Motivation and the Brain

The survival of the human race depends on the ability to change the behavior in the changing environment. Human brain receives a lot of stimuli every moment, and its tack to separate the irrelevant information and to choose the correct behavioral model. Motivation is that particular internal force that helps to appraise instantly the balance between the demands of environment and our needs and to choose the appropriate action on this basic.  First part of this work will give the general description of motivation, its studies and the definitions of related terms.  The second part will examine the role of motivation in connection between motivation and healthy eating.

General idea of motivation. Kinds and types.

In spite of the fact that we use the word “motivation” in everyday language, it is difficulty to give the rigorous definition of motivation in a scientific context.  Motivation is “the reason or reasons for engaging in a particular behavior, especially human behavior”.

The different types of motivation are closely connected with the Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs, according to which the most primitive needs are on the bottom.  In relation to the Maslow’s pyramid researchers distinguish physiological, cognitive and social types of motivation. The basic concept is that lower needs of hierarchy have to be satisfied first.

There are two kinds of motivation: intrinsic and extrinsic. Intrinsic is the motivation coming from within the individual, extrinsic motivation exerts influence from the outside.  E.g. if the student does he or her homework because the subject of the task is interesting, this is the intrinsic motivation. Just the opposite, if he or she works on the subject because the professor wants student to do this, it is the external motivation.

Two approaches to the study of motivation.

There are two approaches to the study of motivation: psychological and physiological.  Psychological approach is aimed to monitor the connection between the patterns of motivated behavior and environmental events. Many theories of behavior, which were created in the middle of 20th century, rely on motivation.

Physiological approach is focused on the endocrine or neural origin of motivation.   For example, physical and chemical mechanisms of the body monitor the blood glucose level, and if it falls, these mechanisms begin to affect the behavior, by the use of hunger making the person to find and to consume food.

Brain and motivation.

Human brain has rather complex structure and a branch of specific functions. At the current stage of sciences development the researches still did not completely understand the mechanisms of interrelations between brain and all other organs in the human body. The basic idea is that “the brain receives and interprets messages arriving from all parts of the body and creates responses based on prior experiences and physical needs” (Bangalore, 2007, 9). It is already proved that the children’s brains can better consume new information comparing the adults due to the twice higher activity level in cortical regions. That was the solid support for the theory that emotional programming is largely defined in childhood.  However in studying the mechanisms of motivation functions in the brain the researchers are on the half of their way.

Healthy body as the motivational factor.

Healthy and productive body is the essential condition of survival that is why every living being has the unconsciousness motivation to eat the necessary quantity of the good food, to move regularly and so on.  At the meantime some factors can change the initial motivation. Thus, the drug use causes large increases in dopamine, a chemical that acts as a neurotransmitter and causes the feelings of euphoria. This feeling forces to repeat the drug use. In a short time the brain looses the capability to produce dopamine without drug stimulation and it forms the addiction. Drug-addictive person continues to use drugs though it ruins the body.

Two extremes of the healthy eating.

It is important to know that there are “two regions in the hypothalamus, known as the feeding center and the satiety” (August, 1988, p. 81).

These centers are working as a part of survival mechanism, and they maintain the motivation to start eating and to stop it when it is necessary. If these centers work harmoniously, the weight of human body is optimal fir survival. Nevertheless some disorders can be the reason of weight loss or overweight. Unhealthy starvation is known as anorexia, unhealthy weight gain is obesity.

The motivations of anorexia.

The social stereotype that glorifies the thin figures in the movies and magazines presses on the people. At the same time modern people mostly don’t move enough to have the lean body. They want to be beautiful and they just want to eat at the same time. The conflict of social and physiological motivations can provoke the neurosis and eating disorder knowing as anorexia.

“The motivation behind eating disorders is not always clear, but appears to be grounded in a complex interaction between genetic, neurological, hormonal, and environmental factors. For instance, anorexia nervosa has been linked to Type A personality traits””such as anxiety, perfectionism, and rigidity””and androgenic action during puberty (Sohn, 2002, 17).”

