Motivation and emotion/Book/2017/Drive reduction theory of motivation

Drive-reduction theory of motivation:
What is drive reduction theory and how does it apply to our everyday lives?



Feeling cold? Turn the heater on. Hungry? Go get yourself something to eat. Feeling thirsty? Get yourself a glass of water. Ever wondered what these drives your body indicates really means? Ever wondered what influences you to partake in a particular behaviour or action when your body demands for it? When a persons[grammar?] body indicates they need something or want something, that is an example of one's body giving you a drive. The drive-reduction theory is one of the various types of motivational theories within the learning theory. This theory states that when a physiological need is present, an aroused state or drive is produced within individuals which motivates them to satisfy that particular need. All organisms have physiological needs, these include the need for water, food, air and sleep. The theory is based around the idea that the human body "is constantly working to maintain a state of homeostasis, or a balanced state of equilibrium" (Cherry, 2017). Therefore, when a state of tension is produced within an organism, the homeostasis levels begin to decline and as a result, physiological needs increase and so do the organism's physiological drive to reduce and satisfy that particular need. On completion of this chapter, you will have developed a thorough understanding of what the Drive Reduction theory of Motivation is, the origin of the theory, how it can be defined and what contributions the theory has made in understanding human behaviour and motivation, influence of the theory on performance as well as the role of the theory in everyday life.

Key terms

  • Motivation: An internal state or urge that influences an individual to initiate and work towards a particular need, goal, desire or goal-oriented behaviours.
  • Intrinsic Motivation: Motivation based on internal factors
  • Extrinsic Motivation: Motivation based on external factors
  • Incentive: Something which motivates, excites or encourages an individual (reward)
  • Homeostasis: A state of balance within the human body. Refers to the body's need to maintain and reach an equal state of equilibrium.
  • Need: A requirement of an individual that may be biological or psychological.
  • Drive: The state in which an individuals response or actions are stimulated by a biological or physiological need. These drives can be classified into two categories - primary drives and secondary drives.
  • Primary Drives: A drive involving the intrinsic needs of the body (e.g. hunger and thirst).
  • Secondary Drives: Drives associated with primary drives that involve needs that are acquired by conditioning (e.g. money and social approval).
  • Reinforcement: A consequence which will strengthen a particular behaviour

Drive reduction theory


Drive reduction was developed by behaviourist Clark Hull in 1943 and further expanded in the later years by Kenneth Space, Hull's collaborator and neo-behaviourist (Cherry, 2017). During this period, Hull was one of the first theorists to propose a theory which attempted to explain the entirety of human behaviour and its association with learning and motivation.

Clark Hull based his theory around the concept of homeostasis. Hull believed that organisms were constantly working to maintain homeostasis. The term homeostasis refers to a state of balance within the human body where the body actively works to maintain a stable state of balanced equilibrium.

According to Hull, human motivation arises from these biological needs and drives to satisfy them. According to Hull, needs and drives are internal states of tension that have to be reduced. Furthermore, in order to reduce the existing state of tension in organisms, the physiological need has to be satisfied so that the organism can continue to maintain its internal balance. While developing his theory, Hull was inspired by the works of previous scientists including Charles Darwin, Ivan Pavlov, Edward L. Thorndike and John B. Watson and drew on their ideas for his drive reduction theory (Cherry, 2017).

Drive reduction theory relies on the concept of homeostasis. According to the theory, alterations in homeostasis within organisms produce physiological needs that result in physiological drives. One of the key terms used in Hull’s theory is "drives". In his theory, drive refers to a state of tension or arousal produced from a biological need. Drive reduction theory states that when person undergoes this state of tension, they partake in actions which fulfill and satisfy the particular need. Hull stated that when an individual's drive emerges, they experience a state of need. Therefore, in order to settle the existing tension within a person, they are more likely to involve themselves in behaviours or actions that will assist in settling the existing tension in oneself.

