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Attention and Motivation - The Motive Center
May 2nd, 2005
10:19 pm

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Attention and Motivation
As promised, let's talk about Attention Deficit Disorder! I have to note here that, while I am a psychologist, ADD as such is far from my specialty. Nevertheless, I have come to believe that motivation can indeed affect attention, whether it is the "formal" ADD or not. WARNING: Some of this is speculation!

Everyone has all three of the main motives, but to different degrees--often widely varying. As far as the research seems to show, the distribution is mostly random--you could be high or low on them in any combination. However, it is unlikely for you to be high in all three. It's like rolling three dice--it's likely one will be high, less likely that two, and very unlikely that all three will come out high. Most people generally have one high, one in the mid-range, and one low.

There are exceptions, however: some people have more than one above the median. Also, if you have a low motive temporarily aroused, you might find yourself with double (or triple) high motivation. What does this mean?

I asked David McClelland once what kind of person had all three motives high. He said: "Confused."


Why is this so? Think about it. These motives are about emotional engagement--what you find fun, enjoyable, exciting, or what frustrates you to be without. But we are talking about very different things!

Achievement motive: doing things better, improving or making more efficient, taking moderate-but-challenging risks. Affiliation motive: getting along with people in a friendly way, belonging to a group, enjoying people. Influence/Power motive: having an impact or influence on others. Two are about people, the third is not. One is focused on getting along, the other two are not. One is about doing the best regardless of people, the other two aren't. You get the idea.

With more than one motive high, different things will attract you. Some situations pull on all three motives, but in different directions! Say you are on a team working on a project, and one person isn't doing well. The Power motive is whispering: "help the guy--coach him a bit." The Affiliation motive is saying "but it will hurt his feelings to know he's not doing well." And the Achievement motive is saying "Gangway! Competent person taking over!"

Now these are all sources of energy, too. This means that you need a lot of self-control to manage all this. I have observed (and it is a worthy area to study) that some people can "switch gears" readily whereas others seem to have problems focusing with one motive at once. Furthermore, just holding back your impulses takes self-control. Here's the kicker (finally): If you have three motives high and insufficient impulse control, you will be interested in everything and acting impulsively in (at least) three different directions. You won't be able to stick to one thing, because while you are satisfying one motive, the other two are getting "backed up" and frustrated, and eventually the restless energy will push you out of what you are doing and into something else. Sounds like ADD, doesn't it?

But wait, there's more! As I suggested earlier, it is possible for you to get a motive temporarily aroused. Happens all the time--meeting a new friend raises Affiliation, a difficult phone conversation raises Affiliation or Power, a big meeting raises Power, a structured situation with a clear goal and lots of measurement tends to raise the Achievement motive. So you could move from one motive well under control, to two motives, generating more energy than you can handle! The bigger the stress (and you remember last time I said there are motive-specific stressors, don't you?), the bigger the arousal.

I knew a person who was normally low on Affiliation--not excessively, but clearly not above the median--and extraordinarily high on Achievement motive. Normally he was an easygoing but energetic person: whatever worked, he liked, and he would patiently explain things as necessary. Then he went through an ugly divorce (two kids, one step), and at one point was screaming--no joke--at the staff in the office because something had been slightly delayed. His energy, always high, had exceeded his ability to manage it, because his Affiliation motive had been cranked to the ceiling by the conflict, and it wasn't a motive he was even used to dealing with. He became very difficult and impatient for a while.

What I am suggesting here is that, first of all, you can handle some kinds of stresses better than others; and secondly, that you can move from focused to having attention problems if you suddenly have multiple motives firing at once. Third, of course, is that if you are already high in multiple motives, you are going to look as if you have ADD, even if you don't. And I wonder if this is why some treatments don't work--they're treating the wrong thing.

I should note in passing that the way many ADD drugs work is to actually push people over the top of the Yerkes-Dodson "arousal bell curve," so that energy starts paradoxically decreasing. Ritalin is a stimulant! But stimulants only affect certain neurological systems, while each motive has its own related neurochemical system: Achievement has been linked to ADH, Affiliation to dopamine, and Power to epinephrine and norepinephrine. (There are some recent studies showing links with testosterone as well, which I have to read up on!) So it is possible for someone to get a drug which may exacerbate a motive excess.

