To clarify what researchers may have in mind when referring to needs (motives), incentives, and goals, let us start with a historical overview of how these terms have been used in research on motivation. Based on learning theory advanced by early animal psychologists (Hull, 1943, 1952; Spence, 1956), the strength of the tendency to make a response, and thus an organism’s motivation to show this response, was considered to be a function of an organism’s skills (or habit strength), its needs, and the incentive value of the outcome. For example, how quickly an animal runs toward a box containing food was said to depend on its habit strength, its hunger (need), and the quality and quantity of food. However, with the advance of the cognitive revolution in psychology, these determinants of motivation as well as the concept of motivation itself have become ever more elaborated.
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