Biopsychosocial Theories of Motivation

maslow quoteBiopsychosocial Category

 In this category, we combine biological, psychological and social elements as motivation.  Specific theories include interactionism, humanistic, and intrinsic motivation.  This entire category suggests that people are reasonably responsible for their own behaviors, even if there are influences beyond our control.


The interactionist theory seeks to explain the motivation behind a person’s behavior that is based on the interaction of another individual and their group (race, religion, gang, family, etc.).  A person’s understanding of their surroundings are determined by the people they meet.  Every person, at every interaction, helps to begin, shape, mold, or change opinions about that person, and the society that the other person belongs to.  Within this theory, a person’s motivation will also begin, be shaped, mold or change by those interactions.  For example, a person who is raised to hate other races is motivated to act on that hatred; they may be insulting or even violent.  Then, they spend time with other races and every encounter proves their hatred to be flawed.  Someone’s perspective and opinion of others changes every time they interact with someone, changing and creating different opinions for both parties.  Through social interaction, a person is motivated and influenced to behave based on the inferences from those interactions.


The most well-known humanistic theory is based on Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs that was first developed in 1943, then was modified and updated.  According to Maslow, we have different motivations to our behaviors based on what level on the hierarchy we are.  We have to meet our basic needs before we can meet our more extensive needs.  Here is a list of the hierarchy with level 1 being at the bottom:

  1. Physiological needs – These are the basic needs that a human body needs to survive. We need to eat, drink, sleep, etc. just to be alive.  A homeless person would be in this stage, seeking food and shelter daily, first and foremost.
  2. Safety needs – Once our physiological needs are met, we are motivated to fulfil the needs that make us feel secure and safe. This would include being able to meet the physiological needs in a safe manner; to have a home where you can eat and sleep and feel secure.  So, in this stage we have food to eat and a bed to call our own, but we could still be alone (or feel alone) at this point.
  3. Belonging needs – Once we feel secure and have a roof and food, we are motivated to fulfill the needs of being connected to others, like family. Needing to belong motivates us to make friends, belong to groups (church, gangs, soccer team, etc.), create strong family ties, and to be intimate.  Once we feel like we ‘belong’ we may not actually feel that great about our personal selves yet.  That’s the next step.
  4. Esteem needs – Once we feel like we belong, we feel good about that connection so we can then be motivated to feel good about ourselves. We build our self-confidence and we feel respected, thereby respecting others.  Our self-confidence rises and our relationships with others grow stronger.  Stronger connectivity to others motivates our self-esteem.
  5. Self-actualization needs – Once we feel good about ourselves and our surroundings, we can become self-actualized. This means that we understand our own potential, have grown towards self-enrichment, and are working towards that point in our lives where we know what we are capable of and we work towards fulfilling that potential.

In 1970, Maslow amended his list to include three more levels, Cognitive, Aesthetics, and Transcendence.

  1. Physiological needs
  2. Safety needs
  3. Belonging needs
  4. Esteem needs
  5. Cognitive needs – Once we feel confident about ourselves and have an understanding of our social groups (family, friends, etc.) we can then move towards cognitive enrichment. This is satisfying our curiosity of the world, gaining knowledge and using that towards the betterment of ourselves; becoming self-aware.  Basically, this level is a need for understanding and the pursuit of knowledge, in some capacity.  This would include going to college or wanting to learn everything about the business we work for.     
  6. Aesthetics needs – Once we have fulfilled our own, particular exploration of knowledge, we are then motivated to search and understand the aesthetics in the world. At this level, we want to appreciate the beauty in life, and the search for balance in our own world.
  7. Self-actualization needs
  8. Transcendence – At this level, we have become self-actualized and we now work towards helping others do the same. We also look for something beyond ourselves, beyond our own consciousness.  This level has also been labeled as a spiritual need, and that we are motivated to seek a higher truth, whatever that will be.


Intrinsic motivation is based on motivators that are internal.  We do things for personal gratification or for personal gain, generally without having someone else give you praise to make you feel good (although that is motivation as well).  We look for personal satisfaction and the desire to learn and grow, as well as for the fun of it.  For example, these postings that I do are more for my personal satisfaction rather than for any external reward.  Most hobbies are intrinsically motivated, as it’s something we are passionate about that other people may not understand.

Intrinsic motivation can run parallel to extrinsic motivation.  We work hard to get that promotion for the reward of a pay raise or the accolades.  However, we could also work towards that promotion for self-fulfillment; knowing that we did our very best and feel good about ourselves.


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