The Harlow Experiment on Motivation

What are your goals in life? Are you having a tough time achieving them? Feeling overwhelmed and misguided by the number of distractions floating around in today’s society? Take a moment and examine your true self. What are your struggles in regard to pursuing your goals? Motivation perhaps? Although there are various elements to achievement, motivation has got to be near the top. This isn’t to say that you lack motivation. There may be a number of other things getting in the way. Frankly speaking, I do struggle with motivation. I have always struggled with motivation. I’ll start one goal and then get distracted by a number of other issues related to cost and reward. Quite frequently, I have carried the attitude of “what’s in it for me.” Not a very good perspective, I now know of course. Many times, I began a goal only to not see it through. This cycle has continually repeated itself throughout most of my life, which has lead me to look into the various aspects of motivation. What drives us to complete the task at hand? Most importantly, what is the type of motives that gives us the extra advantage of reaching our greatest achievements? How can I maintain this motivation for long periods of time without giving up? Let’s take a closer look.

I recently read a piece about an experiment that was done on two primates and their reaction to a simple contraption. A famous University of Wisconsin professor back in the 1940’s, by the name of Harry Harlow, created one of the first labs for studying primate behavior. On a day in 1949, Harlow and two colleagues got together with eight other monkeys for a two-week learning experiment. A simple mechanical puzzle was devised, requiring it to be solved by pulling out the vertical pin, unhooking it, and lifting the hinged cover. Although it would appear to be very easy to solve by you and me, it would be far more challenging to a lab monkey. The puzzles were placed in their cages and left for observation. Almost immediately, something amazing began to happen. The primates began working with the puzzles with a focused determination. Without any outside urging from the researchers, the monkeys began figuring out how the puzzles worked. At the end of the two week period, the puzzles were being solved with great speed and accuracy. Prior to the experiment, no one had taught the monkeys or rewarded them when they succeeded. At the conclusion of this experiment, scientists then understood that three main drives powered behavior; within, without, and intrinsic. The intrinsic theory was that the primates solved the puzzles because it was gratifying. It was enjoyable to them. The joy was its own reward. But given a reward, such as raisins, more errors were made by the monkeys and they solved the puzzles with less frequency. Introduction of reward actually acted as a disruption rather than an incentive.

This is very revealing to me. I have found that this experiment falls in line with my very own experiences. And……no……I have never lived in a cage with other animals. During the moments that I go after the money, I found that the motivation and drive does not last. And when I’m in the middle of my “money goal”, production and fulfillment are down. Take for example, a job that is extremely secure. I mean, you need an act of congress to fire anyone! It appears most of the employees in these types of environments are so secure with their jobs that they become content and eventually production takes a major hit. Would you believe me if I told you that fifty percent of the time, employees are found to be socializing at work with no fear of repercussions? Many times, these environments create a lot of unproductive workers. The incentives are pay based. It appears that the more you make, the less that is contributed. There is a lot of misconceptions and wandering around in today’s society. I am very interested in this topic. I believe we have to truly be passionate about our craft in order to succeed. What do you think? Please comment below and let me know the things you enjoyed about the post and if there’s anything that you would like to hear about.


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