Implicit Motives - Historical Roots, Current Status and Measurement

Seminar Paper, 2011

30 Pages, Grade: 1,3


Table of Contents



Current Status

Current Theory
Affiliation Motive
Power Motive
Achievement Motive

How to Measure Implicit Motives

Measures of Implicit Motives
Picture Story Exercise
Thematic Apperception Test
Implicit Association Test
Multi Motive Grid
Achievement Motive Grid
Multi Motive Grid: Short Version
Operant Motive Test


Appendix 1

Appendix 2


Implicit motives can be defined as relatively stable and unconscious needs (McClelland, 1980). Implicit motives represent affective preferences that evolve progressively through both learning and experience (McClelland, 1985). Implicit motives are not readily accessible to the conscious mind, but are still capable of influencing individual’s feelings and behaviors (Schultheiss & Brunstein, 2010).


Research on implicit motives began in the late 1940s when David McClelland and John Atkinson decided to measure motivational needs in humans (Schultheiss &Brunstein, 2010). McClelland and Atkinson were interested in using hunger motivation as a model for needs systems, but were hesitant to use low-validity, introspective hunger reports from participants. McClelland (1984) stated that he “never put much faith in what people say [are] their values on questionnaires, because I don’t believe that these statements bear very much relationship to what they in fact do or even to the values that implicitly guide their lives” (Schultheiss & Brunstein, 2010, pp. 2-3). While McClelland and Atkinson were brainstorming ways to measure the need for food without having to directly ask participants for this information, a colleague, Bob Knapp, walked by the office, heard the conversation, and suggested using the Thematic Apperception Test (TAT) (Winter, 1998). Experiments conducted by McClelland and Atkinson on the effects of food deprivation on TAT story content showed promise, and they went on to test other themes and needs using the TAT. As their study showed that people who were deprivated from food, had more food related content in their TAT stories, McClelland and Atkinson concluded that individuals who used a lot of motive imagery in their stories must be high in this particular motivational need.

Since the 1950s, research on implicit motives has focused primarily on three motivational needs: the need for achievement, the need for power, and the need for affiliation (Schultheiss, Rosch, Rawolle, Kordik, & Graham, 2010). The first groundbreaking research was conducted on the need for achievement, and resulted in a published book, The Achievement Motive (McClelland, Atkinson, Clark, & Lowell, 1953). The book prompted additional interest in implicit motives and how to measure them. Shortly after publication, many TAT-based measures of other motivational needs were developed (Schultheiss & Brunstein, 2010). Furthermore, implicit motive research gained application outside of the psychological science field. For example, McClelland investigated the usefulness of implicit motives to explain economic phenomena, which resulted in a publication entitled The Achieving Society (McClelland, 1961).

For the next three decades, implicit motivation research continued to expand as Atkinson developed an influential theory of achievement motivation and later developed the dynamics of action theory (Atkinson & Birch, 1970). Researchers worked to apply motivational concepts to business and economic settings, and also to demonstrate the link between implicit motives and health outcomes (Steele, 1973). However, enthusiasm for implicit motivation eventually stagnated. The usefulness and validity of implicit motives began to be questioned and the pioneer implicit motives researchers were unable to provide sufficient refutations. It became obvious that self-report and indirect measures of the same motive do not measure the same thing or predict the same outcomes (Schultheiss & Brunstein, 2010). The assumption that implicit implies unconscious operation had guided the implicit motives field from the beginning, but this basic assumption began to be ignored. For example, Atkinson (1957) developed the influential risk-taking theory of achievement motivation, but used a self-report measure of fear of failure. His use of a questionnaire ignored his earlier assumption that motivational needs operate unconsciously.

