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Competence Motivation

Hull's motivational theory dominated the psychology of motivation during the late 1930s and the 1940s. Hull's last great work was published in 1952, shortly before he died. Already psychologists were questioning Hull's exclusive emphasis on drive-reduction. Hull portrayed all motivation as a matter of reducing uncomfortable drive or tension states. It is true that hunger and thirst are uncomfortable, but this conception of motivation leaves out many of the factors that energize and direct human behavior. As Hull's dominance in the field weakened, psychologists began to explore different types of motives not directly aimed at satisfying biological needs.

What did White propose in his classic Psychological Review article?

In 1959 Robert W. White wrote a classic article for Psychological Review titled, "Motivation Reconsidered: The Concept of Competence." In it, White proposed a new concept: effectance motivation. Effectance was described as a "tendency to explore and influence the environment." White suggested that the "master reinforcer" for humans is personal competence. He defined competence as "the ability to interact effectively with the environment."

What are differences between Hullian biological motives and competence motives?

White pointed out several ways competence motives were different from Hullian motives. Unlike biological motives such as hunger and thirst, competence motives are never really satisfied. They serve to enhance the abilities of the organism, rather than to regulate a biological process. They are not based on a state of biological deprivation. Rather, they help an organism improve itself.

Competence motivation is visible in children. Toddlers try to act powerful and capable, big and grown up, almost as soon as they understand the concepts. Children of all ages try to exercise control over some domain of objects (whether it is a doll house, a collection of cars, or something else). Healthy, normal children commonly wish to be regarded as knowledgeable and capable beyond their years. In general, people who have a special talent love to exercise it. People like a subject or a game that "plays to their strengths" because it makes them feel competent.

What factors predicted success in business, in one study?

Competency motivation emerges as a critical factor in career success (Bales, 1984). A survey of successful entrepreneurs—-people who started their own businesses—showed two factors that were even more important than competitiveness or grades in school. The important factors were (1) an appetite for hard work, and (2) an enjoyment of mastering skills. They were powerful predictors of financial success.

Notice there is a subtle and possibly important difference between (1) seeking life activities which "play to your strengths," which is certainly natural if people want to feel competent, and (2) the enjoyment of mastering new skills described above as typical of successful entrepreneurs. These are not the same thing. If you merely seek situations that make you feel competent, you are likely to exercise old skills, and you are unlikely to advance. The people who succeeded as entrepreneurs were those who sought competency in new skills.

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