The Science of Motivation

The Science of Motivation

Though it seems (and often feels) like such an intangible, elusive concept, did you know that we actually have a lot of science and measurement tools for the idea of “motivation”? The field of behavioral science is a vast and fascinating field—studying human behavior in quantifiable, explicable details can be just as helpful to us as humans as some of the greatest medical or historical or technological advances. When we study the science of human behavior, we get the chance to know ourselves better and make positive change.

As we attempt to quantify something like motivation, we figure out which factors we can measure. In this case, social scientists have identified three key components of motivation:

Energy: the strength and intensity of motivation

Direction: whether motivation is aimed at a particular goal/outcome, or not

Persistence: whether motivation is lasting, both in intensity and duration

Extracting these three qualities of motivation already begin to help us organize and quantify motivation on a more molecular level—perhaps these ideas have even started to bring up different memories of highly motivated (or unmotivated) periods of your life. Did you experience a really intense drive to complete your college degree, aimed at the dream job and lasting for 4+ years of undergraduate studies? Or maybe you had a particularly uninspired period at work because you lacked direction for the motivation you were “supposed” to have, according to your employers? See, it’s all starting to become more tangible.

These kinds of studies are often rooted in “qualitative research”—research based in words, anecdotal experience, more ambiguous abstracts. But we also have an idea of what motivation looks like from the “quantitative” perspective: numbers, data, and hard science.