Throughout the 1960s, 70s, and 80s, research on implicit motives was essentially in a state of confusion and conflict (Schultheiss & Brunstein, 2010). It was claimed that individuals couldn’t accurately describe their motivational needs. Demonstrating that self-report measures of motivation do not correlate with implicit motive measures was used as support for this claim. However, implicit motives researchers did not initially address which outcomes are actually affected by each measure. In 1955, deCharms, Morrison, Reitman, and McClelland conducted a study and suggested that implicit motivational needs predict behavioral performance, while self-attributed motives predict verbal choices and attitudes. Despite the significance of these findings, they were never highly publicized and their importance was not realized. Eventually, McClelland realized the significance of his findings and showed that implicit motives and self-attributed needs predicted different kinds of behavior. Implicit motives predict long-term behavioral trends in unstructured situations and self-attributed motives predict short-term behavior on questionnaires and in response to specific, clear-cut situational demands (Schultheiss & Brunstein, 2010). McClelland went on to claim that self-report measures of motivation were not even measuring motivation. However, this claim was mostly ignored.

McClelland continued working on motivation research throughout the 1980s, and cognitive psychologists began to realize that consciously and unconsciously processed information contains different properties (Squire, 1986). During this decade, implicit topics (e.g. implicit perception, implicit memory, and implicit learning) gained popularity (Kihlstrom, 1990). Additionally, social psychologists realized that attitudes can be represented implicitly and can differ from conscious attitudes (Devine, 1989). As psychologists across all fields were beginning to acknowledge the existence of implicit functions, McClelland, Koestner, and Weinberger (1989) published Conceptual Refinement and Reinvigoration and coined the term “implicit motives” (Schultheiss & Brunstein, 2010). Shortly thereafter, Spangler (1992) conducted a meta-analysis that supported the validity of McClelland, Koestner, and Weinberger’s (1989) two-systems model, suggesting that implicit and explicit motives (or goals) are two different motivational systems. Furthermore, David Winter developed an integrated coding system for the assessment of motivational imagery, which made it possible to code implicit motives using basic coding rules (Winter, 1991). Schultheiss and Brunstein (2010) believe that the resurgence of interest in, and respect for implicit motivation research that occurred during the 1980s and 1990s continues today, and that implicit motives will continue to be influential.

Some findings have prompted experts to postulate a “duality hypothesis” stating that humans have two different motivational systems (McClelland et. al, 1989). The two systems are implicit motives, which can be measured by implicit tests (projective and semi-projective tests), and explicit motives or goals, which can be assessed by self-reports. Some individuals exhibit motive congruency, meaning that the implicit and explicit motive systems fit together (Kehr, 1999; Kehr, 2004; Baumann et. al, 2005). Motive congruency is a necessary condition for intrinsic motivation and flow (Kehr, 2004). Therefore, individuals will only experience intrinsic motivation if they strive for goals or activities that fit with their implicit motives (Kehr, 1999; Kehr, 2004). Motive discrepancy, or implicit-explicit discrepancy, occurs when one strives towards goals or activities that do not fit the current need states (Kehr, 2004) which decreases well-being and is predictive of certain psychosomatic symptoms (Baumann et. al, 2005).

Current Status

According to Schultheiss and Brunstein (2010), implicit motives research is presently guided by six major underlying assumptions. The first assumption is that implicit motives are non-conscious and therefore cannot be measured through self-report. Furthermore it is assumed that situational arousal of a motivational need is associated with characteristic changes in thought content and other non-declarative markers of motivation. Third, motives represent capacities for specific affective experiences and therefore orient, select, and energize behavior. It is fourth assumed that motives interact with situational incentives and are thus aroused by situational incentives and if aroused, shape behavior and fifth have pervasive effects across multiple levels of psychological functioning. Finally there are a limited number of implicit motives and three main motives research has mostly focused on, which include the need for power, affiliation, and achievement. However, there are other implicit motives, such as hunger and sex, which may garner more attention in the future (Schultheiss & Brunstein, 2010).