Drive reduction theory states that when a need is present in an individual, it results in the stimulation of a drive which therefore increases one's motivation to take part in the action that will satisfy the particular need. For example, when an individual feels hungry they will eat, when they feel thirst they will consume water or when a person is cold they will either turn the heater on or wear something which will make them warmer. Drive reduction theory is an essential part of survival; the body receives a signal in the form of a drive and to satisfy and reduce the drive, individuals become motivated to partake in behaviours that will reduce the particular need (e.g., eating food when hungry and drinking water in order to stay hydrated, healthy and nourished). Using the drive reduction theory, Hull further stated that organisms will therefore take part in behaviours and actions which will reduce the existing drives as it assists in maintaining internal balance or homeostasis within individuals.

Primary vs secondary drives


The drive-reduction theory consists of two drives, the primary and secondary drives. Primary drives refer to innate biological needs in individuals, desire for sex, hunger, thirst and warmth all arise from biological needs. Whereas secondary drives are learned drives, these drives either results from an experience or a situation[grammar?]. It is a situation that is the result of conditioning in a particular situation or environment. Secondary drives refers to things such as money and social approval ("Theories of Motivation | Boundless Psychology", n.d.). For example, an individual is aware that having possession of money means they can acquire food or water using that money. Therefore, in doing so they are satisfying their existing primary needs.

Influence of drive reduction theory and performance

The relationship between arousal and performance

The drive theory is known to play a vital role on performance especially in athletes. "The relationship between arousal and performance is a linear relationship" (Barker, Gledhill & Lydon, 2007), the drive theory states there is a relationship between arousal and performance which means as the level of arousal increases so does the level of performance[grammar?]. Drive theory's relationship and influence on performance is indicated using the following equation: performance = arousal x skill. According to the drive-reduction theory, the higher the level of arousal and anxiety experienced in individuals, the higher their performance rates will be. Hull stated that experiencing high levels of arousal in situations like sports competitions, would strengthen the individuals'[grammar?] response and therefore, increase the quality of performance among athletes. "This theory helps explain why beginners find it difficult to perform well under pressure. Often beginners skill level decreases if they are competing in a relay race using new skills, e.g. football dribbling race. However, also explains how experienced athletes perform better under pressure using well-learned skills, e.g. good tennis players play better against stronger opposition"[grammar?] (Drive Theory, 2007). Therefore, an increase in performance would only be evident if the particular task or skill the individual is taking part in is well-learned. As a result, if the particular skill is not well-learned and is unfamiliar to the individual, performance rates will deteriorate as arousal increases, Whereas, if the skill is well-learned, arousal within the individual would result in high performance levels.

Research and application of theory


Majority of the studies and researches were conducted on animals to explain the theory even further[grammar?].

B.F. Skinner

One of the most well known studies based on Hull's theory was by,[grammar?] Dollard & Miller (1950). In 1941, Dollard & Miller applied the drive-reduction theory to further understand verbal learning. The theory was applied to understand [what?] things from a verbal learning perspective,[grammar?] it was an attempt to apply the same theory but to try understand learning, motivation and reinforcement in more depth when correlated with verbal learning. The study involved a six year old child within a classroom setting. A minor[say what?] girl, aged six years’ old is hungry and wants candy. She is told that she can find candy hidden under particular books, [grammar?]as advised she continues to search under various books for the candy for 3 and a half minutes. When she finally locates the candy hidden under the particular book she is asked to leave the room, following this a new piece of candy is once again placed under the same book. Once directed to return back into the room, the little girl is more self-aware and is aware of exactly what to do, she continues the same actions and ends up finding the piece of candy significantly quicker than the first time round, in just under a minute and a half. After repeating the experiment for another 6 times, for a total of 8 times, the girl was capable of finding the hidden candy in just 2 seconds ("Drive Reduction Theory, 2015"). The response of the girl indicated that a drive was stimulated within the girl which wanted her to have candy and therefore, in order to settle that drive she continues to look under the books where she found the candy in the same position, this behaviour demonstrates the child's response to reduce the particular drive and so satisfy her need.

