A general theory of motivation
By Adah Maurer
Excerpt from Paddles Away: A Psychological Study of Physical Punishment in Schools, pp. 121-27. (1981)

What makes Johnny run?

How do we persuade people to get going?

Advertisers think repetition does it. Or promises of increased attractiveness and popularity. Military men in conventional battle knew that a stirring drum roll and a macho image of the "outfit" could inspire men to superhuman deeds of valor and patriotism, even to laying down their lives. Educators search endlessly for the ultimate motivation that will mold children into quiet, obedient, courteous, diligent, neat, orderly, bright-eyed images of their idealized selves.

This book has presented the case against pain and fear of it as motivator. We have also presented an array of alternatives. Which of these is best? Are some suitable for some children some of the time and others better for other children on other occasions? How do we choose for each child, and under what circumstances? Are there developmental stages? Are there social class differences? If so, how does it happen that some poor children escape into the professions and middle class or better? Is it possible that the destiny of a child is determined by the kind of motivators directed at him during the formative years? And what might determine which children from poor families are marked to be beaten as their parents were and which raised gently to be gentlemen?

An interesting explanation of these differences, and the apparent exceptions to the general rule that parents raise children as they themselves were raised, may be found in the work of Murray Straus in his studies of violence in the family:

The linkage theory hypothesizes that socialization practices will tend to be congruent with the type of personality needed to cope with the typical life circumstances which the child will face as an adult... To the extent that use of physical punishment produces a child who is relatively high in overt aggression and low in internalized moral standards and self direction, and to the extent that these traits are characteristic of working class communities, it can be said that the use of physical punishment is an appropriate pattern of socialization for working class children.

Obviously, however, such a pattern is dysfunctional for working class children who will be upwardly mobile... Working class parents who anticipate social mobility for their child...tend to adopt the socialization patterns characteristic of the class to which they aspire for their children.

John Kenneth Galbraith, in The New Industrial State, identifies the four levels of motivation as: compulsion, pecuniary reward, identification and adaptation. Compulsion and pecuniary reward are obvious: the slave worked to avoid the lash, the wage earner works for money. Identification Galbraith describes thus: "The individual, on becoming associated with the group, may conclude that its goals are superior to his own." Even a ditch digger could be so motivated if the ditch drains a malarial swamp and the digger will benefit by the improved environment; he will then identify his values with those of his employer and work willingly. This goodwill cannot be purchased even though the digger was hired and is paid. The identification with the goals of the enterprise is an extra that adds to his diligence and output. The fourth motivation, adaptation, is still further removed from compulsion. The person goes along with a group enterprise, not so much because he believes in what they are doing, although he may do that also, but because he hopes to be able to get control and influence the direction of the effort according to his own plans. A politician, for example, works hard for the success of his party, not because he is always in 100% agreement, but because he thinks he can advance his own causes by being a good soldier and eventually rising to a position of command.

It will be worthwhile to follow Galbraith's thinking a little further for the light it might shed on the historical origin and the present effects of these various forms of motivation.

Compulsion and pecuniary compensation usually exist together. "The slave got the whip when he did not work; he got food and shelter of a sort when he did." The working man is rewarded with a paycheck but the fear of unemployment should he slack off acts as a compulsive force to keep him working as his employer directs. Both are motivated by fear of punishment and by hope of reward, although obviously the worker whose punishment is not physical has more pride and to some extent more choice. Punishment cannot exist in a pure form since the cessation of punishment is experienced as a reward... One might also argue that the reward of money or other materials does not exist in pure form either since the withholding of the reward is experienced as deprivation, a potent punishment. But the cessation of punishment and withholding of reward are weak motivators... It is also clear that compulsion, especially physical punishment, is the more elementary form. The Cheops was built with slave labor driven by the lash, and some evidence indicates that it took a major convulsion of thought for the Pharaoh to hit upon the idea that if the slaves were doled a ration of grain at intervals, they might last longer. Pecuniary compulsion on the other hand drew farther and farther away from brute compulsion. Debate about the relative advantages enjoyed by American slaves in the agrarian South and the "wage slaves" in the industrial North raged in Congress in the 1850's but runaways were all in one direction even though the hours of labor were about the same and the pace in the North probably faster. There is no question but that pecuniary rewards will be chosen over compulsion even if the resulting standard of living is not conspicuously different. The position of women in the two economies is also markedly different though Galbraith does not consider this factor. The freedom from consort duty with the master is no inconsiderable boon; freedom from the need to labor during the child bearing years and the freedom to devote one's self to the care and rearing of children of one's own with a dependable wage earner as support, although not universal, was the common pattern and bespoke a greater pride and a greater degree of self determination among the families of wage earners. And, as we shall see, wage earning is compatible with high and more sophisticated forms of motivation while compulsion is not.