Recent advances in implicit motives research have revealed the primary role of cognition in implicit motive operation, have related implicit motives to explicit goals, and have demonstrated the role of implicit motives in orienting and selecting (Schultheiss et al., 2010). Current models focus on the role of implicit motives in information processing and other cognitive functions like attention, learning, and memory. Schultheiss’s (2008) information-processing model for example, suggests that implicit motives are aroused by nonverbal incentives and influence non-declarative behavior, while explicit motives are activated by verbal incentives and influence declarative behavior. Advances in cognitive psychology have encouraged research on the orienting and selecting functioning of implicit motives (Schultheiss et al., 2010). Current research is focused on topics such as the role of implicit motives in attention to incentive cues. Other recent research has suggested that implicit motives play a role in implicit learning (Schultheiss & Rhode, 2002). It has also been suggested that implicit motives have an effect on episodic memory (Woike, 2008). Woike demonstrated that implicit motives indirectly influence memory for highly emotional events. Additional advances have recently begun to show the hormonal and brain correlates of implicit motives (Schultheiss & Wirth, 2008).

Current Theory

Affiliation motive

The affiliation motive is the desire to achieve, maintain, or restore positive relationships with others (Atkinson, Heynes & Veroff, 1958). It is aroused in any and all situations where one interacts with unfamiliar persons. Krug and Kuhl (2006) attempt to provide a picture of an affiliation motivated person by providing a prototypical example of such a person. A person that has high affiliation motivation is one who always sees the good in others and quickly trusts others. They are quick to confide in other people, share private information with others, and always try to help other people. Individuals with an affiliation motive like to be around other individuals that they perceive as friendly, but try to distance themselves from people that they perceive as unfriendly, people who are dissimilar from themselves, or people who might have disagreeing opinions compared to persons scoring low in the affiliation motive (Lansing & Heyns, 1959; Byrne, 1961). People scoring high in the affiliation motive make more eye contact with others and take others’ needs and goals into consideration when regulating one’s own behavior (Exline, 1963; Hardy, 1957). Furthermore, they are very aware of the needs and worries of other people, which is why Krug and Kuhl (2006) suggest that people high on the affiliation motive are ideal employees for caring and counseling jobs (e.g. psychotherapist), as well as jobs that require one to interact with customers (e.g. jobs in tourism) (Mehrabian & Ksionzky, 1974). People high in the affiliation motive will enjoy interacting with others because interaction will satisfy the underlying implicit motive (Kehr, 2004).

Individuals with a high affiliation motive enjoy working in groups, as long as the work partners are similar to themselves. They do not like to work with others if they perceive them as too dissimilar (Byrne, 1961). When working in groups, these individuals will try to put a lot of effort into the task in order to increase harmony and cohesion within the group. They are likely to show high engagement if the task requires cooperation (Atkinson & O’Connor, 1966). If the task requires competition, affiliation motivated people tend to show lower performance since competing with others might interrupt their underlying goal of achieving a positive relationship (Koestner & McClelland, 1992). Additionally, they are uncomfortable providing negative feedback to others, since this also might endanger potential relationships.

The affiliation motive can be subdivided into the “hope for affiliation” (HA) and the “fear of rejection” (FR) (Sokolowski, 1992). Both motivational tendencies are independent from each other, which makes it possible for a person to score highly on both tendencies. Individuals with a high HA have the goal of creating a reciprocal positive relationship with others (Sokolowski, 1992). They tend to feel self-secure and relaxed within social interactions and tend to have high social skills (Sokolowski, 1992). They enjoy interacting with others to get to know unfamiliar persons and are infectious due to their naturally friendly manner (Sokolowski, 1992). This is why popular individuals tend to have higher scores in HA and lower scores in FR in comparison to more unpopular individuals (French & Chadwick, 1956).


Excerpt out of 30 pages


Implicit Motives - Historical Roots, Current Status and Measurement
Advanced Organizational Psychology
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ISBN (eBook)
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Motivation, Implicit Motives, Personality, Personality Assessment
Quote paper
Cand.-Psych. Amir Ghoniem (Author), 2011, Implicit Motives - Historical Roots, Current Status and Measurement, Munich, GRIN Verlag,


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