RE: Motives and goals

From: Eugene Matusov (ematusov@UDel.Edu)
Date: Wed Feb 11 2004 - 16:20:12 PST

Dear xmca-ers-

I highly recommend reading article by Dan Hickey about his very successful
(in my view) attempt to develop a sociocultural notion of motivation (see
the link below).


> -----Original Message-----
> From: Dan Hickey []
> Sent: Friday, February 06, 2004 2:48 PM
> To: ematusov@UDel.Edu
> Cc: 'Steve Zuiker'
> Subject: FW: Motives and goals
> Eugene--

> My student Steve Zuiker forwarded this and several other posts to me. I
> am swamped with deadlines, but I thought that given you are putting a
> course together on motivation, and the reference to my 97 paper, I would
> send along something more recent.
> The critique of the 97 paper on the list was appropriate. That paper
> was actually written in 94. I have been working hard to move my
> motivation work forward in a direction that is would hope you would find
> more consistent with yours.
> I just published a paper in Elementary School Journal that you might
> find interesting. You can access it electronically at:
> I struggle mightily because I am trying to present these ideas in a way
> that appeals to the broader community of research methodologists and
> motivation theorists. Of course, I would love to hear your feedback.
> This paper was written in 2001, and I still have a long ways to go. If
> you find it interesting I have a couple more articles that extend and
> apply this analysis in press.
> Dan Hickey
> -----Original Message-----
> From: Steve Zuiker []
> Sent: Friday, February 06, 2004 9:47 AM
> To: Dan Hickey
> Subject: FW: Motives and goals
> Here's the first of several posts I'll forward to you under the same
> subject. This is Eugene's initial post.
> ------ Forwarded Message
> From: "Eugene Matusov" <>
> Organization: University of Delaware
> Reply-To:
> Date: Sun, 1 Feb 2004 16:14:54 -0500
> To: <>
> Subject: Motives and goals
> Resent-From:
> Resent-Date: Sun, 1 Feb 2004 13:15:39 -0800 (PST)
> 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
> tensions.
> 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
> it.
> 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?
> Eugene
> 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
> ------ End of Forwarded Message

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