Drive reduction theory and human behavior (2023)

By Olivia Guy-Evans, Posted May 19, 2022 | Fact verified bySaul Mcleod, PhD

Drive reduction theory is an important behavioral theory of learning. He postulates that organisms are motivated to reduce drives to maintain homeostasis. Here, a drive is any internal state that motivates an organism to satisfy a need.

Drive reduction theory is based on the idea that the primary motivation behind all human behavior is to reduce "drives."

A "drive" is a state of arousal or discomfort caused by a person's physiological or biological needs, such as hunger, thirst, and the need for warmth.

According to the theory, when a person's impulse arises, he will be in a state of unpleasant tension that causes him to behave in such a way that this tension is reduced.

To reduce the stress they feel, they will look for ways to satisfy their biological needs.

Drive reduction theory is based on the concept of homeostasis, which is the idea that the body actively works to maintain a state of balance or balance.

According to the theory, as soon as an unsatisfied need exists within the body, a person begins to behave in a way that allows them to satisfy that need, reduce drive, and reach a state of balance.

Who developed the theory of impulse reduction?

The impulse reduction theory was created by behaviorist Clark Hull and was further developed by his collaborator Kenneth Spence.

Hull based his theory on earlier theories related to motivation concepts, drawing inspiration from leading scientists such as John B. Watson,Ivan Pavlovy Edward Thorndike.

Hull's theory became popular during the 1940s and 1950s as a way to explain behavior, learning, and motivation.

Although drive reduction theory was once a dominant theory in psychology, today it is largely ignored with the development of new theories.

Although it is no longer a widely accepted theory, it is still useful for understanding how previous researchers have attempted to explain human motivation.

How does drive reduction theory explain human behavior?

The drive reduction theory suggests that human behavior results from the desire to reduce the drives we have. It is thought that there are primary and secondary units.

Primal drives are innate biological needs, such as hunger or thirst. While secondary drives are those that are learned through conditioning or association with a primary drive such as money and social acceptance.

To minimize the discomfort caused by primal drives like hunger, one might go to the market, buy food, cook it, and then eat it.

All of these behaviors are caused by impulses according to impulse reduction theory. Once the individual's needs are met, homeostasis is again achieved and the drive to satisfy their needs is reduced.

What is behaviorism?

Behaviorism, also known asbehavioral psychology, is the belief that human actions are shaped by environmental stimuli.

Drive reduction theory relies on behavioral principles to explain behavior. Key concepts in behaviorism include arousal, homeostasis, conditioning, and reinforcement.


Arousal in psychology is a state of physiological arousal or a cortical response associated with sensory stimulation. Behaviorists believe that we are motivated by arousal.

As arousal levels change, we are said to naturally change our behavior to return to our "optimal" level of arousal.

If the arousal is too low, we can do something to stimulate ourselves. While if the arousal is too high, we can try to reduce the stimulation by relaxing or choosing to be alone.

(Video) Psych Terms: Drive-Reduction Theory


Homeostasis is a term that refers to the physiological balance that is achieved when the internal needs of an organism are satisfied.

An organism will regulate its internal environment to achieve this balance, such as adjusting body temperature, blood sugar levels, or achieving hydration.

In psychology, homeostasis can also refer to keeping your mental state balanced.

conditioning and reinforcement

Conditioning means learning about the world through reinforcement. Hull explained human behavior in terms of cconditioning and reinforcement.

In terms of drive reduction theory, drive reduction functions as a reinforcer of the behavior that helped the person satisfy their unmet need.

This reinforcement, the theory goes, increases the likelihood that the person will behave in the same way in the future to deal with that particular impulse.

Therefore, drive reduction theory works with the same stimulus-response relationship that is associated with the conditional form of learning.

Critical evaluation of drive reduction theory

Although drive reduction theory was well received in the 1940s and 1950s as an explanation of motivation, it is not as popular today.

It has been criticized for not being generalizable and for failing to explain behaviors that do not reduce drive. Some of the major criticisms of the drive reduction theory include:

Ignore the role of secondary reinforcers.

The problem with Hull's theory is that it fails to explain how drive can also be reinforced by secondary drives.

For example, money and social acceptance are secondary drives that are not needed to meet our primary biological needs, but money can be used to buy food to survive and meet our primary needs.