As the drug-addicts, anorexic person starts the starvation voluntary, because he or she is unhappy of the body shape or size.  Teenagers have the additional social motivation to start starving: they what control something in the struggle with their parents and sometimes food is the only choice. Anorexics do not agree they have eating disorder, they feel normal.  People with anorexia get a “high” feeling when hungry. Starvation forces the brain to release hormones that give anorexics euphoric feeling. Thus the extrinsic social motivation changes to addiction and intrinsic motivation to go on starving. Anorexia is potentially fatal disorder.

The motivations of obesity.

Sometimes the obesity appears due to hormonal disorder or other disease.  However a lot of cases of obesity are the consequence of food addiction. Only recent years the researches recognized that the person can be addicted to food as to drugs or alcohol. Foods that are high in sugar or fat can cause chemical changes in the brain. These changes are almost similar to the changes produced with opiates. This was the proof that some kinds of food can provoke the addiction.

It is important to distinguish the healthy appetite and food-addiction.  In one sense every person is addicted to food. This is the principal difference of food-addiction comparatively with drug and alcohol addiction.  Food is necessary to survive so it is normal to eat for several times everyday (unlike other addictive behaviors). Unlike the healthy people, food-addictives can harm themselves with abnormal quantities of the food because they overeat everyday and feel anxiety when they can not do so.  Sugar has been shown to influence dopamine activity, so food gives the euphoria to addicts.

Food-addiction is rather new term so there is no single idea regarding the reasons of its beginning.  However it is universally admitted that many people who probably have food-addiction eat when they feel loneliness, melancholy or stress.

Healthy eating motivation.

Motivating people with food disorders to healthy eating it has to be mentioned that any addiction is both behavioral and biological in nature.  Biological components of the addiction can be cured medicamentally. The behavioral component is closely connected with the person’s motivation so the goals have to be changed or re-estimated. Environment is a key factor in an addict’s recovery.

“The route out of addiction involves finding alternatives those are more motivating. Again, the competing motivations may be multiple in number and kind. The suffering associated with an addictive behavior tends to increase over time, shifting the ratio of pros and cons. This is reflected in the concept of “hitting bottom” and having “suffered enough” for change to occur. There is wide recognition of the concept of “high bottom” individuals whose behavior turned around before negative consequences reached dreadful proportions. Decisional balance models and more recent behavioral-economic analyses also reflect this perspective of competing motivations.” (Brown, 1998, 64)

Surely not only people with food disorders have to be motivated to healthy eating. Every person who wants to be healthy has to watch its nutrition. It is hard to organize the healthy diet in the modern society. Advertising of tasty food is everywhere.  Healthy people should be motivated to the balanced nutrition by education. People should know better about the different kinds of food and its features, also as about the harm that food disorders can cause.

“This is quite comprehensible from the perspective of a health belief model and the appraisal theories that have succeeded it, or from self-regulation theory. Protective change occurs when a person sees (1) a serious risk (discrepancy), and (2) the possibility of decreasing it. The four types of self-motivational statements that we have recommended be elicited from clients are statements of perceived problem, concern, intent to change, and ability to change. Turn the model around to promote approach rather than avoidance, and change occurs when a person sees (1) a worthwhile goal (discrepancy), and (2) the possibility of attaining it. The self-motivational statements then become statements of perceived opportunity, value, intent to attain it, and ability to attain it.”(Brown, 1998, 70)

To motivate people for healthy eating they can be proposed to think about its benefits:

– Healthy eating helps maintain   and promote good health, especially into old age.

-  Healthy eating promotes fitness and well-being.

– Balanced nutrition can promote fast recovery from illness, disease or injury.

“People with high self-efficacy in a task are more likely to make more of an effort, and persist longer, than those with low efficacy. The stronger the self-efficacy or mastery expectations, the more active the efforts.” (Bandura, 1977, 113)


The motivation plays the great role at the human behavior. The influence of      extrinsic motivation is very important.  Extrinsic motivation can be used in curing the food disorders as far as other addictions.

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