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Causes of behavior

The term "Motivation" is relatively recent, having been coined in the 1930s by advertisers Ernest Dichter and Louis Cheskin, who disputed its authorship.

According to these authors, motivations were the irrational and unconscious factors influencing human behavior 1.

Their studies were conducted in the field of advertising, which gives a specific context to their research. However, it is possible that even with the passage of time and the emergence of numerous theories, we still predominantly associate people's motivation with a "wow" effect closely related to the reward circuit.

Before the term was coined, the study of the causes of behavior already had a long history. This can be traced back to Plato and Aristotle, who had the intuition to divide the mind into distinct zones. This tripartite vision can even be traced back to Pythagoras in the previous century.

According to Plato, the soul has three levels and three faculties:

  1. Epithumia, "appetite", represents the desiring level and lower desires such as hunger and thirst.
  2. Thumos, "anger", represents the irascible part and the aggressive level, encompassing passions.
  3. Logistikon, "the reasonable", represents the rational part and the divine level of thought, which alone is immortal.

Today, we use a symbolic division 2 of the brain into three levels:

  1. The reptilian brain, or primitive brain, or instinctive brain.
  2. The limbic brain, or emotional brain.
  3. The neocortex, or adaptive brain.

This symbolic approach, while unscientific, is interesting and useful for social applications. Therefore, even if it is not biologically accurate, I will continue to use it.

Descartes introduced another formalization between these two approaches. According to him, "the body is a mechanical agent, like a machine, which is passive on the motivational level, whereas the will is an immaterial agent, spiritual and active on the motivational level." 3

  • 1

    Mucchielli Alex, « Introduction », dans : Alex Mucchielli éd., Les motivations. Paris cedex 14, Presses Universitaires de France, « Que sais-je ? », 2011, p. 3-6.

  • 2

    La théorie du cerveau triunique prétendait que notre cerveau s’est développé par couches successives, avec un cerveau reptilien comme origine. Cette théorie est fausse, mais son usage symbolique est resté pour permettre de conceptualiser les fonctions principales du cerveau.

  • 3

    Johnmarshall Reeve — « Psychologie de la motivation et des émotions » p33