Why do we exaggerate?

Drive reduction theory does not explain why we can satisfy our primary needs even when they are satisfied.

For example, eating a three-course meal or another slice of pizza when you're full, or continuing to drink when you're not very thirsty.

What about thrill-seeking behaviors?

Drive reduction theory has been criticized for failing to explain why humans engage in thrill-seeking behavior.

(Video) Instincts, Arousal, Needs, Drives: Drive-Reduction and Cognitive Theories | MCAT | Khan Academy

For example, someone may leave the comfort of their home to climb a mountain or go bungee jumping.

These behaviors go against the general ideas of drive reduction theory, as people deliberately seek behaviors that prevent them from meeting their biological needs or make them feel uncomfortable.

Other behaviors that cannot be fully explained by drive reduction theory and may be explained by other factors include:

  • Watching horror movies where people are made to feel uncomfortable on purpose.

  • Camp that takes someone away from their comfortable home.

  • Fasting behaviors in which someone will deliberately not get their primary need met.

  • Extreme exercise that is deliberately uncomfortable.

Getting excited is not always good.

Drive reduction theory cannot explain why humans fail when highly excited. While excitement or nervousness can help someone, there comes a point where the anxiety becomes excessive and really prevents someone from performing at a high level.

For example, someone may be so anxious to complete a test that they falter under the pressure and don't do as well as they could.

How has drive reduction theory affected our idea of ​​motivation?

Although not popular in psychology today, drive reduction theory still influenced other psychologists at the time and helped contribute to further research.

Many of the motivational theories that emerged during the 1950s and 1960s were either based on Hull's original theory or focused on providing alternatives to drive reduction theory.

An example of another motivation theory that emerged as an alternative to drive reduction theory is Abraham Maslow's Hierarchy of Needs.

Maslow's famous hierarchyexplains that while humans are motivated to meet their basic physiological needs, they are also motivated to meet their psychological needs for love, belonging, and self-esteem.

Once achieved, the theory states that humans strive to achieve self-actualization needs.

Maslow's theory of motivation therefore extends drive reduction theory to explain why humans are motivated beyond their basic needs.

A 1956 study found that although drive reduction plays a role in motivation, rewards seemed to do more than drive reduction, and that incentives have a similar effect to drive reduction (Seward, 1956).

This research paved the way for incentive theory, which states that humans are sometimes motivated to do things because of rewards.

How do we form habits according to the DRT?

Incentives or rewards can play an important role in creating a habit or behavior.

If the reward is given instantly after performing an action and given repeatedly on a consistent basis, this will result in the development of a habit.

How is DRT related to sport?

Drive reduction theory suggests that the more excited an athlete is, the better they will perform.

This means that a very high arousal level would result in superior performance; however, this only applies when the athlete is highly skilled in their sport.

Experienced athletes tend to perform better under pressure due to their superior abilities. If an athlete's athletic ability is not learned well, performance is likely to deteriorate under pressure.

Often a beginner's skill level drops if they are completing a sport using new skills. However, it does explain why experienced athletes perform better under pressure.

(Video) The Power of Motivation: Crash Course Psychology #17

How can DRT be applied to education?

The principles of drive reduction theory can be applied to education if we consider the need to satisfy curiosity as the necessary drive to motivate students.

Hull reduced the art of learning to the formation and reinforcement of habits.

The theory has given sufficient importance to the needs, impulses, incentives, reinforcements and adequate motivation to achieve satisfactory results in the teaching and learning process.

How does ESRD explain eating behavior?

According to drive reduction theory, organisms search for food when they experience a need for hunger.

Any drive-reducing behavior is likely to be repeated by humans and animals alike, which is why they continue to eat.

The reduced urge to eat serves as positive reinforcement (ie, a reward) for the behavior that caused the reduced urge.

What is the mathematical formula for the thrust reduction theory?

Hull created a mathematical "formula" to explain his theory of human behavior, which is as follows:

sEr = V x D x K x J x sHr - sIr - Ir - sOr - sLr

  • ser: Excitatory potential, or the probability that an organism produces a response (r) to a stimulus (s).

  • V: Dynamism of the intensity of the stimulus, that is, some stimuli will have a greater influence than others.

  • D: Drive strength, determined by the amount of biological deprivation.

