Subject matter of motivation psychology
Motivation psychology is one of the fundamental areas of psychology and also has considerable practical relevance. Its numerous detailed theories deal not only with motivational but also with emotional and volitional processes. In order to analyse its subject matter – goal-directed behaviour, and its direction, duration and intensity – it resorts to a range of different scientific methods of investigation, such as experimental and correlative laboratory and field studies. Motivational behaviour is explained by means of the goals that people strive for, and what makes these attractive. Apart from analysing generally valid principles of goal selection and goal striving (the general psychological perspective), it also examines differences between individuals with respect to goal striving which are due to different types of motives (e.g. achievement motive, power motive, attachment motive) (the individual difference perspective). Motivation psychologists examine questions such as the following: What makes people strive for certain goals? What gives goals meaning? What determines the initiation and the maintenance of goal-directed behaviour? How does one explain the fact that people sometimes adhere to unachievable or unattractive goals? Why do people differ in their choice of goals? Do goals and motives act concertedly in striving for a goal, and how does this potential interaction affect motivation and well-being?
Motivation psychology as an empirical science
Motivation psychology is an empirical science, in other words a discipline whose theoretical approach is based on the observation of facts and can be tested by means of such observations. (The word “empirical” comes from the Greek and means gaining knowledge based on experience). The most important empirical research method in motivation psychology is the experimental approach. Experiments are used to analyse the cause-and-effect relationship and are based on the simple basic principle of systematically varying the suspected cause, while keeping constant all other variables that could potentially have an effect, and observing the variation in the dependent effects. Apart from experiments, research in motivation psychology also resorts to a number of other empirical methods, such as behavioural observation and interviews. Neuropsychological and neurophysiological methods of analysis further add to the variety of methods of investigation.
Connection with other fundamental and applied disciplines
Motivation psychology is linked to all the subdisciplines of fundamental psychological research (cognitive psychology, emotion psychology, learning psychology, developmental psychology, social psychology, personality psychology). A connection with cognitive psychology exists, for example, through questions about the motivational determinants involved in processing information. Another example is the measurement of inter-individual differences in motives, with which motivation psychology enters the classical terrain of the personality research. Furthermore, motivation psychology is a fundamental field of study that is of great practical relevance. Concepts derived from motivation psychology are relevant, among other things, in the context of organisational psychology (e.g. leadership and motivation), educational psychology (e.g. motivation to learn and performance behaviour), clinical psychology (e.g. compliance towards psychotherapy) as well as sports and health psychology (e.g. motivation towards health-promoting behaviour).