Secondary Drives

So far in this unit we have been considering only the inborn physiological motivations: the primary drives of hunger, thirst, and sex. We have mentioned secondary drives related to sex (courtship) and hunger (money, success) but have not explained how they develop. That is the subject of this module.


The strength of the hunger drive can be varied by depriving an experimental subject of food for varying amounts of time. The strength of the drive can be measured by observing how hard the subject will work for food. Because the primary drives are based on objective procedures, experimental findings are generally consistent. There is little disagreement among psychologists about how the primary drives work.

Secondary drives are another matter. How does one objectively measure adult human motivation in a social context? How can we measure dating behavior, or the strength of an achievement drive, or the need for dependency? Because the secondary drives are so difficult to measure, statements of what they are and how they develop are much more speculative than statements about the primary drives. Theories of adult human motivation differ. Three theories of motivation are shown in the following table along with the major behavioral mechanism stressed by each.


The Behavior Theory of Motivation
The Theory of Unconscious Motivation
The Cognitive Theory of Motivation

Mechanism Emphasized

Stimulus-Response Learning
Perception and Cognition

Figure 6. Three theories of motivation


The theory that emphasizes stimulus-response learning as the basic mechanism of human motivation is the behavior theory of motivation. Whiting and Child (1953) classified adult behaviors according to the primary drives underlying them. In this way each primary drive supports systems of adult behaviors which spring from it. Figure 7 shows the basic drives and some of the adult behaviors into which they develop.

Primary Drive----Behavior System-----Behaviors in Adulthood

hunger--------------oral------------hunting, cooking, alcoholism, dieting
sex------------------sexual---------dating, courtship, marriage
dependency------dependency--club joining, homesickness
aggression--------aggression---angry attack, insults, self-punishment

Figure 7. Relationship of primary drives to adult behavior

Whiting and Child defined five behavior systems. The first three are based on physiological drives. The last two, dependency and aggression, are considered universal consequences of a child's helplessness and frustration.


The dependency drive is based on the hunger drive. In infancy, when the most important thing for survival is the satisfaction of the hunger drive, there is a natural dependence on the mother. The manner in which our mothers satisfied our hunger drive affects our behavior as we mature. This was pointed out clearly in a study by Sears (Sears et a/., 1957). Forty preschool children were given dependency scores based on their relationships with their teachers, their peers, and their families. The children were then rated on their degree of nurturance (the tendency to take care of others), or frustration. If the children had been fed in infancy on a rigid feeding schedule, they were rated high in frustration and low in nurturance. If in infancy they were fed on demand, they were rated low in frustration and high in nurturance. Children who had been raised on a rigid feeding schedule showed more dependent behavior than children who were fed when they wanted to be fed. Sears and his associates concluded: "Apparently, feeding frustration is the variable that results in later dependent behavior, if we interpret rigid scheduling as well as severe weaning as being frustrating."

From Sears' study it appears that infant feeding practices influence our behavior as we mature. If so, we might suppose that our mature behavior was influenced by many such practices.


The theory of unconscious motivation, like the behavior theory, states that adult motivations are formed in childhood and are based on primary drives. Unconscious-motivation theory stresses the idea that our motivations are formed under uncomfortable circumstances that we would rather not remember. Sigmund Freud first emphasized unconscious motivations. Freud taught that most adult motivations are based on the primary sexual drive. In early childhood, the individual has many sexual feelings that cannot be expressed because of real or imaginary fears. The child's jealousy of the father is an example. The suppressed feelings, however, must have an outlet, and in maturity slips of the tongue, dreams, and irrational behavior are outlets for these feelings. Freud theorized that most human behaviors are symbolic or indirect manifestations of the sex drive. More recent adherents to Freud's general approach, however, doubt that the sex drive is the only source of motivation.

A study by Clark (1952) shows how sexual expression can be disguised. Clark asked male college students to write compositions based on pictures with neutral content after viewing pictures of attractive female nudes. The experiment was conducted in two different settings; in a college classroom and in a fraternity house in the midst of a beer party. Under classroom conditions, there was no increase in overt sexual expression but there was an increase in symbolic expression. In the more liberal atmosphere of the beer party, there was an increase in overt sexual expression, but no increase in symbolic expression. Apparently in the classroom setting subjects felt a need to disguise sexual feelings while they did not feel that need at the party.

It cannot be denied that the sex drive plays an important part in adult motivated behavior. The theory of unconscious motivation attempts to describe the mechanisms by which this influence occurs



We have seen so far that human motivation may be interpreted in terms of stimulus-response learning or in terms of unconscious behavior. The cognitive theory of motivation does not necessarily deny or contradict either of the two previous theories. It simply emphasizes that many of our behaviors are based on our perceptions and anticipations.

Much of the research that supports the cognitive approach to motivation has been done on "levels of aspiration." Hilgard and his coworkers (1940) showed that students' levels of aspiration were modified by the performance of a group. Students working in small groups were asked to do simple arithmetic problems. Their score was the time it took them to complete each segment of the test. At the end of each segment, each student's score was announced and all were asked to give their level of aspiration for the next segment. Students who scored below the group average tended to raise their levels of aspiration while those who scored above the group average tended to lower their levels of aspiration. The levels of performance to which the students were motivated, then, were regulated by their perceptions of the group's performance.

