Human Motivation & Affective Neuroscience Lab
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Differences between implicit and explicit motivation

Work conducted at the HuMAN Lab aims to outline the functional properties of and differences between implicit motivation (e.g., implicit motives) and explicit motivation (e.g., one's personal goals, self-attributed motives, values). Schultheiss (2001, 2008; Schultheiss & Brunstein, 2005) has proposed that implicit motives

  • respond to nonverbal stimuli (e.g., emotional expressions in others),
  • are intricately involved in nonconscious cognitive and affective processes such as attentional orienting, implicit learning, and hedonic evaluation, including their physiological consequences such as hormone release,
  • and influence non-declarative forms of behavior, that is, behavior that is emitted spontaneously and is not guided by a person's self-concept.
In contrast, explicit motivation
  • is triggered by verbal stimuli,
  • influences conscious cognitive and emotional processes, such as explicit learning and subjective emotional responses to events,
  • and guides strategic, declarative behavior, such as goal setting, decision making, and self-regulation.
Implicit motivation depends on evolutionarily old, but very sophisticated cognitive, affective, and behavioral systems that are guided by what is pleasant and what is aversive and that do not require language. Implicit motivation therefore operates 'underneath the radar' of language-based consciousness. In evolutionary terms, explicit motivation is a newcomer and critically dependent on language and its capacity to guide behavior through commands from others, commands given to oneself (i.e., self-directed speech), and an explicit knowledge of behavioral rules and values.

Although both systems operate independently, they can interact to facilitate behavior (such as when a person pursues an explicit achievement goal that matches a strong implicit achievement motive) or to create behavioral and emotional problems (such as when a person commits to an explicit achievement goal, but lacks the energy to pursue it vigorously and intelligently, because it is not backed up by a strong implicit achievement motive). Finally, information can also be exchanged between implicit and explicit motivational systems through referential processing, that is, the verbal labeling of nonverbal percepts and experiences and the translation of verbal information into a nonverbal format through imagination (Schultheiss, 2001, 2008).

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