Forum for Science, Industry and Business

Sponsored by:     3M 
Search our Site:

 

Motivation Research: Willpower alone is not enough

15.10.2013
Unconscious motivation plays a substantial role in how we respond to challenges

How do we motivate ourselves when studying for an exam or working to a tight deadline? The more unpleasant the task, the more willpower we need to rise to the challenge.


No laughing! An experiment to test willpower. (Picture: P. Gröpel/TUM)

Unfortunately, our reserves of willpower are quickly depleted. Which means that other mechanisms are required to motivate people to continually perform at a high level. And now scientists have shown that internal, unconscious motivation can significantly improve performance capabilities.

In an ideal world, employees would totally identify with their company’s business objectives, be experts in their field and extremely motivated about their work. But in reality, this is not always the case and this places the spotlight on motivational skills for anyone in a leadership position.

"There are three components to motivation. The first is our conscious objectives and desires – for example, the aspiration for a highly paid role in a company in order to achieve a certain standard of living. We are also driven by unconscious, implicit motives. These are deeply rooted in our emotions and can include the desire to do things well, have an impact on and control over others, and engage in interpersonal relationships," explains Prof. Hugo Kehr from the Chair of Psychology at Technische Universität München (TUM). "The third motivational component builds on the skills and capabilities that we bring to a role."

When all three components dovetail, we are highly motivated, focused and happy in our work. But if one component is missing, willpower can help bridge the gap. However, sheer willpower or self-control won't keep us going for long. Together with TUM sports psychologist, Dr. Peter Gröpel, Prof. Kehr investigated how our unconscious motivation can influence our willpower.

Ice Age puts willpower to the test

To research the effect of the unconscious motives, the researchers gave their subjects a task that required them to overcome a certain challenge. They then looked at how much willpower they had left for a second challenge. The hypothesis was based on the assumption that the stronger the level of unconscious motivation, the longer the self-control would prevail.

In the first part of the study, subjects were shown a key scene from the movie Dead Poets Society, in which an overbearing father emphatically forbids his son from being an actor. One group of participants was asked to reenact the scene, taking on the role of the father. The control group simply had to write down the dialogue.

In the second part of the experiment, the experimenter showed the participants one of the funniest scenes from the animated film Ice Age and asked them not to smile or laugh. "Subjects had to use their willpower in both situations: In the first part, to play an unpleasant character in front of a video camera, and in the second, to suppress the desire to laugh," says Gröpel.

The power of unconscious motivation

Using standard tests, the psychologists had already assessed the strength of the participants’ drive for power (their inner motivation to influence and control others). The idea was that strong power motivation might assist them in the task of playing the domineering father.

Indeed, they discovered that participants with a stronger power motive found it easier not to laugh during the Ice Age scene. Prof. Kehr explains: "We can conclude from this that they were able to draw on their internal motivation while completing the first task – and so they had more willpower left for the second task." This difference was not observed in the control group, who only had to retell the story of the conflict.

In a similar experiment, the researchers looked at another motive: the motivation to do things well and achieve some standard of excellence. "Again, it was clear that those with a strong achievement motivation did not drain their willpower resources and so performed better overall," says Dr. Gröpel.

Setting these findings within an occupational context, the researchers recommend increasing internal motivation through targeted incentives. Employees would thus need less energy to master challenges – and reveal higher levels of motivation with subsequent tasks or challenges. Prof. Kehr gives some examples: "An individual who is motivated by power could be endowed with a team-leading position in the company. And an employee who is motivated by achievement can be best encouraged through creative projects with little bureaucratic red tape.”

Publication:
Motivation and Self-Control: Implicit Motives Moderate the Exertion of Self-Control in Motive-Related Tasks; Gröpel, Peter, Kehr, Hugo; Journal of Personality; Online-First-Publication, 2013, doi: 10.1111/jopy.12059
Contact:
Technische Universität München
Prof. Dr. Hugo Kehr
Lehrstuhl für Psychologie
Tel: +49 89 289-24200
kehr@tum.de
http://www.psy.wi.tum.de
Dr. Peter Gröpel
Lehrstuhl für Sportpsychologie
Tel: +49 89 289-24543
peter.groepel@tum.de
http://www.sportpsychologie.sg.tum.de

Barbara Wankerl | Technische Universität München
Further information:
http://www.tum.de/en/about-tum/news/press-releases/short/article/31069/

More articles from Studies and Analyses:

nachricht First form of therapy for childhood dementia CLN2 developed
25.04.2018 | Universitätsklinikum Hamburg-Eppendorf

nachricht Do microplastics harbour additional risks by colonization with harmful bacteria?
05.04.2018 | Leibniz-Institut für Ostseeforschung Warnemünde

All articles from Studies and Analyses >>>

The most recent press releases about innovation >>>

Die letzten 5 Focus-News des innovations-reports im Überblick:

Im Focus: Why we need erasable MRI scans

New technology could allow an MRI contrast agent to 'blink off,' helping doctors diagnose disease

Magnetic resonance imaging, or MRI, is a widely used medical tool for taking pictures of the insides of our body. One way to make MRI scans easier to read is...

Im Focus: BAM@Hannover Messe: innovative 3D printing method for space flight

At the Hannover Messe 2018, the Bundesanstalt für Materialforschung und-prüfung (BAM) will show how, in the future, astronauts could produce their own tools or spare parts in zero gravity using 3D printing. This will reduce, weight and transport costs for space missions. Visitors can experience the innovative additive manufacturing process live at the fair.

Powder-based additive manufacturing in zero gravity is the name of the project in which a component is produced by applying metallic powder layers and then...

Im Focus: Molecules Brilliantly Illuminated

Physicists at the Laboratory for Attosecond Physics, which is jointly run by Ludwig-Maximilians-Universität and the Max Planck Institute of Quantum Optics, have developed a high-power laser system that generates ultrashort pulses of light covering a large share of the mid-infrared spectrum. The researchers envisage a wide range of applications for the technology – in the early diagnosis of cancer, for instance.

Molecules are the building blocks of life. Like all other organisms, we are made of them. They control our biorhythm, and they can also reflect our state of...

Im Focus: Spider silk key to new bone-fixing composite

University of Connecticut researchers have created a biodegradable composite made of silk fibers that can be used to repair broken load-bearing bones without the complications sometimes presented by other materials.

Repairing major load-bearing bones such as those in the leg can be a long and uncomfortable process.

Im Focus: Writing and deleting magnets with lasers

Study published in the journal ACS Applied Materials & Interfaces is the outcome of an international effort that included teams from Dresden and Berlin in Germany, and the US.

Scientists at the Helmholtz-Zentrum Dresden-Rossendorf (HZDR) together with colleagues from the Helmholtz-Zentrum Berlin (HZB) and the University of Virginia...

All Focus news of the innovation-report >>>

Anzeige

Anzeige

VideoLinks
Industry & Economy
Event News

Invitation to the upcoming "Current Topics in Bioinformatics: Big Data in Genomics and Medicine"

13.04.2018 | Event News

Unique scope of UV LED technologies and applications presented in Berlin: ICULTA-2018

12.04.2018 | Event News

IWOLIA: A conference bringing together German Industrie 4.0 and French Industrie du Futur

09.04.2018 | Event News

 
Latest News

World's smallest optical implantable biodevice

26.04.2018 | Power and Electrical Engineering

Molecular evolution: How the building blocks of life may form in space

26.04.2018 | Life Sciences

First Li-Fi-product with technology from Fraunhofer HHI launched in Japan

26.04.2018 | Power and Electrical Engineering

VideoLinks
Science & Research
Overview of more VideoLinks >>>