1-The Definition of Drive

A drive was at first defined as a state of arousal that results from a biological need. The drive motivates the individual to fulfil that need.

Example: A need refers to a state of biological or tissue deprivation, such as hunger, causing an internal imbalance. A drive on the other hand refers to the psychological consequences of the need (eg. the drive to seek food).

A drive is a state of arousal which is aimed at restoring a physiological imbalance.

Whilst we can objectively observe a need, a drive is not accessible to direct observation; we infer that it exists by watching an individual’s ‘response behaviour’ to a need.

For example, if we see someone looking for water, we can assume that they are thirsty.

Nevertheless, the concept of need and drive was still based in a biological approach to behaviour rather than a psychological approach. The principle of homeostasis was used to explain human drives (i.e. the drive was construed as a function of the need to maintain a healthy balance in the body such as: normal temperature, correct blood sugar levels, etc.).

Not much was said about how drives were related to maintaining a healthy balance in the mind.

Soon it became necessary to distinguish between primary drives and secondary drives since it was obvious that not all human drives arise from biological needs. For instance, human behaviour demonstrates strong tendencies to explore, to manipulate, to dominate and to develop intellectually.

2-Primary Drives

Primary drives are defined as drives which arise from an innate biological need such as hunger and thirst (based on survival needs). Besides the obvious need for nutrition, the avoidance of pain, and the need for sleep are other examples.

Primary drives prompt the individual to act in order to satisfy these needs. The necessary action is not something we have to learn, but an action with which we are innately programmed.

Example: We do not need to learn to eat.

The expression of this drive, however, may be greatly influenced by social variables (e.g. different societies eat different foods).

Primary drives are ‘cyclical’ and can be temporarily satisfied. Hunger may reduce after a meal but after a certain length of time it returns and must be satisfied again.

3-Secondary Drives

Secondary drives are not based on innate biological needs or imbalances.

Instead, they arise from ‘social motives’ which are learnt from the environment. Whilst we are all born with primary drives, the secondary drives are learnt from our family or social situations.

The following are examples of secondary drives as described by H.A. Murray:

1-Achievement Drive to overcome obstacles; to exercise power through understanding.
2-Affiliation Drive to form relationships and associations; to cooperate and converse with others
3-Aggression Drive to injure others; to blame and accuse; to ridicule & punish.
4-Autonomy Drive: to avoid blame; ostracism; punishment by inhibiting anti-social or unconventional impulses.
5-Dominance Drive to influence or control others; to persuade, prohibit or dictate.
6-Exhibition Drive to attract attention to one self; to excite, amuse and thrill others.
7-Nurturance Drive to nourish, aid, protect others; to express sympathy.
8-Sentience Drive: to seek, create and enjoy sensuous impressions.
9-Sex Drive: to form and further an erotic relationship; to have sexual intercourse.

Although secondary drives are not biologically based, there is a level at which they are necessary for survival, or at least they are aimed at providing the individual with greater comfort.  Achievement, for instance, might lead to money and luxury. The drive theorists in fact initially worked from the assumption that:

“These secondary drives obtain their motivational potential in association with the primary reinforcement of primary drives. In other words, all secondary drives can be traced back to situations where primary drives were positively or negatively reinforced” (H.A. Murray)

Secondary drives are ‘non-cyclical’: they are never fully satisfied at any given moment.

4-Stimulation Drives

In addition to primary and secondary drives, there are “stimulation drives”, which do not appear to have any obvious function. Examples are: sport & games, travelling, and certain hobbies.

Such activities may be motivated by intellectual curiosity; or a need to explore and manipulate the environment. Although stimulation needs may not be obviously as important as primary and secondary needs, they are actually crucial for healthy human development. They make up an important part of mental, social, and emotional development.

The physical development of a child is largely encouraged by stimulation activities such as playing games. Such activities encourage the child’s development of sensory motor coordination, for example.

The mental development of a child is also aided by stimulation activities. Through curiosity, children explore their world in search of information. They ask questions and begin to strengthen their reasoning powers. They manipulate and experiment with objects and achieve a greater understanding of the way things work.

Social development is encouraged since many stimulation activities involve interacting with others in groups. The child thus learns important social dynamics such as co-operation, competitiveness and trustworthiness.

It has been suggested that the motivation to experience a certain level of stimulation may have evolved due to its implications for survival. For instance, if we, or any other creature, manipulate and explore our environment we can understand it and know what to expect from it. We know which parts are safe and which parts may be dangerous.