Identification and adaptation, Galbraith's terms for the higher forms of motivation, may also be called intrinsic enjoyment and the grasp for power. Or they can be termed, espirit de corpse and command. Or perhaps the spirit of good workmanship and authority. These cannot be bought with money although they are not incompatible with it. But compulsion makes identification impossible. The broad rule holds, says Galbraith: "What is compelled cannot be a matter of choice. Alienation, not identification, will be the normal result." "The serf, slave or prison occupant takes the goals of the organization with which he is associated as given and, eccentric cases apart, is alienated from them all. He does only what avoids punishment." As workmen's security has risen with the ability to find other jobs, with unemployment compensation and welfare, the element of compulsion has lessened. slavery has disappeared. With the drop in the amount of compulsion, the beginnings of identification can be combined with wage payments. But so long as compulsion is prominent, the stage is set for disagreeable behavior by both the compelled and those who force them.

Beyond a certain point, money reward begins to lose its motivating power. A highly paid corporation executive does not work harder if his salary is increased from say $100,000 a year to $150,000 a year. It is assumed that he was giving his best for the lower figure. Indeed he would be insulted if anyone thought that the money was more important to him than the good of the company. Not only could he get a comparable return in another corporation quite easily, but his investments and savings could carry him for a long time should he prefer to look about or take an extended vacation. He is motivated because he has identified his goals with those of the company and works because he enjoys having "his" company prosper. There is pride in being able to say, "I'm with standard Instruments." He may also hope to become a vice-president someday and influence the company to expand and diversify into a number of fields that he thinks are important and that interest him personally.

One last point from Galbraith before we return to schools. Power, he explains, was once associated with land and compulsion was the mode. When power passed to capital and the factory system, pecuniary motivation came to the fore. Lastly, "Identification and adaptation are associated with the technostructure." When the great land owners held serfs, they compelled their labor with physical violence. But slaves worked poorly in factories; wages were more conducive to consistent productivity. Now that highly skilled technicians hold power in large corporations, neither compulsion nor salary are the prime motivators. Identification of personal goals with the organization's goals and adaptation to the organization for the personal power it provides are the primary motivatiators.

When children are in school these four modes are easily identifiable, but it is strange how a return to ancient ways -- to compulsion and a token economy -- are touted as new and scientific. Actually, they are seriously regressive and a return to the ideology of slavery. It is not a coincidence that reliance on punishment is greatest in rural schools and among schoolmen not more than one generation removed from the land. The shift from corporal punishment to a token economy, that is, to little rewards (toy money), "excellent" stamps, smiling face chips or a blackboard tally, is the same step forward that wages for employment were over slavery.

A mother of a retarded child told both the teacher and the bus driver to be firm with her child and even offered to provide them a stick to beat him into submission. Both declined. The bus driver... kept a pouchful of pennies and promised the boy one each day when he sat still in his seat for the whole trip. At the end of the week, he had five pennies in his pocket. He was no longer a slave, but a freemason, an employed artisan in sitting still and as such his morale rose, although he was not yet ready to sit still because he enjoyed the ride (step 3) or because he looked forward to getting to school (step 4), he was on his way...

