughter" from "premeditated murder").
>Now, let me give examples so you can visualize what I'm talking about.
>1) Non-mediated tension in psychological field (no motive) (all examples I
>stole from other colleagues)
> I demonstrate this example in my classes. While discussing some topics, I
>come close to a student (my "victim") and put a pen in his/her close
>proximity. The student predictably takes the pen as if I was offering it to
>him/her even though there is not any context suggesting or making sense me
>offering the pen. What was interesting that my students often report a
>struggle with themselves not to take the pen even after I explained what the
>demonstration was about. Gestalt psychologists would explain this phenomenon
>by reference to tensions in psychological field (i.e., charged with positive
>psychological valency). Gibson would probably explain it by reference to
>affordances. This is not a goal-directed action. There is not a goal - not
>any ideal reality constructed by the participant that mediates the action of
>taking the pen.
>2) Mediated tension in psychological field (with a motive).
>I repeat the demonstration AFTER I explained the students what the
>demonstration was about. The students now know that I tried to manipulate
>them by poking the pen into their proximity. Many of my students choose to
>resist their impulse to take the pen (sometimes I can see their hand
>reaching the pen that suddenly stopped and pulled back by the students).
>This shows that the students are involved in two, not one as it was
>previously, tensions: 1) to be guided by the pen's positive psychological
>valency (or "offering" affordance) and 2) to be guided by my explanation of
>the demonstration and the students' desire not to be manipulated - pens'
>negative psychological valency (or "resisting manipulation" affordance).
>(Please notice sociocultural and historical nature of these tensions and
>affordances!) These two conflicting tensions are resolved with a new
>mediated action: the student pulls back his/her hand, laughs and tells me,
>"You are not going to get me this time!" I'd argue through this mediated
>action is when the motive is born. Motive is a mediation of two conflicting
>Again, criminal law has known that for long time because to be liable in
>criminal justice one has to be guided by two conflicting tensions: 1)
>knowing right from wrong and 2) involving in something harmful to others. To
>be responsible for a crime *with a motive* (e.g., "premeditated murder" vs.
>"manslaughter"), one also has to mediate this tension (there should be
>evidence of such mediation).
>Now, Mike raises a good question (actually, he did not but I can do it for
>him because his message prompts it) - is presence of a goal the necessary
>and sufficient condition for the presence of motive? Indeed, goal is the
>ideal constructed reality (ideal affordance) that mediates the action.
>Goal-directed activity is always mediated and we might suspect a motive in
>However, I'd not jump to a conclusion that a goal directed activity is
>*always* with a motive and, thus, motivated. A goal directed activity may be
>without a motive in, at least, two important ways: 1) there may not be two
>conflicting tensions in a goal-directed activity and 2) there may be two (or
>more) conflicting tensions but they are not mediated by the goal. For
>example, today my wife and I plan to go to watch a movie. My planned movie
>trip is purposeful (goal-directed as I'm arranging it with my wife) but
>probably without a motive. As far as I know, I do not have competing
>tensions with the regard to this trip. One may say that my motive is "to
>have a good time" but although this lay use of the term "motive" is common
>and thus makes sense, I do not think it is very useful. I agree with gestalt
>psychologists and with their followers, ecological psychologists, that it
>would be much better to call movies (as symbolic-material reality) "positive
>psychological valency" or "affordance" for me than as a motive.
>Now, let's complicate our example and assume that my wife and I have a
>competing tension with regard to the movie trip - our family decided to save
>money as much as possible to buy a house. We may still go to see a movie. In
>this case, we have a goal-directed activity, two conflicting tensions, but
>these conflicting tensions are NOT necessarily mediated. We are with the
>goal that guides us how to solve problems of going to movie theater (e.g.,
>to choose which movie to see or how to find a parking in Philadelphia - not
>an easy task!) but it does not mediate the two conflicting tensions. One may
>say that our visit to movie theater is impulsive (i.e., still fully guided
>by a psychological field or by affordance) - without much agency emerged
>from a motive. (By the way, we can "impulsively" stay home or be paralyzed
>by an interpersonal conflict - it still does not produce a motive). Studies
>on postponed gratifications correctly identify their focus on conflicting
>tensions in psychological fields but they sometimes miss a point about
>mediation of this tension - from the fact that one postpones gratification
>does not mean that one has a motive (like in our movie case). Only when we
>try to mediate our conflicting tensions by, for example, setting priorities,
>making a rule, or flipping a coin - we will develop a motive (cf. Vygotsky's
>notion of management of one's own behavior).
>Further, we can ask the reverse question: Can an activity with a motive be
>without a goal? I think it can. I ca offer an example from Dostoevsky's
>novel "Crime and Punishment" (sorry to people who did not read it - I highly
>recommend this novel). For some time, the main character Raskol'nikov had a
>motive but not a goal. He developed a motive of murder to "cross the line" -
>make a hideous crime - as a way to solve-mediate his moral dilemma of
>finding himself capable to be a God-denying person. But, he did not have a
>goal. He developed his goal later when he decided to kill the old lady, a
>pawn-broker. It is interesting that Raskol'nkov was aware that he might have
>never developed the goal but live the rest of his life just with a motive. A
>less dramatic example of motive without a goal was my dad who decided to
>quite smoking after facing with some health problems. His decision to quite
>smoking mediated the conflicting tensions. It made him so happy that he
>postponed developing a goal of quitting for several years until his health
>problems became more acute. He was with his motive but without a goal.
>What do you think?
>PS I agree with Mike that the issue of multiple motives and multiple goals
>is very important and not well studied...
> > -----Original Message-----
> > From: Mike Cole []
> > Sent: Sunday, February 01, 2004 12:10 PM
> > To:
> > Subject: Re: imitation vodka and Whole Process learning
> >
> > this is only a partial response, phil, but it speaks to a recurrent
> > issue.
> >
> > You write, in small part:
> > A learner may come to a
> > place for language learning with the socially-derived motive of
> > improving her/his prospects of promotion in the local workplace.
> > However, it may be revealed that the learner, in fact, had, or has
> > developed "private motives" in the language class that reflect more
> > immediate needs.
> >
> > In Leontiev's framework, aren't what you call private MOTIVES private
> > GOALS? And isn't the corresponding level of analysis that of goal
> > directed actions?
> >
> > The answer to this may be NO. But I routinely find myself confused about
> > the issue of goal/motive action/activity. And, concurrently, believe that
> > many goals may be pursued within a common activity and even, perhaps, that
> > a given activity might be said to fufill multiple MOTIVES. For sure a
> > given activity can fufill multiple goals.
> > mike

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