The V * I * E theory of motivation (Galbraith & Cummings, 1967; Vroom, 1964) posits that if either the value of a goal, its instrumentality or the expectancy to reach it is zero, then an individual will not be motivated to reach that goal (please correct me if I'm wrong).

Nelson Mandela spent 27 years in jail because he was an anti-apartheid revolutionary. Apparently, he never gave up his mission.


Can the VIE theory of motivation, or newer developments of it, explain thoroughly why some people don't give up their goals even if they to live under adverse conditions for a very long period of time?

More details: One might argue that such a person didn't lose the goal but just didn't try to realize it as long as it wasn't possible. In other words: the value was kept upright but the expectancy was zero. On the other hand, if V, I or E is zero, then the motivation - the drive - is zero as well. It is unclear what kept upright the value in this case. What drives a person in such a situation to keep fighting and can that be explained by the VIE theory of motivation?


Galbraith, J., & Cummings, L. L. (1967). An empirical investigation of the motivational determinants of task performance: Interactive effects between instrumentality—valence and motivation—ability. Organizational Behavior and Human Performance, 2(3), 237–257. https://doi.org/10.1016/0030-5073(67)90020-7

Vroom, V. H. (1964). Work and motivation. Oxford, England: Wiley.


1 Answer 1


The VIE theory you mentioned can explain why some people don't give up their goals even if they to live under adverse conditions for a very long period of time, and the theory is very similar to a theory followed in Sociology and Psychology. That is Social Exchange Theory.

Although the theory is generally referred to when talking about social interactions in relationships, it can also be related to the situations you are referring to.

Social Exchange Theory

The basic idea is that the social exchange process brings satisfaction when people receive fair returns for their expenditures. The major difference between social and economic exchange is the nature of the exchange between parties. The social exchange perspective argues that people calculate the overall worth of a particular relationship by subtracting its costs from the rewards it provides.

$Rewards$ $–$ $Costs = Worth$

If the $Costs$ in the situation you are talking about is bigger than the benefits ($Rewards$), the $Worth$ has a negative value leading to the choice of not carrying out the task in mind.

To use your Nelson Mandella example,

Nelson Mandela spent 27 years in jail because he was an anti-apartheid revolutionary. Apparently, he never gave up his mission.

Mandella perceived that the possible positive $Rewards$ (end to apartheid) outweighed the $Costs$ (imprisonment), therefore the $Worth$ of his social activism was positive (greater than zero).

If Mandella saw the $Costs$ being greater than the $Rewards$, the $Worth$ would have been negative and he may have chosen a different path, but then that is speculation. The other point of note is that motivation towards social activism is generally towards improving the status quo within society, leading to positive $Rewards$.

What I have put forward is on Social Exchange Theory, however a possible alternative would be that he felt that change was vital and therefore the value of the fight and its goal outweighed the $Costs$ (VIE Theory). Maybe both theories were in play. This again is open to speculation.

Social Exchange Theory was introduced in 1958 by the sociologist George Homans with the publication of his work "Social Behavior as Exchange" (Cook & Rice, 2001). Homans summarised the theory in 5 propositions (University of Amsterdam, n.d.):

  • The 1st Proposition - Success proposition:
    When an individual is rewarded for their actions, they tend to repeat the action;
  • The 2nd Proposition - Stimulus proposition:
    The more often a particular behaviour has resulted in a reward in the past, the more likely it is that a person will respond to it (possibly with reward); and
  • The 3rd Proposition - Value proposition:
    If the expected result of a behavioural action is considered valuable to the individual, it is more likely for that behaviour to occur
  • The 4th Proposition - Deprivation–satiation proposition:
    The more often in the recent past a person has received the same reward, the less valuable any further unit of that reward becomes.
  • The 5th Proposition – Aggression-approval proposition:
    When the rewards of a social exchange are not as expected, a person will react emotionally, usually in an angry or aggravated manner. Those who receive more than they expect or do not receive anticipated punishment will be happy and will behave approvingly.


Cook, K. S. & Rice, E. R. W., 2001. Chapter 31: Exchange and Power - Issues of Structure and Agency. In: J. H. Turner, ed. Handbook of Sociological Theory. New York City: Springer Science & Business Media, LLC, pp. 699-719.

University of Amsterdam, n.d. SocioSite: George C. Homans - General Propositions. [Online]
Available at: http://www.sociosite.net/topics/texts/homans.php [Accessed 4 August 2016].

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    $\begingroup$ Hello, many thanks for adding to the question. However your argument doesn't answer my question, since it "works" with social exchange theory. In your answer you posit that he perceived a possible end of apartheid. What if he didn't -- 27 years is quite a long time to be imprisoned. Why didn't he give up? How could Social Exchange Theory explain that he didn't give up even if no Reward was perceived? Kind regards $\endgroup$
    – user14074
    Aug 9, 2017 at 19:16
  • $\begingroup$ Please allow me to add: The (admittedly somewhat disguised) motive of my question is to address the limitations of the VIE theory and also of similar theories like social exchange theory (I agree on the similarity). I maintain that recent research in "meaning" (for instance "meaningful work" and similar concepts) may explain "things" that are beyond the scope of the above mentioned theories. Kind regards. $\endgroup$
    – user14074
    Aug 9, 2017 at 19:30
  • $\begingroup$ I have been pondering your last statement in your first comment for a while and I am at a loss with where you are coming from on this. Mandella perceived the possibility of the $Rewards$ he fought for and that is what made him continue the fight. According to social exchange theory, if he couldn't perceive the Reward being possible, then there would be no point in continuing to fight for change as the $Costs$ outweigh the $Rewards$ which would be negative. The possible alternative would be that he felt that change was vital and therefore the fight outweighed the $Costs$ (VIE Theory) $\endgroup$ Aug 12, 2017 at 13:59
  • $\begingroup$ Reward: "satisfying event that is obtained when some requisite task has been carried out" (Penguin Dic. o. Psy.). Reward expectancy: "internal process that occurs when an organism recognizes that it is in a circumstance that has previously been associated with a reward" (idib.). I'm sure you also pondered about my second comment: There are better suited theories to explain "Mandelas" (or comparable) state of mind than social exchange th. or VIE. Claiming that he perceived the possibility of reward is speculative; the concept of "meaning/personal sense" on the other hand seems better suited .. $\endgroup$
    – user14074
    Aug 15, 2017 at 7:52

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