Pros & cons of drive theory

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During the 1950's drive theory was a popular idea that sought to explain human behaviour, learning and motivation. A psychologist named Clark Leonard Hull used a mathematical system to develop the theory. Hull said that a person's needs act as internal stimuli, and that a person reduces the stimuli by taking action to satisfy the needs. The pros of drive theory relate to the way it explains achievement and survival. The cons are drive theory's failure to take account of certain human responses and actions.


Psychologists have used drive theory to examine sporting performance. According to the theory, the desire to satisfy a need leads to a state of arousal, a term that psychologists use to refer to motivation. An increased level of arousal creates a better sporting performance. However, drive theory says that an athlete must already be an expert professional for arousal to lead to greater success. It also says that increased arousal makes the performance of a novice athlete worse not better.

Further pros

Drive theory helps to show what drives people to act in a certain way. In this regard, drive theory explains people's instinct for survival. It shows how people act to satisfy basic requirements that include sleep, thirst and hunger. According to drive theory, such human needs are biological. Other needs, safety and comfort for example, are psychological. Drive theory says that when people fulfil their biological and psychological needs, they learn how to satisfy them again in the future.


Drive theory explains basic human motivation but does not account for all the ways in which people act. A person may feel motivated to behave in a manner that has nothing to do with satisfying a basic need. For example, people who enjoy taking part in amateur motorcycling competitions are not satisfying simple biological or psychological needs. Instead. they want excitement and speed. Some human actions are therefore more complex than drive theory suggests.

Further cons

The actions that satisfy a basic human need are primary reinforcers. For example, a primary reinforcer is eating a meal to satisfy hunger. Secondary reinforcers are actions associated with primary reinforcers. In the context of a meal, a secondary reinforcer is the action of buying a cookbook and using one of the recipes. Drive theory recognises primary reinforcers as essential to human motivation and behaviour. However, drive theory fails to explain why people use secondary reinforcers.

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