Drive reduction theory (learning theory)

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In learning theory, drive reduction theory is a type of motivational theory. Drive Reduction Theory, developed by Clark Hull in 1943, was a major theory for motivation in the Behaviorist tradition.[1] Drive itself was defined as motivation that arose due to a psychological or physiological need; it has a variety of characteristics that include the intensifying or fueling of responses to a situation. As amount of drive is directly proportional to the intensity of the behavior that will result from it.[2] It works as an internal stimulus that motivates the individual to move to sate the drive.[3] Additionally, it has been described as an internal and instinctual process that moves individuals to take actions that would allow them to attain their desired goal or end-state. It can also be understood to be the result of a lack of something physiological, as opposed to psychological needs, which are inherent in humans.[4]


According to such theorists as Clark Hull and Kenneth Spence, drive reduction is a major cause of learning and behavior. Primary drives are innate drives (e.g. thirst, hunger, and sex), whereas secondary drives are learned by conditioning (e.g. money). Doris Kraeling and Byron Campbell experimented to determine if “reduction would be more effective as a reinforcer if the initial drive were low than if the initial drive were high.” Their findings are quite surprising: “Changes in stimuli are more discriminable at low levels of stimulus intensity than at higher levels of stimulus intensity”.[5]

Multiple drives are what happen when an organism is faced with more than one need at the same time. Research has shown that this condition affects learning. In psychological vernacular “generalized conditioned reinforce has greater learned reward value than a simple conditioned reinforce”.[6] These findings mean that multiple drives lead to quicker learning than a singular drive.

There are several problems that leave the validity of drive theory open for debate. The first problem is that it does not explain how secondary reinforcers reduce drive. For example, money does not itself satisfy any biological or psychological need, but it reduces drive on a regular basis by a pay check. Secondly, drive reduction theory has trouble explaining why humans and other animals voluntarily increase tension by exploring their environments, even when they are not hungry or thirsty.[citation needed]

There are also the complications to drive reduction theory caused by so-called "pleasure-seeking" behaviors, which seem to be contradictory to the theory's precepts. Why would an individual actively seek out more stimulation if it is already in a state of relaxation and fulfillment? A good example is when an individual leaves home to go to a potentially dangerous carnival. There is no base physiological drive to go to the carnival but the individual exhausts resources to go there. Judson Brown attempts to explain this phenomenon "the sensory consequences of most responses are practically never intense enough to provide increments to the drive level".[7] So the base physiological drive is vastly more powerful than other stimuli encountered. This makes sense because an organism will first learn to obtain food and water before it tries other more frivolous pursuits.

Drive is essential in order for responses to occur (i.e., the student must want to learn). Stimuli and responses must be detected by the organism in order for conditioning to occur ( i.e., the student must be attentive). Response must be made in order for conditioning to occur (i.e., the student must be active). Conditioning only occurs if the reinforcement satisfied a need (i.e., the learning must satisfy the learner's wants).

Clark Hull aimed to develop a learning theory that could be deduced mathematically. He created the "Mathematico Deductive Theory of Behavior:" sER = (V x D x K x J x sHr) – (sIr + Ir) +/- sOr (Thomson, 1968).

Theory of Motivational Readiness

This is an expansion on the drive-incentive link (developed by Warden, it states that the individual's physiological needs will be coupled with a proportionate drive, thirst and water would be an example)[3] in that it is the idea that affordances will satiate the wants of an individual. Affordances are the available resources that are present in an individual's environment, these would be at their disposal to use in order to obtain their desired end-state; the individual's environment, in which the affordances are located, is similar to Lewin's life space.[8] The level of effectiveness a affordance is depends on what the want is. The properties of the affordance needs to be able to suit the characteristics that are needed in order to the want to be fulfilled.[9] For example, an individual, whose want is shelter from a hail storm, would not be satisfied if the affordance given was a miniature sized bag of gummy worms; in addition, the gummy worms would have quite a low expectancy due to its lack of ability to provide shelter. Additionally, based on Warden's drive-incentive link, it is also true that as either the drive or incentive increases, the behavior also increases.[10] According to Hull, due to the interconnected properties of drive and motivation, in the presence of a drive, the individual experiences discomfort; this discomfort gives them the motivation to dispel the need that is at the core of the drive.[9]

The emergence of the theory of motivational readiness comes from previous attempts of prominent individuals such as Warden, Lewin, Tolman, and Hull in order to explain the prevalence of how internal and external sources interact in order to influence motivation and behavior. This theory is dependent on the notion that individuals will have a want, and that they will take actions in order to obtain the want (it is expected that the individual will be able to obtain this want).[11] Wants can be any physiological or psychological need, such as the need for food; as an example, an individual can drive to Waffle House with the expectation that their hunger will be satiated by the fluffy omelets there.

The theory of motivational readiness has come to be used in various professional settings. Motivational readiness is used in clinical settings, more specifically it has been prominent in studies involving exercise.[12] Additionally, it has been investigated in studies involving weight control, diet, and smoking.[13][14]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Dewey, R. (2007). Psychology: An introduction. Retrieved from
  2. ^ Hull, C.L. (1952). A behavior system. New Haven, CT: Yale University Press.
  3. ^ a b Deckers, Lambert (2018). Motivation Biological, Psychological, and Environmental. New York, NY: Routledge. pp. 57– 60. ISBN 978-1-138-03632-1.
  4. ^ Lambert, Deckers, (2018). Motivation biological, psychological, and environmental (5th edition ed.). New York: Routledge. pp. 42–43. ISBN 9781351713887. OCLC 1022784633.
  5. ^ Campbell, B., & Krealing, D. (1953). response strength as a function of drive level and amount of drive reduction. Journal of Experimental Psychology, 45, 97-101. Retrieved from[permanent dead link]
  6. ^ Wike, E., & Barrientos, G. (1958). secondary reinforcement and multiple drive reduction. Journal of Comparative and Physiological Psychology, 51, 640-643. Retrieved from[permanent dead link]
  7. ^ Brown, J. (1955). pleasure-seeking behavior and the drive-reduction hypothesis. Psychological Review, 62, 169-179. Retrieved from[permanent dead link]
  8. ^ Lewin, K. (1936). Principles of topological psychology (F. Heider & G. Heider, trans.). New York, NY: McGraw-Hill.
  9. ^ a b Deckers, Lambert (2018). Motivation Biological, Psychological, and Environmental. New York, NY: Routledge. pp. 50– 53. ISBN 978-1-138-03632-1.
  10. ^ Warden, C. J. (1931). The Columbia Obstruction Method. In C. J. Warden (Ed.), Animal motivation: Experimental studies on the albino rat (pp. 3-16). New York, NY: Columbia University Press.
  11. ^ Kruglanski, A. W., Chernikova, M., Rosenzweig, E., & Kopetz, C. (2014). On motivational readiness. Psychological Review, 121, 367-388.
  12. ^ Pint, B. M., Lynn, H., Marcus, B. M., DePue, J., & Goldstein, M. G. (2001, February 1). Physician-based activity counseling: Intervention effects on mediators of motivational readiness for physical activity. Annals of Behavioral Medicine, 23(1), 2-10.
  13. ^ Marcus, B. H., Rakowski, W., & Rossi, J. S. (1992). Assessing motivational readiness and decision making for exercise. Health Psychology, 11(4), 257-261.
  14. ^ Bock, B. C., Marcus, B. H., Rossi, J. S., & Redding, C. A. (1998). Motivational readiness for change: Diet, exercise, and smoking. American Journal of Health Behavior, 22(4), 248-258.

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