A job well done may be its own reward, but the mechanisms that drive humans to produce better results are far more complex. Much research has been devoted to the study of motivation and the psychophysiological processes that drive our behavior in pursuit of a goal, whether in relationships, on the job, or in education.
The nature of motivation is controversial, and a variety of competing theories have been put forward regarding what a motivational state comprises. Some researchers have argued that motivation is driven by specific human needs, like food, safety, or respect from one’s peers. Motivation may be categorized as intrinsic, meaning an individual pursues an activity because the activity itself is enjoyable or interesting, or extrinsic, which is when the pursuit offers some external reward.
Research into motivation has drawn interest across a wide range of fields, particularly in the areas of business and education. In the realm of business, corporations are especially focused on the motivation to work, which impacts productivity. In an era where buzzwords such as “quiet quitting” and “bare minimum Mondays” have entered the lexicon, companies are keen to know what motivates workers. Similarly, educators are looking to what types of intrinsic and extrinsic motivational factors are most effective in helping students achieve their learning goals. A key metric for measuring motivation is effort, which can be measured with a range of tools readily available to researchers.
A 2020 Harvard University study published by the American Psychological Association investigated the differences in how adolescents and adults translated motivation into action based on the physical effort exerted for financial reward. Participants age 12 to 23 exerted force by squeezing a BIOPAC hand dynamometer in response to visual cues indicating monetary rewards from $.05 to $.75. The dynamometer, connected to a DA100C amplifier, measured grip force, which the participant saw displayed on a screen as a vertical bar. These tools provided the research team with a means of accurately demonstrating quantitative variations in motivational behavior across various age groups in pursuit of effort-based rewards.
A similar approach was used in a 2019 study from the Netherlands that examined eating behavior by “quantifying the dynamic aspects of appetitive motivation.” As with the above example, researchers relied on a BIOPAC device to measure grip effort, in this case, a bulb transducer connected to an MP36 data acquisition system running Biopac Student Lab software. By squeezing the bulb, participants were able to self-administer sips of chocolate milk via a tube in response to stimuli while experiencing various states of hunger and satiation. The process developed for this study, termed the “Grab-to-Eat Task”, or GET, successfully showed that handgrip effort provided an accurate metric for “evaluating motivational aspects of food consumption” with implications for further research into eating behavior and weight control.
Techniques for measuring motivation are not limited to grip effort. A 2019 study published by the National Institute of Health relied on cardiovascular signals to measure the willingness of older adults to engage in cognitively demanding tasks. Blood pressure and heart rate data were collected using a CNAP monitor connected to a BIOPAC MP150 system, which provided a detailed measure of effort exerted through the participants’ physiological response to each task.
These examples just begin to touch on the ways various psychophysiological measures are being applied to the study of motivation and effort. For additional insight, view the BIOPAC webinar on tools for measuring effort and motivation in the lab.
For more information on how to gather and integrate effort-related data into your motivation study, contact your regional BIOPAC sales representative.