1. Motivation

What is motivation? To most of us, we see motivation as a sort of intangible energy that pushes us towards a goal. In psychology, motivation has the same meaning, except that motivation is in everything that we do. In psychology, motivation is the cause of all behaviours. Motivation can be biological (e.g. thirst, hunger etc), behavioural or learned (e.g. wanting to be a filial child), or cognitive (e.g. deciding that a certain job is the best option). Some characteristics of motivation include activation, persistence, vigour, direction and perception. In motivation, there is energy, direction, intensity and persistence.

Why are we discussing motivation? By knowing the motivations behind a person’s actions, it would be easy to curb undesirable actions (which is poaching, in this case) and even nudge the person towards desirable actions through well-designed incentives or punishments by law-enforcers and campaigns by activists to prevent more people from joining or contributing to this terrible business.

There are a few central theories of motivation: homeostasis, hedonism and growth motivation. Homeostasis is when there is a certain optimum “level” of everything at which a person can be. Certain situations may shift the balance such that there is a deviation from that optimum level. In this theory, people behave in ways to return that level to homeostasis – the optimum level. The theory on hedonism is where people act in ways to pursue pleasure and avoid pain – still there is such a thing as too much good! Many philosophers advocate a temperate life with modest pleasures. With this in mind, perhaps we can see why our excessive ways have put us in danger. The final theory is growth motivation. In this theory, it is posited that we behave in ways to fulfil our needs. According to David McClelland, we have three needs: the need for achievement, the need for affiliation and the need for power.

We all know that the environment can affect our behaviour; behaviours do not always result from internal motivations. The simplest ways in which we can see how external sources of motivation is through rewards, punishments and incentives. This will be important in directly curbing poaching. Cognitive theories tell us that mental representations play a role in guiding our behaviour, for example through goal-, expectancy- and values-forming.

Even motives themselves have different causes. They are categorised into approach and avoidant causes. As the names suggest, avoidant motives are caused by important survival mechanisms such as fear and anxiety. These emotions would cause a person to refrain from engaging in behaviours that would increase their fear and anxiety and engage in behaviours that would reduce such emotions. Approach motives also have a biological basis and these motives promote behaviour in people. As you can see, and have probably experienced for yourself, emotions play a big role in affecting motivation. When you are feeling down, you tend to see things in a more negative way then if you were feeling upbeat. People also approach things in order to experience positive affect and avoid things in order to avoid negative affect.

With these in mind, it is also important to remember that there are individual differences in motivation. The choices that we make are tainted by our past experiences, our personality dispositions and what each situation uniquely means to us. It is a complicated area of study but a very important one that would better help to control people’s behaviour.