What really motivates you?

In the study of personality, researchers have focused in on what are known as the big three motives: achievement, power, and intimacy. People who are achievement motivated desire challenges and mastery, making them good researchers and salespeople. Those who are power motivated want to have impact and influence, and make good managers and teachers. Intimacy motivated individuals want to have warm interactions and be connected to others, making them good therapists and mediators.

As soon as you learn about these big three motives, you might find yourself trying to figure out which motivational style describes you best. There are a number of methods to find out, such as the Thematic Apperception Test (TAT), which involves being shown several ambiguous drawings and being asked to write a short story about each one. Responses are then coded according to the degree of achievement, power, and intimacy themes expressed in each story. More explicit measures, such as self-report questionnaires, are also available. Yet an interesting artifact is revealed — scores on self report tests and picture response tests have been found to be largely uncorrelated. The TAT has also been found, in comparison to questionnaires, to have higher predictive validity for outcomes such as career success. Picture response tests require trained professionals to be administered and coded. This makes finding out your motivation style much less accessible to the average person, unlike many personality questionnaires that can simply be taken online.

In short, it’s quite easy to learn more about your personality traits. Yet due to the relative inaccessibility of the most trusted methods to determine our motivation styles, most of us will spend our time entirely unaware of this integral, driving part of our identity.

McClelland, D. C., & Boyatzis, R. E. (1982). Leadership motive pattern and long-term success in management. Journal of Applied psychology, 67(6), 737.

McClelland, D. C., Koestner, R., & Weinberger, J. (1989). How do self-attributed and implicit motives differ?. Psychological review, 96(4), 690.

Schultheiss, O. C., & Brunstein, J. C. (2001). Assessment of implicit motives with a research version of the TAT: Picture profiles, gender differences, and relations to other personality measures. Journal of personality assessment, 77(1), 71–86

Spangler, W. D. (1992). Validity of questionnaire and TAT measures of need for achievement: Two meta-analyses. Psychological bulletin, 112(1), 140.

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