The Anatomy of Motivation: An Evolutionary-Ecological Approach


There have been few attempts to bring evolutionary theory to the study of human motivation. From this perspective motives can be considered psychological mechanisms to produce behavior that solves evolutionarily important tasks in the human niche. From the dimensions of the human niche we deduce eight human needs: optimize the number and survival of gene copies; maintain bodily integrity; avoid external threats; optimize sexual, environmental, and social capital; and acquire reproductive and survival skills. These needs then serve as the foundation for a necessary and sufficient list of 15 human motives, which we label: lust, hunger, comfort, fear, disgust, attract, love, nurture, create, hoard, affiliate, status, justice, curiosity, and play. We show that these motives are consistent with evidence from the current literature. This approach provides us with a precise vocabulary for talking about motivation, the lack of which has hampered progress in behavioral science. Developing testable theories about the structure and function of motives is essential to the project of understanding the organization of animal cognition and learning, as well as for the applied behavioral sciences.


Aunger, R.; Curtis, V. The Anatomy of Motivation: An Evolutionary-Ecological Approach. Biological Theory (2013) : [DOI: 10.1007/s13752-013-0101-7]

The Anatomy of Motivation: An Evolutionary-Ecological Approach

Published 1 January 2013