Going by Hull's drive-reduction theory, as stated in Psychology, by Ciccarelli, 4th edition:

A need is a requirement of some material (such as food or water) that is essential for survival of the organism. When an organism has a need, it leads to a psychological tension as well as a physical arousal that motivates the organism to act in order to fulfill the need and reduce the tension. This tension is called a drive (Hull, 1943).

In the abstract of Mahatoo's (1989) paper, "Motives must be Differentiated from Needs, Drives, Wants: Strategy Implications", the following is stated:

In a suggested model, motives are suggested as the specific motivational element that directs the consumer′s drive towards a particular response. Thus while needs generate the response tendency, motives determine the specific behavioural action.

What I'm inferring from these two sources of information is that:

1) Need is a physiological/psychological requirement

2) Drive is what propels the organism to eliminate imbalance

3) Motive is the course of action the organism takes when faced with a drive.

An example of point 3 could be the instance where a recuperating substance abuse addict feels the drive to relapse, they may not with the help of proper clinical intervention if their motive is to achieve sobriety.

My question: Am I correct? If not, I would appreciate it if you could post the correction, both for the differences and the example.


2 Answers 2


The sources and the theory you mentioned are quite old and may be outdated. I learned about drives, needs and motives in a more modern context during my introductory course of Industrial and Organizational (I/O) Psychology. Overall drives are more of a non-human concept that is too simplistic to explain complex human behavior (Landy & Conte, 2013). Nowadays, the definitions below are often used by psychologists.

According to Buchanan and Hyczynski (2013) a need is innate and related to survival such as the need for water, oxygen etc. Needs that are triggered by deprivation are known as drives.

Buchanan and Hyczynski (2013) use the following description of a motive:

A socially acquired need activated by a desire for fulfilment.

Drives and motives can be contrasted using the information provided by Buchanan and Huczynski (2013): Drives 1. are innate 2. have a physiological basis 3. are activated by deprivation 4. are aimed at satiation

Motives 1. are learned 2. have a social basis 3. are activated by environment 4. are aimed at stimulation

I know I somewhat glossed over the theory you mentioned but I looked it up and it seems somewhat outdated to me. I hope this more recent information helps answering your question!

Further reading: Landy, F.J. & Conte, J.M. (2013). Work in the 21st century: An introduction to industrial and organizational psychology (6th edition). New York: McGraw-Hill. (Chapter 8) Buchanan, D. & Huczynski, A. (2013). Organizational behavior: An introductory text (8th edition). Essex, UK: Pearson Education. (Chapter 9)


In this context, motive does not refer to an overarching goal, but rather, a more immediate one. Judging from the excerpts you provided, here is an example:

1) My body needs nutrients in order to survive. 2) This need results in psychological and physiological discomfort, AKA a drive: hunger. 3) As a result of my hunger, I order take-out. My motive for doing this is that I want food.

The way I conceptualize the distinctions is that it goes need-> drive -> motive -> resulting action.

  • 3
    $\begingroup$ Welcome to Psychology.SE I am not the person who downvoted your answer, but we do work differently to most SE sites, where we have a strict policy that all answers should be backed up with reliable references so that the answer can be independently verified, regardless of the reader's/answerer's background. If you still have trouble with this, feel free to visit the help center or Psychology & Neuroscience Meta. Unreferenced claims can lead to answers being deleted. $\endgroup$ Commented Nov 30, 2018 at 15:31

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service and acknowledge you have read our privacy policy.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.