Tag Archives: motivation

Motivation and dopamine

Dopamine_chemical_structureWhile we might be able to explain some human behavior with intrinsic motivation, the source of this motivation is difficult to pinpoint. The New York Times reported several studies focusing on the effects of dopamine, revealing that dopamine should no longer be thought of “as our little Bacchus in the brain.” Until recently, dopamine was thought of as a provider of “pleasure and reward.”

In one study, mice with significantly less dopamine seemed satisfied to lounge around as their bodies withered away, choosing death over the hardship of staggering a few inches to the food dish. These same mice acted normal when nibbles of food were brought to them—chewing, swallowing, even “wriggling [their] nose in apparent rodent satisfaction.”

These new studies on dopamine suggest it’s more about survival—“drive and motivation” as the New York Times writes—than some kind of adrenaline counterpart. If this is the case, then social psychologists can join up with behavioral geneticists to talk about motivation. We know, for example, of the social origins of motivation, but it’s quite another approach to suggest that even the motivation for getting out of bed has origins in the brain. The next step is to determine how dopamine is affected by social life.

Working out for health, not for beauty


People exercise more for health than for anything else including beauty, according to the results of a poll which was conducted by EveryDay Health and American Council on Fitness. It’s really a good news that more and more people realize that the motivation for exercise could significantly influent the exercise results.

 Exercise could not only benefit your physical health by lowering your blood pressure, maintaining your healthy joints, and reducing the risk of cardiovascular disease, it also benefits your mental health. With respect to psychological wellbeing, participation in regular physical activity has already been shown to confer considerable benefit such as the reduction of anxiety, stress, and depression in individuals. However, research has also shown that not all individual benefit positively from physical exercise. The motivation for exercise has been found to be an important factor which influences the exercise results.

In particular, exercises sometimes could lead female exercisers to poorer body image and greater eating disturbance, if they overly focus on their physical appearances. Studies found that young women who exercise primarily to lose weight, to improve body tone, and to improve attractiveness were more likely to become more dissatisfied with their physical selves the more they exercise, regardless of the associated health and fitness benefits (McDonald & Thompson, 1992). It is because exercise is a slow and challenging means of appearance improvement that does not instantly change a woman’s shape. The long and frustrated processes often lead these women to feeling disappointed rather than a sense of achievement. Thus, it seems that the motivations women hold for exercise may play a significant role in the development and maintenance of body image concerns. Although research indicated that women’s motivation for exercise was more often related to weight and tone reasons than men, in general, for both genders, exercising for weight, tone, and attractiveness reasons was highly correlated with eating disturbance and body dissatisfaction. In contrast, exercising because of health was positively associated with self-esteem for both female and male.

square-eyeWhy Exercise? Health Trumps Beauty, Study Finds (Fox News)


square-eyeKaren McDonald, & J. Kevin Thompson (1992). Eating disturbance, body image dissatisfaction, and reasons for exercising: Gender differences and correlational findings.

Knives at school

091005_bus(1)A tragedy may have been averted when a knife was confiscated from a Delaware student last week. According to the New York Times, the school district’s rules say that Zachary Christie should be sent to reform school, where an important lesson is surely to be learned.

After joining the Cub Scouts, the knife-fork-spoon combo utensil seemed like it would be nice to use at lunch—on his food, we can presume. The lesson is more of a reminder: deterrence efforts are not as useful as policymakers hope. “It just seems unfair,” the 6-year-old said, probably not thinking about the intended effect of such policies.

Presuming that children are motivated by the economic or social benefits of finishing school, zero-tolerance policies are meant to give children motivation for following rules. But even the U.S. Department of Education admits zero-tolerance policies are inequitable and “counterproductive.”

Zachary’s case is similar to one in which a third grader was expelled for a year when her grandmother sent her with a birthday cake accompanied by a knife. Never mind that it proved useful for the teacher who proceeded to cut the cake, but heaven knows what the child would have done if she had gotten to it first.

Zero-tolerance policies should remind us of Reagan-era crime control models that brought us three-strikes-you’re-out laws. We now know that “criminals” or 6-year-olds are not rationally considering the possible consequences of their decisions in such a way, and I doubt Zachary’s peers feel any safer.