  • K: Incentive motivation, or the size or magnitude of the goal.

    (Video) Self-Determination Theory: 3 Basic Needs That Drive Our Behavior

  • J: The delay before the organism can seek reinforcement.

  • sHr: Strength of habit, established by the amount of prior conditioning.

  • sIr: Conditioned inhibition, caused by a previous lack of reinforcement.

  • Go: Reactive inhibition, or fatigue.

  • sor: Random error.

  • sLr: Reaction Threshold, or the least amount of reinforcement that will produce learning.

Hull was criticized for having too complex a formula. It may be easier to consider the thrust reduction theory into 2 simpler parts:

  • Internal stimulus + response = drive reduction

  • boost reduction = repeat

checking the facts

Content is rigorously reviewed by a team of qualified and experienced fact-checkers. Fact checkers review articles for accuracy, relevance, and timeliness. We rely on the most current and reliable sources, which are cited in the text and listed at the end of each article. The content is verified after it has been edited and before it is published.

Cite this article (APA style)

Guy-Evans, O. (2022, May 19).Theory of impulse reduction and human behavior.🇧🇷 Simply Psychology.


Casco, C. L. (1943).Principles of Behavior: An Introduction to Behavior Theory. Nueva York: Appleton-Century-Crofts.

Casco, C. L. (1952).A system of conduct; an introduction to behavioral theory of the individual organism.

Pavlov, I. P. (1897).The work of the digestive glands.. London: Griffin.

Seward, J.P. (1956). Driving, encouraging and reinforcing.Psychological review, 63(3), 195.

Watson, JB (1913).Psychology as the behaviorist sees it🇧🇷 Psychological review, 20, 158-178.

Watson, JB (1930).behaviorism(revised edition). University of Chicago Press.

CasaAboutPrivacy PolicyContact Us

(Video) Motivation – Drive and Incentive Theories


How does drive-reduction theory affect the human mind and body? ›

The reduction of the drive acts as a reinforcement for that behavior. This reinforcement increases the likelihood that the same behavior will occur again in the future when the same need arises. In order to survive in its environment, an organism must behave in ways that meet these survival needs.

How about the drive theory How did it explain behavior? ›

Drive theory is based on the principle that organisms are born with certain psychological needs and that a negative state of tension is created when these needs are not satisfied. When a need is satisfied, drive is reduced and the organism returns to a state of homeostasis and relaxation.

What are the main points of the drive-reduction theory? ›

psychologist Clark Hull proposed a drive-reduction theory of learning. In its simplest form, the theory claimed that no learning occurred unless a drive produced tension and impelled the organism into activity to procure a reward that would reduce the drive and satisfy its related physiological need.

What is an example of drive-reduction theory in psychology? ›

Drive Theory Of Motivation Examples

The feeling of thirst creates an unpleasantness within our bodies. To reduce this internal tension and return to a state of balance, we're motivated to reach out for a glass of water to quench our thirst. This is a drive reduction theory example.

What is drive in human behavior? ›

drive, in psychology, an urgent basic need pressing for satisfaction, usually rooted in some physiological tension, deficiency, or imbalance (e.g., hunger and thirst) and impelling the organism to action.

What is one shortcoming of the drive reduction theory in explaining human Behaviour? ›

Drive reduction theory has poor performance in explaining complex human behavior, such as why humans willingly engage in strenuous and exploratory behavior that does not directly satisfy simple physiological needs (e.g., climb mountains).

What theory best explains human behavior? ›

Social Learning Theory

One's judgments, beliefs, and expectations predict behavior more than anything. Types are composed of traits, which in turn are comprised of numerous habits like extroversion, optimism, carefreeness, impulsivity, moody, easygoing, etc.

What theory that describes human behavior *? ›

Behavioral theory seeks to explain human behavior by analyzing the antecedents and consequences present in the individual's environment and the learned associations he or she has acquired through previous experience.

What theory believes that behavior is an important driving force of human nature? ›

The psychodynamic perspective in psychology proposes that there are psychological forces underlying human behaviour, feelings, and emotions.

What is meant by drive-reduction behavior? ›

A theory of motivation developed by Clark L. Hull, the Drive-Reduction Theory focuses on how motivation originates from biological needs or drives. In this theory, Hull proposed a person's behaviour is an external display of his desire to satisfy his physical deficiencies.

