Tuesday, October 23, 2012

Does Personality Drive Motivation or Vice Versa?

Motivation: the process by which activities are started, directed, and continued so that physical or psychological needs or wants are met

Sometimes motivation becomes intertwined with the idea of personality (another "series" to follow on this blog). One of the more prominent motivational theories that appears to closely resemble a personality theory is David McClelland's needs theory. This theory states that there are some people who are driven by one, or a combination of, three distinct needs.

Need for Affiliation: an individual's need, desire, preference for socializing with other individuals. Someone with a high need for affiliation feels lost if left alone for too long. In some cases, the extreme need for socialization will outweigh any other motivators. It would not be uncommon for a person with a high need for affiliation to go to a movie they don't want to see or go out to eat even if they are not hungry if their friends are going. These individuals may sacrifice other comforts in order to satisfy their need to interact with other people. They may even associate with "despised" individuals if there appear to be no other options for socialization. In a team environment, these individuals tend to be the peace-keepers. They may not have a preference for what or how work is done, so long as they can get everyone working together.

Need for Power: an individual's need, desire, preference for being the one in control of situations and others. There are actually two sides to the power coin. The high need for power with a "pawns" orientation wants power for the sake of power. This is a Machiavellian individual who does not care how much they are liked so long as people do as they say. This is the darker side of need for power that sometimes turns people off of the idea of being in control. In a team situation, the "pawns" power would create a hierarchy structure that may accomplish nothing but frustration as the "leader" complains that no one does anything and the other team members complain that the "leader" won't let them contribute to the project. On the flip side, the high need for power with an "origins" orientation wants power so that they can maintain a smooth chain of command and power transition when the time comes. The "origins" power generates a leader who takes charge because they know they have the leadership skills and abilities that are needed, while at the same time they are training their predecessor so that the leadership can be handed over to a competent individual who will keep things running smoothly once the time comes to move on. In a team situation, the "origins" leader is the one who creates a game plan and then delegates responsibilities as needed. They will check in with the rest of the team from time to time and help out any team members as is warranted. This leader will also contribute to the actual work of the project, attempting to create an equal disbursement of duties among all the team members.

Need for Achievement: an individual's need, desire, preference for accomplishing goals. An individual with a high need for achievement is driven toward success, either large or small, but preferably meaningful. High achievers take calculated risks. Tasks that are too easily accomplished give very little satisfaction, while tasks with improbable odds may present too great a risk of failure. Moderately risky tasks present enough of a challenge to be worth the effort, and enough of a sense of accomplishment to warrant the energy spent in its pursuit. High achievers do not always need recognition for their efforts; the accomplishment of the task is often reward enough. In a team setting, it will be the high achiever who pushes the team forward from the background to ensure the success of the project. They may step forward to take on additional responsibilities, or even the leadership role, if they feel it is necessary to keep the project moving forward. The downside is that occasionally the high achiever may bear the majority of the project weight upon their shoulders because they are so concerned with seeing it completed successfully, so they may suffer burnout more often than someone with a high need for affiliation or a high need for power.

Of course, McClelland and his colleagues recognized that it was possible for an individual to have score high on more than one of these needs areas, or to even score low on all three. This theory begins to cross over from motivation into personality as it acknowledges that each person is unique in their level of needs in these three areas. Not everyone who is a leader is driven by the same need; not everyone who is accomplished is driven by a need to achieve. Personality is comprised of the unique qualities and characteristics that make you YOU. In McClelland's theory we begin to see that motivation may be tied to some core personal characteristic that drives someone toward certain behaviors or preferences.

Friday, October 12, 2012

Intimacy Is Psychological, Not Physical

I often hear people use the term "intimacy" as a euphemism for coitus or sexual activities. I think the first time it sunk in for me was when I noticed for the umpteenth time that Marge Simpson uses the word in this way in many episodes of The Simpsons when she wishes to "get physical" with Homer. After studying and teaching psychology for so many years, I see that this, like "antisocial" is yet another term that needs some clarification.

Intimacy: a psychological and emotional bond (NOT physical!) between two individuals. Said individuals do not necessarily have to be involved in a romantic relationship with one another. They could be blood relatives (siblings, parent/child, etc.) or very good friends. Intimacy means that you can "read" that person's mood just by looking at their facial expressions or body posture. If you can walk into a room and know that this is a good time to share a funny story, or a good time to give the person some space, then you have a high level of intimacy with that individual. The stronger your emotional and psychological bond with a person, the more intimate you are with them. This is separate from sex. While intimacy can make a sexual relationship more meaningful, it really has very little to do with any physical activities you engage in with another person. That is known as passion.

Passion: the emotional and physical arousal a person experiences when in the presence of another person. True, passion can run the gamut from hate (if extreme negative emotions and a desire to cause physical harm to another person occur in that person's presence) to love (if a desire to bring happiness to the person and a great concern for their well-being occurs in the person's presence) to lust (if you experience a physical draw and desire for physical sexual contact with the person). Passion is arousal (used here in the psychological sense). Intimacy is a bond between two individuals. And yes, a person can have a "passion" for a hobby or object. This means that the person experiences extreme emotions when thinking about or confronting said subject.

Arousal: activation of one's interest and increase in stress hormone levels. Arousal can be bad, in that great levels of extreme arousal can lead to too much stress and a person could suffer symptoms of an anxiety disorder. Arousal can also be bad if it comes in too little quantities. Think about how you feel when you are "bored to tears" because you just don't seem to have enough to do or enough motivation to do something. Arousal can also be good. A certain optimal level of arousal (dependent upon the individual and the task at hand) gives a person just enough reason to get up and get moving, while not overwhelming them. Arousal can be mental, emotional, and physical. Physical arousal is not always sexual in nature, either. A person can experience physical arousal when they succeed at a difficult task (think pride and a desire to celebrate) or when they are frustrated or suffer a loss (think about any time you felt angry enough that you wanted to punch something or throw something). Physical arousal occurs when our autonomic nervous system, specifically our sympathetic nervous system, triggers the release of stress hormones (e.g. adrenaline, cortisol, DHEA) so that we can enter our fight-or-flight mode in order to tackle whatever is causing the stress reaction. [I will post a future blog entry on basic stress definitions]. Sometimes this physical activation leads to arousal of the sexual organs, sometimes it does not.

In summation, intimacy is a close emotional and psychological bond, while passion is emotional and physical arousal. If a couple is engaging in sex, they may be increasing their intimacy, but essentially they are operating under a physical passion. Arousal usually means you are interested, though not always physically.