Evolution of Motivational Theories

 by Shawn P. Quigley

Evolution of Motivational Theories

Since the beginning of man’s socialization people have been attempting to understand what motivates an individual or group to act in the manner they do.  However, official theories of motivation did not start to develop until the early 1900’s.  The first few theories of motivation viewed man as a simple animal to be manipulated and controlled for his own good, but after World War II and the great depression, man was seen as having complex social and physical needs.  While the motivational theories produced during this time presented differing designs they remain constant in the sectionalism, containing both physical and social wants/needs.





Theories of Motivation

Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs

In (Maslow, 1943), Maslow states the five levels of the hierarchy of needs as Physiological, Security, Social, Esteem, and Self-actualizing needs.  Physiological needs are described as those needed for survival such as food, water, and sleep (Maslow, 1943).  Security needs were associated to the physiological needs, but not as required (Maslow, 1943).  An example of this would be safety, steady employment, and shelter from the environment (Maslow, 1943).  Maslow (1943) defined social needs as the need for love and affection.  This is the point where the shift from physical to psychological needs occurred in Maslow’s theory.  The need for esteem was centered on the individual’s personal worth, social recognition, and accomplishment (Maslow, 1943) which is clearly a purely psychological need.  The highest need and one Maslow (1943) stated is least like to be obtained is self-actualization.  This is where the individual is less concerned with other’s opinions and is more set for achieving their full potential (Maslow, 1943).  A point worth noting is that Maslow (1943) stated that the predominance of a need assigned by the individual determines its’ importance not the order presented.  This point is brought up because Maslow’s theory is commonly represented as a pyramid and the assumption that the first need must be satisfied before the next need is even addressed (Green, 2000).  An example provided by Green (2000) of a man who has never felt hunger is not motivated by that need and therefore does not seek to satisfy that need.

Maslow's hierarchy

Maslow’s hierarchy


Herzberg’s Two-Factor Theory of Motivation

Herzberg’s two-factor theory is also call the hygiene and motivation due to its’ split approach to motivation.  Herzberg (1965) theorized that satisfaction and dissatisfaction were affected by different factors and thus could not be measured on the same scale.  Hygiene factors were those that pertained to the job and were comprised of supervision, interpersonal relationships, work conditions, salary, and company policy (Herzberg, 1965).  One can see how these items are primarily physiological, but have some extension into the psychological realm.  The motivational factors were such items as recognition, a sense of achievement, growth or promotion opportunities, responsibility, and meaningfulness of the work itself (Herzberg, 1965).  The motivational factors discussed by Herzberg are of a psychological nature only.  According to Herzberg’s (1965) theory stated that hygiene factors cannot produce motivation only satisfaction or dissatisfaction.

Herzberg hygiene

Herzberg hygiene


Aldefer’s Existence, Relatedness, and Growth (ERG) Needs Theory of Motivation

Aldefer (2011) states the ERG theory as Existence, Relatedness, and Growth in which existence is defined as safety and physiological needs, relatedness is defined as internal esteem and social needs, and growth is defined as self-actualization and external esteem needs (Aldefer, 2011).  In this theory the dividing point between physiological and psychological is clearly defined with existence being the only part which pertains to the physiological needs.  Aldefer (2011) believe that these changes to Maslow’s theory were beneficial in showing that more than one need may be a motivational factor at the same time.  The ERG theory also was thought to account for the regression of needs when a higher order need cannot be satisfied (is frustrated) and is replaced by a lower order need to compensate for this fact.


Alderfer's relatedness - team membership.

Alderfer’s relatedness – team membership.


McClelland’s Theory of Needs

In Organization Needs Assessments: Design, Facilitation, and Analysis, (1995) McClelland discusses his theory of needs.  The theory of needs is divided into three sections; Achievement, Affiliation, and Power (McClelland, 1995).  Achievement discusses how people with different levels of achievement needs seek tasks with a corresponding level of risk (McClelland, 1995).  The higher the achievement need the higher the risk.  Affiliation need is similar to achievement and differs only in the fact it is the need to be associated with or accepted by a specific group (McClelland, 1995).  The power portion of the needs theory actually has two sub-sets, personal power and institutional power (McClelland, 1995).  Personal power describes the individual who wants to direct others and institutional power describes the individual who wants to organize the efforts of others for the betterment of the institution (McClelland, 1995).  This theory does not address any physiological needs as drives, instead focuses on the pure psychology of motivation.


McClelland's power.

McClelland’s power.


Vroom’s Expectancy Theory of Motivation

Lunenburg (2015) states that Vroom’s expectancy differs from Maslow, Herzberg, and Aldefer because Vroom does not attempt to suggest what motivates but instead discusses the different cognitive processes of individuals that may produce motivational factors.  The cognitive process evaluates the motivational factor (MF) of behavioral options based on the individual’s perception of possible goal attainment.  Therefore, the motivational force can be shown by the following: MF = Expectancy x Instrumentality x ∑(Valence(s)) (Lunenburg, 2015).  Expectancy is the individual’s assessment of the relationship between effort and performances i.e. will the effort applied produce the performance equal to or greater than itself (Lunenburg, 2015)?  Instrumentality is the performance to reward relationship i.e. what is the probability that the performance will yield the desired reward (Lunenburg, 2015)?  Valance is the value the individual places on the reward (Lunenburg, 2015).  Rewards that hold little to no value have a negative valance and are of no motivational value (Lunenburg, 2015).  It is clear that this theory covers both physiological and psychological needs.  However, it does not openly address either focusing on the mental process behind the assessment instead.


Vroom's cognitive.

Vroom’s cognitive.


Similarities and Differences

With exception of McClelland’s theory of needs the other motivational theories discussed all address motivation as a function of physiological and psychological needs of the individual.  McClelland’s theory focuses on psychological needs only negating the physiological needs because they were not considered to be a primary driver to motivation (McClelland, 1995).  These similarities can be seen in appendix A of this paper.

Other than the obvious difference in McClelland’s theory as compared to the other theories discussed, there are few differences other than the manner which the two categories of needs are addressed.  This is also evident through the depiction in appendix A of this paper.



In the review of the motivational theories it has proven evident that while the names of authors and theories change little has been added to our understanding of what motivates people.  The two major categories are physiological and psychological and the number of sub-divisions that are done to each category does not change how it affects the individual or their response.  Therefore, the conclusion to this paper would be that as more is understood about motivation the more we understand the physiology and psychology of the human race.

Additional Material

This appendix is to show graphic representation of where the different motivational theories share commonalities.



Aldefer, C. P. (2010). The practice of organizational diagnosis: Theory and methods. New York: Oxford University Press.

Green, C. D. (2000, August). A theory of human motivation: A. H. Maslow (1943). Retrieved from http://psychclassics.yorku.ca/Maslow/motivation.html

Herzberg, F. (1965). The new industrial psychology. Industrial and labor relations review, 18(3), 364-376.

Locke, E. A., & Latham, G. P. (2013). New developments in goal setting and task performance. New York: Taylor & Francis.

Lunenburg, F. C. (2015). Expectancy theory of motivation: Motivating by altering expectations. International journal of Management, Business, and Administration, 15(1), 1-6. Retrieved from http://nationalforum.com/Electronic%20journal%20volumes/Lunenburg,%20Fred%20C%20Expectancy%20Theory%20%20%20Altering%20Expecctations%20IJMBA%20v15%20NI%202011.PDF

Maslow, A. H. (1943). A theory of human motivation. Psychological review, 50, 370 – 396.

McClelland, S. B. (1995). Organizational needs assessments: Design, facilitation, and analysis. Connecticut: Greenwood.

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