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Dr. Richard W. Scholl
36 Upper College Road
Kingston, RI 02881

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The topic of affective motivation deals with the way in which individuals experience, process, and behave based on emotions.  This group of theories complements the host of rational-based motivational theories (e.g., expectancy theory) that are more cognitive in nature. 

The basic premise of affective motivation theories is that individuals experience emotional reactions to certain situations.  Emotional reactions are, in reality, physiological states (e.g., changes in blood pressure, heart rate, chemical secretions) that we feel as a reaction to certain situations.  Over time, we develop labels for these “feelings” which are based on the context in which we experience them. 

Table 1 lists of some of the “emotions” we experience.


  There are a number of ways in which emotions, or our affective states, are involved in the motivation of behavior. Remember that motivation is the force that energizes, directs, and sustains behavior.  How are emotions involved in these three forces?

Basic Premises

Individuals exist in, and move among, one of three Affective States:

Positive Affective State. The individual is experiencing positive feelings, such as relaxation, excitement, pleasure, or joy.

Neutral Affective State. The individual is experiencing little or no noticeable feelings at the present time.

Negative Affective State. The individual is experiencing negative feelings and emotions such as emotional pain, anxiety, guilt, frustration, boredom, or anger.
Individuals develop emotional memories, called somatic markers, associated with people, organizations, events, and objects which are part of their experiences.  For example, individuals who consistently find themselves in a negative affect the state (e.g., anxiety) when taking exams, would most likely develop a negative somatic marker associated with exam taking.  These somatic markers of the basis of the affective attitude component associated with attitude objects.

Postulates of Affective Motivation Theory

From an affective perspective, what energies, directs and sustains behavior?  (Note: Most theorists believe that behavior is result of a complex combination of, or conflict between, cognitive and affective processes.  Neither process alone, or in its pure state, explains behavior; except for Mr. Spock, Commander Data, and Professor Hickox).

Energizing Behavior. Behavior is energized when individuals experience a negative affect the state.  They are most likely to change behavior while in a negative affective state in order to eliminate these feelings (negative reinforcement).  For example, individuals feeling guilty are likely to behave in ways that eliminates this guilt; individuals experiencing boredom or likely to change to a more interesting or exciting activity (such as starting a fight with a sibling).  When the negative affective state is extremely strong, there is considerable pressure to relieve it.  In this case, the individual may respond in a totally reactive or impulsive manner.  This is referred to as emotional hijacking or amygdala hijacking.  For example, an individual listening to repeated “personal attacks” on his or her character by his or her boss at a meeting, may abruptly stand up and leave, or start shouting at the boss.

Directing Behavior. From a cognitive perspective, individuals choose among alternative actions through a process of deriving the logical consequences of alternative actions and comparing alternatives against a set of criteria unencumbered by passion (see: Expectancy Theory).   On the other hand, we all know that we often use "gut feelings" in making choices.  When we make decisions on the feelings associated with each of our alternatives, we are using an affective choice process.  In the pure affective process, we rank order alternatives on the basis of the somatic marker associated with each alternative: ranking the alternative of the most positive somatic marker first and so on.  In many cases, our choice process involves visualization of ourselves enacting each of the alternatives.  Russell (2003) points out that one's prediction core affect associated with future situations is one part of the valance calculation of a each behavioral alternative in the behavioral choice process. This visualization process enhances our ability to invoke the somatic marker (emotional response) of each alternative.  The specific visualization (which is based on our past experiences) has a direct impact on the type of emotional response evoked.  For example, if I am considering whether or not to go skiing, it depends on what visualization comes to mind while I am making my choice.  If my visualization is focused on getting up extremely early, a long drive, and the slushy conditions I experienced on my last trip to Stratton Mountain, this particular visualization is likely to evoke a negative somatic marker.  On the other hand, if I am focused on a perfect day, on a perfectly groomed mountain, with no cares in the world, a positive somatic marker is likely to be evoked.
    In the case of emotional hijacking, the chosen behavior is the result of automatic connection between stimulus and response.  Frustration Instigated Behavior is one form of emotional hijacking whereby an individual feels pressure to act in response in one of four characteristic manners: (a) aggression, (b) resignation, (c) regression, or (d) fixation.

Sustaining Behavior- Positive reinforcement stabilizes a particular behavioral pattern.  When we are experiencing a positive affect the state, we tend to continue what we are doing.  For example, if we are having fun at a party, we often stay longer than expected, despite the fact that we have a test early the next day.

