Key for Marketers, Biz and Policy Folks – The Biology of Motivation


It is a shame economists are so clueless about this basic biology – but they live in their own world.  The related strange world of behavioral econ has no understanding over even awareness of this complexity.

The term motivation refers to a construct that is widely used in psychology, psychiatry, and neuroscience. As is the case with many psychological concepts, the discussion of motivation had its origins in philosophy…..According to a more recent definition, motivation is ‘‘the set of processes through which organisms regulate the probability, proximity and availability of stimuli’’ (Salamone, 1992). Generally speaking, the modern psychological construct of motivation refers to the behaviorally-relevant processes that enable organisms to regulate both their external and internal environment (Salamone, 2010)… Continue reading


Science Definitions: The Problem with Idea of “Reward”


Economists like the term “reward” – animals are not as simple as econ models propose, of course.

“..the term ‘‘reward’’ has been criticized in detail elsewhere. Though the term reward has meaning as a synonym for ‘‘reinforcer,’’ there is no consistent scientific meaning of ‘‘reward’’ when used to describe a neurobehavioral process;

  • some employ it as a synonym for ‘‘reinforcement,’’
  • while others use it to mean ‘‘primary motivation’’ or ‘‘appetite,’’ or as a thinly disguised synonym for ‘‘pleasure’’ or ‘‘hedonia’’.
  • In many cases, the word ‘‘reward’’ seems to be used as a general term that refers to all aspects of appetitive learning, motivation, and emotion, including both conditioned and unconditioned aspects;

this usage is so broad as to be essentially meaningless. One can argue that the overuse of the term ‘‘reward’’ is a source of tremendous confusion in this area. While one article may use reward to mean pleasure, another may employ the term to refer to reinforcement learning but not pleasure, and a third may be referring to appetitive motivation in a very general way. These are three very different meanings of the word, which obfuscates the discussion of the behavioral functions of mesolimbic DA. Moreover, labeling mesolimbic DA as a ‘‘reward system…”

  • ’’ serves to downplay its role in aversive motivation. Perhaps the biggest problem with the term ‘‘reward’’ is that it evokes the concept of pleasure or hedonia in many readers, even if this is unintended by the author.”

“The brain does not have box-and-arrow diagrams or demarcations that neatly separate core psychological functions into discrete, non-overlapping neural systems. “


Although one can define motivation in terms that make it distinct from other constructs, it should be recognized that, in fully discussing either the behavioral characteristics or neural basis of motivation, one also should consider related functions. The brain does not have box-and-arrow diagrams or demarcations that neatly separate core psychological functions into discrete, non-overlapping neural systems. Thus, it is important to under- stand the relation between motivational processes and other functions such as homeostasis, allostasis, emotion, cognition, learning, reinforcement, sensation, and motor function.” Continue reading

“…accumbens dopamine does not mediate primary food motivation or appetite, but is involved in appetitive and aversive motivational processes including behavioral activation, exertion of effort, approach behavior, sustained task engagement, Pavlovian processes, and instrumental learning. In this review, we discuss the complex roles of dopamine in behavioral functions related to motivation.”