Even people with a single very high motive--and insufficient impulse control--can have symptoms resembling those of ADD as well. One other symptom, I am told, is "hyperfocus." The idea seems to be that you can overfocus or underfocus, but not just focus appropriately! Well, a motive is emotional engagement, right? If you have just one motive very high, and find a task perfectly suited for it, it may be downright addictive in its attraction! On the other hand, without an appropriate task, you might be unable to channel that excess energy. Multiple motives, as noted, would just make it worse.

So perhaps that restless inability to focus is based on multi-motivational stress, eh?

As I said, this is speculative, but I suspect that I'm onto something here--or at least have found something that may contribute difficulties for people who definitely have ADD!

Current Music: How To Be A Millionaire

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From:whytcrow
Date:May 3rd, 2005 11:30 am (UTC)
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Wow, that explains much about what I went through a year or so ago. (Not saying I haven't seen that elsewhere in my life, but I was going through a huge amount of stress because of some unusual things in my life and confused is one way to put it).

BTW, I did some of the motive assessments in your book, and so far I have yet to find any one of them that is far and above the others. (The "what do you like to do" test put them exactly equal!). I'm going to play more with the picture test, part of which we did in my writing group (Cat Vacuuming Society). People freaked out when I suggested that they were strong in Power motive (it sounds scary, apparently), but then I nagged them to read the book. I'm trying to get a better handle on what motivates me since I'm going to be doing nothing but writing this summer (I'm going to the Odyssey workshop in Manchester, NH) and will need to keep myself from being stressed and staying motivated.
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From:stevekelner
Date:May 3rd, 2005 07:42 pm (UTC)

Motive assessments

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I've started calling the Power motive the "Influence" motive to avoid freaking people out. In English-speaking countries "Power" is a negative term. It isn't everywhere (it isn't in French, for example).

It is possible to be high in all three motives, you know...as indeed I am! Do try the Picture-Story Exercise, however--it's hard to score on your own, so I'd suggest getting the CVS together and share stories, because it is easier to score someone else's than your own. (Especially if Power scores high!)

There is that section in my book on having all three motives high--in some ways I've expanded on it here, but I probably wrote more clearly in my book!

Good luck on the workshop--read the workshop section; it might help.
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From:whytcrow
Date:May 14th, 2005 08:23 am (UTC)

Re: Motive assessments

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We did the picture story exercise in combination with the hobbies/et al chart in the book. It was very interesting! (I scored equally in all three in both types of exercise). Some people were very surprised to see their results. It was fascinating.
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From:stevekelner
Date:May 14th, 2005 09:05 am (UTC)

Re: Motive assessments

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Aha! So you are in the "confused" category, eh? I am delighted that people were surprised to see their results--that probably means it was working! Nonconscious motives and conscious values have no relation to each other, but people know their values. If they got different answers from what they expected, it probably did indeed tap into their motives.
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From:whytcrow
Date:May 14th, 2005 08:21 am (UTC)
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One of the members of my writing group has written a detailed review of MYW on her LJ.
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From:stevekelner
Date:May 14th, 2005 09:06 am (UTC)

Review

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And a darn good one it was, too! I thought her concerns were extremely well-taken, and gives me some ideas for what to do in this LJ next!
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From:loupnoir
Date:May 28th, 2005 07:13 pm (UTC)
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Just thought I'd let you know that your book is helping me get my editing done.

After suffering through one of my ego let-downs wherein that obnoxious inner critic made me wonder who would want to read my manuscript, I opened up your book and took a look at the rewriting secion. To paraphrase, since the book is in another room: the only person who has to want to read your book is you.

That got me over the hump and made me read my first three chapters. They aren't bad. Yeah, there's some editing that should be done, but I liked them and would have kept reading them.

Good advice.
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From:stevekelner
Date:May 28th, 2005 07:52 pm (UTC)

Rewriting

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Thanks! I try. (You quoted pretty accurately, incidentally.) It may sound weird that you are your own audience, but if you are the kind of person who is your own strictest audience--what better test? I once outlined an entire fantasy novel while in high school, and when telling the story to my (then) girlfriend, suddenly stopped and said "wait--this sucks!" Her reaction was "No! Keep telling me the story! I want to know how it ends!" Perhaps I was too strict--she's become an award-winning poet since--but I abandoned that story right after finishing my precis of it to her.

Keep going! Your comment encouraged me to post after two weeks of exhausting travel...
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