Emotional Competency

Goleman (1995) is generally credited with developing the term and concept of emotional intelligence. I use the term Emotional or Affective Competency to avoid confusing this variable with a trait. The Emotional Competency Model deals with how individuals respond to felt emotions with behavioral responses.  For example, a very excited person may scream out an exclamation of joy, an angry person may storm out of a meeting, or a frustrated person may pound a desk.  While he did not present a specific model, a basic model using his precepts looks like this:

Situation or context

Emotional Response
Specific feeling evoked by the trigger

Behavioral Response
Actual behavior exhibited by the individual.  This may be no change in behavior


Emotional Competencies

Emotional Intelligence Skills refer to individual skills and competencies that allow people to deal with their own emotions (Individual Level) and the emotions of others (Interpersonal Level).

The Individual Level

This approach deals with how an individuals experience situations and how they monitor/control/regulate their responses.

Awareness/Managing Emotions. The ability to control and affect ones emotional state; limit the effects of social feedback on your emotions, and in general, block the effect of triggers on your emotional state.

    1. Understanding one's own emotions
    2. Understanding the causes of one's feelings
    3. Becoming aware of one's "hot" buttons
    4. Developing frustration tolerance
    5. Strengthening one's self concept, and reducing one's dependence on external validation
    6. Interpretation of meaning- learning how to better interpret the meaning of the actions of others in terms of your own self concept.
    7. Becoming able to produce positive affective states in oneself through visioning and other techniques.
    8. Development of positive outlook (optimism)

Motivation. The ability to control the behavioral effects of negative emotions (e.g., anger, fear, anxiety) and perform in a positive way even when emotional state is negative.  Individuals high in this skill are likely to react to negative (disconfirming feedback) by attempting to diagnosis the causes of low performance and actually increase their effort directed at improving performance.  Their counterparts with low skill development in this area are likely to quit at the first sign of failure or invalidation.

    1. Self Control
    2. Self Motivation- The ability to perform despite lack of "passion."
    3. Self Regulation

The Interpersonal Level

This approach deals with the way in which individuals influence the emotions and behavior of others.  These skills are often referred to as interpersonal or social skills

EMPATHY. The ability to understand and affect the emotional states of others.

    1. The ability to "read" the emotions and emotional states of others.
    2. The ability to determine the situations/triggers that cause various emotional states in others.
    3. The ability to evoke positive and negative emotions states in others.  This often involves understanding the self concept and identity of others to avoid negative affect by invalidation (offending) and to evoke positive affect by affirmation (positive reinforcement).
    4. Conflict/Negotiation skills- The ability to advocate your positions/interests without invalidating the positions/interests of other parties

INFLUENCE- The ability to influence the behavior of others; motivating them in low emotional states; calming them in aggravated emotional states.

    1. Conflict resolution techniques- The ability to develop win/win solutions to conflicts.
    2. Relationship Building- The ability to develop trust and build high quality relationships with others
    3. Motivation- The ability to energize and the direct the behavior of others despite low emotional states Control- The ability to moderate the behavioral responses of others to aggravated emotional states through such techniques as "active listening."

The Core Affect

The Core Affect Model (Russell, 2003; Seo, Barrett, & Bartunek, 2004) combines the dimension of Affective State (positive to negative) with Activation (energy level) and places emotional states into one of four quadrants. Russell (2003) states the “core affect is that neuropsychological state consciously assessable as the simpets (nonreflective) feelings evident in moods and emotions (p. 147)." He goes on the argue that the core affect at the time that an event is experienced affects the memory of that event through a process he terms attributed affect. Damasio (1994) calls this emotional memory a somatic marker.

Core Affect


  1. Affective-based motivation is one element of a total motivation process; other elements are cognitive, behavioral, dispositional
  2. Process
  3. Conflict
  4. Reinforcement


Goleman, Daniel (1995). Emotional Intelligence: Why It Can Matter More Than IQ.  New York: Bantam.

Damasio, Antonio R. (1994). Descartes' Error: Emotion, Reason, and the Human Brain.  New York: Avon

LeDoux, Joseph (1996).  The Emotional Brain: The Mysterious Understanding of Emotional Life.  Simon & Schuster: New York

Russell, J. A. 2003. Core affect and the psychological construct of emotion. Psychological Review, 110: 145-172.

Seo, M.-G., Barrett, L. F., & Bartunek, J. M. 2004. The role of affective experience in work motivation. Academy of Management Review, 29(3): 423-439.