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Drive Theory Versus Goal-Oriented

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Theories Of Motivation

One of the main departures in thinking between Sigmund Freud and Alfred Adler was their conceptualization of the nature of our behavior.  Freud talks about drives, as in the well-known term “sex drive,” to name but one.  Drive theory describes the motivations for behavior as being the result of our innate primal and instinctive drives.

Adler, however, holds that humans are not out of control, they are not pushed into behaviors in an unwilling manner, but rather that we choose (preconsciously) behaviors that will move us closer towards our goals.  It is a future orientation that we seek, not a aversion.

This confuses parents and is a lot of psychobabble to the uninterested.  But here is an easy way you might understand this fundamental difference:

My dog sits besides her food bowl and barks.  Why?  What is her motivation for this behavior?

Does she bark because she is “driven” instinctively by hunger? Or, is a better understanding that she has learned to bark in order to reach the goal of having me come and deliver the food?  What do you think?  Are you Freudian or Adlerian?

About Alyson

Alyson has been blogging parenting advice for over 15 years. She has been a panelist at BlogWest, Blissdom, #140NYC and more. Her content appears on sites across Canada and the US, but you can read all her own blog posts right here.

More about Alyson

3 Responses to “Drive Theory Versus Goal-Oriented”

  1. Melanie

    I must be an Adlerian, and you really made it simple for me to make the distinction. I guess if it were simple hunger “drive” that made the dog bark, she wouldn’t bother sitting by her dish, would she? My own dog will pace around his dish to remind me it’s dinner time and, while some might accuse me of anthropomorphising his behaviour, I truly believe he knows that I will fill the dish for him. Goal accomplished!
    Although I am unfamiliar with Adler, the concept of goal orientation strikes a chord with me, even if only because the concept of “drives” makes it far too easy to say, “I couldn’t help it!”
    Very interesting, and bears further investigation. Do you have any recommended reading? I do have a 10 month old, so it can be specifically related to children, but not necessarily so.
    PS I just caught your show for the first time today. I learned a lot and you are very funny. Books on order and I can’t wait to read them.

  2. Alyson

    Hey Melanie,
    Thanks for finding my web site (and show) and for commenting!
    Adler’s entire theory can be found in a great book for people called: What Life Should Mean To You
    For Parenting: you have my books – or Adler also check out STEP, PEP, Active parenting, Positive Discipline or P.E.T by Dr Thomas Gordon.
    Stay in touch!

  3. Melanie

    Hi Alyson,
    Thanks for steering me toward the recommended reading. I hope to use what’s left of my maternity leave educating myself as I would rather prevent problems than fix them (please see my incredibly spoiled dog for reference!).
    The more I read, the more I am interested in understanding your democratic parenting approach. The concepts of responsibility and mutual respect truly have resonance for me and thanks for helping me build a foundation, not only for parenting my daughter successfuly, but also (I suspect) for improving all the relationships in my life.
    I will definitely stay in touch, and thanks again. Books, get here already!!


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