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 Smart Data Transformation – Surfing the Big Wave
02.12.2016 | Fraunhofer-Institut für Angewandte Informationstechnik FIT

nachricht Climate change could outpace EPA Lake Champlain protections
18.11.2016 | University of Vermont

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: Novel silicon etching technique crafts 3-D gradient refractive index micro-optics

A multi-institutional research collaboration has created a novel approach for fabricating three-dimensional micro-optics through the shape-defined formation of porous silicon (PSi), with broad impacts in integrated optoelectronics, imaging, and photovoltaics.

Working with colleagues at Stanford and The Dow Chemical Company, researchers at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign fabricated 3-D birefringent...

Im Focus: Quantum Particles Form Droplets

In experiments with magnetic atoms conducted at extremely low temperatures, scientists have demonstrated a unique phase of matter: The atoms form a new type of quantum liquid or quantum droplet state. These so called quantum droplets may preserve their form in absence of external confinement because of quantum effects. The joint team of experimental physicists from Innsbruck and theoretical physicists from Hannover report on their findings in the journal Physical Review X.

“Our Quantum droplets are in the gas phase but they still drop like a rock,” explains experimental physicist Francesca Ferlaino when talking about the...

Im Focus: MADMAX: Max Planck Institute for Physics takes up axion research

The Max Planck Institute for Physics (MPP) is opening up a new research field. A workshop from November 21 - 22, 2016 will mark the start of activities for an innovative axion experiment. Axions are still only purely hypothetical particles. Their detection could solve two fundamental problems in particle physics: What dark matter consists of and why it has not yet been possible to directly observe a CP violation for the strong interaction.

The “MADMAX” project is the MPP’s commitment to axion research. Axions are so far only a theoretical prediction and are difficult to detect: on the one hand,...

Im Focus: Molecules change shape when wet

Broadband rotational spectroscopy unravels structural reshaping of isolated molecules in the gas phase to accommodate water

In two recent publications in the Journal of Chemical Physics and in the Journal of Physical Chemistry Letters, researchers around Melanie Schnell from the Max...

Im Focus: Fraunhofer ISE Develops Highly Compact, High Frequency DC/DC Converter for Aviation

The efficiency of power electronic systems is not solely dependent on electrical efficiency but also on weight, for example, in mobile systems. When the weight of relevant components and devices in airplanes, for instance, is reduced, fuel savings can be achieved and correspondingly greenhouse gas emissions decreased. New materials and components based on gallium nitride (GaN) can help to reduce weight and increase the efficiency. With these new materials, power electronic switches can be operated at higher switching frequency, resulting in higher power density and lower material costs.

Researchers at the Fraunhofer Institute for Solar Energy Systems ISE together with partners have investigated how these materials can be used to make power...

All Focus news of the innovation-report >>>

Anzeige

Anzeige

Event News

ICTM Conference 2017: Production technology for turbomachine manufacturing of the future

16.11.2016 | Event News

Innovation Day Laser Technology – Laser Additive Manufacturing

01.11.2016 | Event News

#IC2S2: When Social Science meets Computer Science - GESIS will host the IC2S2 conference 2017

14.10.2016 | Event News

 
Latest News

UTSA study describes new minimally invasive device to treat cancer and other illnesses

02.12.2016 | Medical Engineering

Plasma-zapping process could yield trans fat-free soybean oil product

02.12.2016 | Agricultural and Forestry Science

What do Netflix, Google and planetary systems have in common?

02.12.2016 | Physics and Astronomy

VideoLinks
B2B-VideoLinks
More VideoLinks >>>