One active field of applying principles of motivation is in the area of sports psychology. You might wish to visit the web page of the Association for the Advancement of Applied Sport Psychology


The three theories of motivation overlap a great deal. While some psychologists may prefer one explanation to another, the student should keep in mind that none of the theories necessarily exclude any other. Each approach merely stresses a different aspect of adult human emotion.


Now test yourself without looking back. 1. What kind of drives do most theories of motivation try to explain?
a. Primary drives
b. General drives
c. Secondary drives
d. Cyclic drives

2. Which theory of motivation says that motivated behavior is regulated by perception and expectation of events?___________________________________

3. The central mechanism of the behavior theory of motivation is___________________________

4. The central mechanism of the unconscious-motive theory is____________________________

5. A man will date only girls that remind him of his mother though he won't admit it. Which motivation theory best explains this tendency?_____________________________

6. An apple-picker knows that the average daily harvest per man is 12 bushels. Therefore, he sets this amount as his goal. This behavior can best be explained by which motivational theory?______________________

7. As a child Frank was highly reinforced for eating his meals. As an adult, Frank is severely overweight.
Frank's behavior may be explained by which theory of motivation?____________________________________________________





Most motivation theorists agree on the basic mechanisms involved in the primary motivations such as hunger, thirst and sex. The theorists, however, have different views on the way primary drives develop into _____________________________drives.

Different theories of motivation overlap in many areas. They:
a. have very little in common.
b. are concerned with different adult behaviors.
c. agree on many motivational mechanisms but stress different aspects of motivational behavior.

d. apply only to specific cultures.

One theory of human motivation stresses that the primary drives of childhood develop into adult social behavior because of habit and learning. The primary drives and the adult behavior make up various behavior systems. This theory is called:
a. the cognitive theory of motivation.
b. the behavior theory of motivation.
c. the theory of unconscious motivation.
d. behaviorism.
________________________________________________ 4

According to the behavior theory of motivation, the behavior learned in satisfying the hunger drive eventually develops into such adult behaviors as:
a. keeping a house neat and clean.
b. aggression towards one's co-workers.
c. courting.
d. holding a job.

A child learns to depend on his mother for food. This reamed depen dency develops into a generalized response to all situations involving personal welfare. The mechanisms referred to here are part of the___________________________________theory of motivation.

The basic mechanisms of the behavior theory of motivation emphasize principles of:
a. stimulus-response learning.
b. the hunger drive.
c. repression of traumatic memories.
d. physiological psychology.

People often do not know why they do certain things. One theory of human motivation emphasizes that most motives are formed under unpleasant conditions that people would rather not remember. The name of this theory is:
a. the behavior theory of motivation.
b. the repression theory of motivation.
c. the cognitive theory of motivation.
d. the theory of unconscious motivation.


1 c
2 d
3 behavior
4 b
5 a
6 secondary
7 b
8 d


A child who was jealous of his father's attachment to his mother grows to be jealous of all other males. He is, of course, quite uncon" dvopid of the reasons for his feelings. The unconscious- motivation theorist might explain this behavior by saying that:

a. the stimuli of the mother-father relationship have generaiized so that, in adulthood, the individual makes the same responses in situations similar to childhood situations.

b. the suppression of sexual expression must have an outlet. Since a direct confrontation with the facts of the original motivation would be too guilt-provoking and frightening, the emotional outlet is symbolic of, but not equivalent to, the original situation.

c. the motivating factors of this situation are evolutionary. If men were not jealous by nature, then no strong family bond could be formed. Without a strong family bond, the survival of the species would be in danger.


The unconscious-motivation theory states that we do not know the basic reasons for our behavior because these reasons have been___________________________________ 1

Indirect or symbolic expression of sexual feelings is a mechanism of which motivational theory?_______________________________________ _7

One Theory of motivation emphasizes that motivated behavior is regulated by our perceptions and our anticipation of events. This
theory is called the___________________________
theory of motivation.
__________________________ 2

In cognitive studies on levels of aspiration, it was found that a person tends to seek incentives that are neither too easy nor too difficult to attain. In order to choose his incentives then, a person must:
a. have been presented with an identical situation in child- hood.
b. be unconscious of the factors motivating his choice.
c. have some understanding of the situation.
d. be able to predict the outcome of the situation.




1 suppressed (or repressed)
2 cognitive
3 guilt-provoking
4 b
5 c d
6 regulated behavior
7 the unconscious-motivation theory
8 b



1. The three motivational theories presented here try to explain the development of what kind of drives?_________________________________________________

2. Stimulus-response learning is the central mechanism of which theory of motivation?_________________________________

3. The suppression of uncomfortable feelings is the central mechanism of which theory of motivation?_______________________________________

4. Which theory states that our motivations are regulated by our perceptions and expectations?_______________________________________

5. When given a choice of jobs, John will always choose one that he feels is neither too difficult nor too easy. The motivational theory that best describes this behavior is__________________________________

6. When Elizabeth was a child she was attracted to her father. Irrational fears of her mother's anger, however, made her suppress her feelings. Today, as an adult, Elizabeth will not date men because she is afraid of them. Her behavior may best be explained in terms of which motivational theory?___________________________________________________

7. As an infant, Jenny had an overprotective mother who rigidly enforced a daily routine. As an adult, Jenny is a club joiner who seems to be unable to live without an association with a social organization. Which motivational theory best explains her behavior?_____________________________________________




Unit 9 Table of Contents

Psych 200 Home Page January 26, 2001