What are the criticisms of drive reduction theory? ›

Ans: One of the major criticisms of the drive-reduction theory of motivation is that it does not explain why people engage in certain behaviors that do not reduce drives. For instance, individuals often eat food or drink even when they are not feeling hungry or thirsty.

Can humans live without primary drives? ›

One cannot live without primary drive but they can live without secondary drives as they are as important for one's survival. c. Drive-reduction theory fundamentally states that humans are motivated to reduce the discomfort caused by the primary or secondary drive.

What relevance does drive reduction theory have for education? ›

Drive Reduction Theory points out that giving more reinforcement results in more learning. Teachers should meet students' achievements with constant challenges that are increasingly difficult.

What is drive reduction theory AP Psychology? ›

Secondary drives: Needs, such as money and social approval, that are learned through experience. Drive-reduction theory: A theory stating that imbalances to your body's internal environment generate drives that cause you to act in ways that restore homeostasis.

Is drive reduction theory a theory of motivation? ›

Drive reduction theory, developed by Clark Hull in 1943, is a major theory of motivation in the behaviorist learning theory tradition. "Drive" is defined as motivation that arises due to a psychological or physiological need. It works as an internal stimulus that motivates an individual to sate the drive.

How does reductive materialism view the mind body problem? ›

Finally, there is reductive materialism, which says that the mind is nothing more than brain processes and can (or will) be completely explained by them.

How does the drive reduction theory play a role in eating disorders? ›

The primary drive of hunger is explained through the theory of Drive-Reduction. This theory posits that biological urges motivate humans to behave or act in a manner which satisfies the urge. As such, a drive such as hunger will create tension or an urge that causes the person to eat in order to satisfy the hunger.

How does drive theory affect performance? ›

Drive Theory

This is a linear relationship between arousal and performance, as arousal increases sot ot does performance. However evidence suggests that this theory is only relevant up to a point, after which an athlete can be over aroused and performance decreases.

How would drive reduction theory explain a person accepting? ›

How would drive reduction theory explain a person accepting a new job with a higher salary but that requires more work and responsibility? The person takes the job to satisfy the secondary drive of increased salary. Money is a secondary drive people learn to associate with primary drives.

How does materialism affect human behavior? ›

We know from research that materialism tends to be associated with treating others in more competitive, manipulative and selfish ways, as well as with being less empathetic. Such behavior is usually not appreciated by the average person, although it is encouraged by some aspects of our capitalist economic system.

What does reductive materialism claim about minds and mental states? ›

Reductive materialists will insist that consciousness requires certain kinds of physical states to be present. So they may tend to view the presence of a brain as a requirement for consciousness. Functionalism claims that qualia, emotions and consciousness in general just are certain functional features of the brain.

What is reductionism in consciousness? ›

Reductionism, generally, is the idea that complex phenomena can be explained in terms of the arrangement and functioning of simpler, better understood parts. Key to strong reductionism, then, is the idea that consciousness can be broken down and explained in terms of simpler things.


1. Instincts, Arousal, Needs, Drives: Drive-reduction and Cognitive Theories
(Shreena Desai)
2. Drives part 1 - Freud's Drive Theory
(Berlin Psychoanalytic)
(Last Minute Taiyari by Neetu Sharma)
4. Theories of Motivation [AP Psychology Unit 7 Topic 1] (7.1)
(Mr. Sinn)
6. Intro to Motivation Notes for AP Psychology by Mandy Rice
(Mandy Rice)


Top Articles
Latest Posts
Article information

Author: Terrell Hackett

Last Updated: 12/07/2023

Views: 6430

Rating: 4.1 / 5 (72 voted)

Reviews: 95% of readers found this page helpful

Author information

Name: Terrell Hackett

Birthday: 1992-03-17

Address: Suite 453 459 Gibson Squares, East Adriane, AK 71925-5692

Phone: +21811810803470

Job: Chief Representative

Hobby: Board games, Rock climbing, Ghost hunting, Origami, Kabaddi, Mushroom hunting, Gaming

Introduction: My name is Terrell Hackett, I am a gleaming, brainy, courageous, helpful, healthy, cooperative, graceful person who loves writing and wants to share my knowledge and understanding with you.