The third step with children is their acceptance of school and lessons as the normal, the right, the only game in town. They are not rebellious nor do they have to be bribed. Good grades are as satisfactory as the $100,000 salary of the corporation executive or the research department scientist; they do the best they can in any case. These children are not motivated by fear of punishment; by and large they aren't physically punished at home any more than their industrial counterpart is driven to the board room or lab with a cat-o-nine-tails. They make mistakes; they have off days just as their fathers do, but they are most often treated with patience and understanding or, at most, raised eyebrows and an explanation of what is expected. If they play hookey occasionally, this is disapproved of about as much as is the vice-president's afternoon playing golf. In any corporation there is the counterpart of the slow learner who is carried along by the sheer mass of enterprise. His secretary may gripe, whose who work nearest him snicker and shrug, but by and large he does not retard the enterprise as a whole to any appreciable extent. In any case, he is not physically punished. He might be demoted or given makework, but he will not be forced out into the cold especially if he is related to the president of the board. Slow and even difficult children could similarly he carried along by the educational enterprise without damage to the school, the other children or the teacher's sense of fitness. Indeed, they often are if they are related to someone in power in their particular community. The phenomenon is well known to small town teachers. The mayor's son gets away with murder; the doctor's daughter is forgiven and promoted regardless of her actual accomplishment.

Two eighth grade boys were caught glue sniffing by the shop teacher. Both were reported to the principal. One was threatened with the loss of his position as class president if he ever did it again; the other was sent forthwith to juvenile hall and tagged delinquent. Usually this kind of preferential treatment is laid to class differences and while this is certainly true, it does not lay clear the bare bones of the reason for the differential treatment. It is not only prejudice against lower class people; it also reflects the expectation of the respective parents. The class president's father was accustomed to the executive role and the easy overlooking of personal peccadilloes. He treated his son as the president of the firm treated him: a confidential chat about the disadvantages of being suckered in on a bad deal. The delinquent's father was a marginal worker accustomed to being fired for drunken sprees and the punishment of unemployment. He handled his son harshly and "fired" him to the police. Those who see only heredity in this story have already forgotten that the fault in both boys was identical: glue sniffing in the wood shop. Fairness requires that the punishment fit the crime, that both boys be treated the same. They were. They were turned over to their fathers. Each father loved and had high hopes for his son; both were disappointed about the episode. The manner of handling it came out of each father's personal experience and the mode of motivation each had experienced. The fact that one boy finished college while the other seethed in jail was determined at the parting of the ways in eighth grade over a glue pot. "Class differences" neither explain nor excuse what happened. Lack of awareness was to blame. Lack of awareness that punishment escalates the chances of more difficulties, more rebellion, more retaliation, more lashing out at any handy target by the one who has suffered punishment.

The fourth step, that of going along in the hope that one will be able to use the organization to one's own ends in good time, the politician type, can be seen in the student who does enough homework to get grades high enough to make the team. He goes along with school values for what he can get out of it that he likes by way of prestige. The student who does extra book reports to impress his English teacher so that he has a chance to make yearbook editor is functioning in the adaptation mode. This cannot be forced or bribed. A shy girl toyed with the idea of running for class secretary. Her mother was delighted and promised her a typewriter it she got elected. Suddenly, the joy went out of it. Either because it would then be her mother's victory and not her own or because of some conflict between mother and daughter the girl turned down the opportunity and refused to be a candidate. Rewards that work for the slave and the employed earner do not work with those motivated by levels 3 and 4 rewards.

Experiments at Stanford University showed that nursery school children who played happily with a special set of paints and made many interesting works of art with them, lost all interest when they were offered reward for such work. Turning play into work was accomplished simply by offering to pay for it. The work went on as long as the rewards lasted, but the spontaneous interest that had been shown in the beginning evaporated. Rewards dropped the activity from that of an artist/executive to that of a menial wage slave and the attitude changed from, "Hey! Look what I made, Mom!" to "Do I HAFF ta?"

Thus, debates about punishments, rewards, grades, prizes, scholarships, as competing modes of motivating students proves not that one is better than another but rather that they are graduations and are utilized depending upon assumptions regarding the child and expectations of his occupation when grown. The sequence is not linear in the sense that the child starts at mode 1 and progresses to mode 4. Rather the child starts at mode 3: intrinsic interest, identification with the activity as an end in itself. Experimenting just to find out, just to see what happens, just to see if he can, is the basis of the infant's activities, until those activities become channeled and diverted by prohibitions and requirements. If the child's intrinsic motivation is distorted, we must dip below the line to rewards or still lower for punishments. With this, we will have to accept alienation, grudging obedience, and, unless intrinsic interest is rekindled, a minimal performance that will be abandoned as soon a the artificial motivational force stops or is out of sight...

Editor's recommendation: See Force and Fear Have No Place in Education by Albert Einstein

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