Motivation, a term used in psychology to mean the cause of behavior that is persistently directed toward a goal. A simple reflex action, such as jerking one's hand away from a hot stove, is not said to be motivated in the psychological sense. Motivation is usually made up of a combination of motives, which may also be called drives, incentives, or interests. Drives usually activate an individual to satisfy a physiological need, such as for food, sleep, or relief from pain. Incentives and interests are usually said to stimulate action that satisfies emotional and mental needs or desires.

Motivation is often based on acquired social values. Such values may motivate a person to seek a college education or to win the approval of others. Another person, with different social values, might reject higher education for the immediate goal of a job in order to buy a car and expensive clothes.

Adequate motivation is one of the important conditions for efficient learning. In general, the stronger the motivation, the more effectively the student will learn.

Motivation research is the study of consumers' reasons for buying or not buying certain items or services, and for preferring to do business with one firm rather than with another. Such research is a special interest to advertising agencies. Great emphasis is placed on discovering the consumer's hidden, or unconscious, motives. To discover these motives, researchers use special tests and interviews that must be conducted and interpreted by psychologists.

For example, in projective tests individuals are asked to respond to things such as words, sentences, and pictures. The responses are studied for the purpose of discovering various attitudes and opinions, called images. These images might depend on factors such as social class, occupation, age, and sex of the respondents, and can serve as a guide in creating advertisements. It might be found, for example, that a product is more likely to sell if its advertisement makes people feel that their social status will improve if they buy the product.

Not all psychologists accept the same theory of motivation or agree on the best way to conduct motivation research. However, conclusions reached by psychologists can serve as a source of ideas for advertising agencies.