Another popular study that demonstrates this [what?] theory is the study conducted by B.F. Skinner on operant conditioning. Skinner conducted an experimental study using rats and food. At the beginning of the study, a rat was placed into a cage known as the "Skinner box", where there was lever which when pressed would dispense food to the rat. Every time the rat felt hungry, it would press down on the level and food would dispense. Therefore, when the rat is hungry and there is a need for food which is the drive or arousal in this situation, it knows that pressing down on the lever (the action/behaviour) will result in the rate receiving food and as a result the drive is satisfied (Grace, 2017). Therefore, organisms know that a particular behaviour or actions results in the satisfaction of a drive and so continuing that particular behaviour is likely to be repeated if it satisfies a biological need. For example, when a person is hungry they know that by consuming food they are able to satisfy that need. As a result, they will repeat that same behaviour the next time they feel hungry (Motives and Drives in Psychology, 2016).

The role of drive reduction theory in everyday life


Organisms are in constant need for biological balance (homeostasis) and motivation plays a significant role in helping achieve this. A persons'[grammar?] motivation to do something comes from their physiological needs, failing to satisfy these needs can have a damaging effect on individuals making them feel unaccomplished and lost in life. Human being have various needs that need to satisfied in life, these needs exist in different forms, they can either be emotional or biological needs. For example, an emotional need would be, the desire to perform well in an interview for employment, whereas a biological need could be to turn the heater on for warmth. The needs of individuals can greatly vary and change with time, "your thoughts, beliefs, feelings, environment, culture, and social relationships all come into play as you decide what you need at a particular moment in time" ("Khan Academy", 2017) as a person matures their needs can also alter. Satisfying needs is a fundamental factor of a persons[grammar?] day to day life, for example a person, a persons need might be getting accepted into university, for this need to be satisfied that individual will be motivated to work harder in college and achieve high grades in order to get accepted into university. If the individual gets accepted into university, that need is therefore satisfied and fulfilled. However, if that need is not accomplished, that individual will then therefore keep trying perhaps using different methods which will eventually help them achieve this particular need like doing a bridging course or joining CIT.

There are three different types of needs in human beings, including:[grammar?] physiological needs, learned needs and psychological needs. Physiological needs (primary) refer to innate needs such as hunger and thirst which must be met in order to survive. Learned needs (secondary) are the ones that you acquire through experiences and are based on the situations and events which occurs in your life. These needs refers to factors such as money, praise or success. Psychological needs focuses on an individuals[grammar?] beliefs, thoughts and feelings. All of the aforementioned needs play an equally important role in the functioning of an individual and each of these needs occur in a person's day to day life therefore, these needs have to be satisfied in order for the healthy functioning and survival of a person.

According to Abraham Maslow's Hierarchy of Needs (1943), the five-stage model states that by starting from the category at the bottom classified as 'physiological needs', individuals work their way up the pyramid through each category to lead to happiness and eventually to self-actualisation.


Vast amount of research is conducted on animals than the human population

The drive-reduction theory was one of the most highly influential theories in psychology during the late 1940s and early 1950s. However, in the recent years, the theory was argued to be inadequete[spelling?] to explain all human behaviours. Over the years, numerous criticisms have been made by various psychologists that indicate a gap in Hull's theory. Several limitations have been drawn which indicates a lack of validity within the theory. Psychologists have claimed that the theory only aids to explain the effectiveness of primary reinforces[spelling?] and that the theory fails to further explain and cannot be applicable when explaining the effectiveness secondary reinforces[spelling?] (Cherry, 2017). One of the major criticisms surrounding the drive-reduction theory is how it fails to explain how secondary reinforces reduce drive. Another limit to the theory is that "the empirical data that support Hullian theory are derived almost entirely from infra-human populations, especially rats" (Cellura, 1969), [grammar?]majority of the studies explaining the theory are focussed on animals, there is very limited number of studies focussing on the human populations making the theory inadequate to fully explain human motivations and behaviour. The theory emphasises too much on animals and less on the human population. Another drawback of the theory is that it does not explain all human behaviour and motivations (Cherry, 2017). For example, individuals may perform behaviours or actions that may not be influenced by a particular drive or need. Furthermore, the theory fails to explain why people often engage in behaviours that are not meant to reduce a particular drive or satisfy a need. For example, if an individual drinks water even if they are not thirsty.



