Definition of the Drive Reduction Theory

Written by jennifer neel
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Definition of the Drive Reduction Theory
Drive reduction theory claims that learning is a response to satisfying basic needs. (stacks of book image by Orlando Florin Rosu from

Drive reduction theory, according to the "Encyclopedia of Psychology," is a popular theory introduced by U.S. psychologist Robert Hull in the 1940s. The theory ascribes behaviour to the need to decrease tensions generated by biological needs or other psychological drives.

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According to drive reduction theory, motivation to complete goals depends on the desire to meet basic biological and psychological needs. For example, the need for water occurs, making you feel thirsty, which then motivates you to drink water. The drive reduction theory claims that all behaviour is attributable to the pleasure we experience when we reduce these "drive-induced tensions," per the "Encyclopedia of Psychology."


Hull introduced drive reduction theory to explain learning. Just as behaviour responds to thirst or hunger, Hull believed that learning is only a response to meeting basic needs. In other words, learning only occurs when a basic drive impels you toward a reward that would lessen the drive and satisfy the need. This reduction in drive reinforces learning.


Hull's drive reduction theory has lost favour and his work is criticised for many reasons. Hull derived his behaviour laws from his study of rats, and many feel generalisation made with animals cannot explain human behaviour. Hull's drive reduction theory also fails to explain human behaviour that seeks, rather than relieves, tension, such as skydiving or roller-coaster riding.

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