The theory of drive-reduction coined by Clark L. Hull, states that motivation occurs as a result of biological drives and needs in organisms. The goal of drive-reduction is homeostasis by satisfying a drive/need within individuals. The drive-reduction theory provides a foundation for learning especially among children (verbal) and also animals. To date, the drive-reduction theory is still considered one of the most influential studies in psychology. Although, the drive-reduction theory is now considered inadequate, when the study was first developed it had a significant role in providing insight on the theories of motivation. Elements of the theory has[grammar?] been adapted in other studies throughout the field as well closes associated with performance levels in individuals, especially athletes. The role drive-reduction theory also plays a vital role in an organisms[grammar?] life especially with their day to day survival. It plays a significant role in assisting organisms survive and satisfy their needs to maintain homeostasis.



1 Which of the following is an example of a secondary drive?


2 Which theorist coined the term 'drive'?

B.F. Skinner
Abraham Maslow
Edward Thorndike
Clark Hull

3 Drive-reduction theory states that individuals sometimes do things that increase their arousal.


4 Which year was the Drive-reduction Theory developed?


5 What was the name of the theorist that developed the Drive Reduction Theory of Motivation?

Abraham Maslow
Sigmund Freud
Leon Festinger
Clark Hull

6 Emma feels cold, turns the heater on for warmth, and no longer feels cold. In terms of drive reduction theory, Emma has

achieved homeostasis.
been motivated by an incentive
engaged in a fixed action pattern

7 Which of the following is not a primary drive?

Social approval

8 According to Hull, what is reinforcing?

Drive induction
Incentive reduction
Incentive deduction
Drive reduction

See also



Barker, R., Gledhill, A., & Lydon, C. (2007). BTEC National Sport Book 1. Harlow: Pearson Education Limited.

Cellura, A. (1969). The Application of Psychological Theory in Educational Settings: An Overview. American Educational Research Journal, 6(3), 349.

Cherry, K. (2017). How Does Drive Reduction Theory Explain Human Motivation?. Verywell. Retrieved 31 October 2017, from

Coon, D. (2003). Essentials of psychology. Belmont, Calif.: Wadsworth.

Domjan, M. The essentials of conditioning and learning.

Drive Reduction Theory. (2015). Retrieved 31 October 2017, from

Drive Theory Revision World. (2007). Retrieved 30 October 2017, from

Drive-Reduction Theory. (2017). YouTube. Retrieved 31 October 2017, from

Grace, E. (2017). B.F. Skinner's Behavioural Theory. Retrieved 28 October 2017, from

Hull, C. (1977). Essentials of behavior. Westport: Greenwood Press.

Khan Academy. (2017). Khan Academy. Retrieved 31 October 2017, from

Krauss Whitbourne, S. (2011). Motivation: The Why's of Behaviour. Retrieved from

Mae SIncero, S. Drive-Reduction Theory. Retrieved 31 October 2017, from

Maslow's Hierarchy of Needs. (2017). Simply Psychology. Retrieved 31 October 2017, from

Motives And Drives In Psychology. (2016). Retrieved 27 October 2017, from

Mowrer, O., & Solomon, L. (1954). Contiguity vs. Drive-Reduction in Conditioned Fear: The Proximity and Abruptness of Drive-Reduction. The American Journal Of Psychology, 67(1), 15.

N., E., & Hull, C. (1943). Principles of Behavior. An Introduction to Behavior Theory. The Journal Of Philosophy, 40(20), 558.

Skinner’s Theory on Operant Conditioning Psychestudy. (2017). Retrieved 31 October 2017, from

Theories of Motivation Boundless Psychology. Retrieved 31 October 2017, from

Wolpe, J. (1950). Need-reduction, drive-reduction, and reinforcement: a neurophysiological view. Psychological Review, 57(1), 19-26.