Extrinsic and intrinsic motivation: when do rewards harm?
Extrinsic and intrinsic motivation
Most people understand the concept of intrinsic satisfaction or intrinsic motivation, i.e. when an activity is satisfying or pleasurable in and of itself. Naturally, these activities are things we like and want to do. For most of us, intrinsically enjoyable activities are things like eating, resting, laughing, playing games, winning, creating, seeing and hearing beautiful things and people, being held lovingly, having sex, and so on. To do these things we don't need to be paid, applauded, cheered, thanked, respected, or anything--commonly we do them for the good feelings we automatically and naturally get from the activity. Intrinsic rewards also involve pleasurable internal feelings or thoughts, like feeling proud or having a sense of mastery following studying hard and succeeding in a class.
Many, maybe most, activities are not intrinsically satisfying enough to get most of us to do them consistently, so extrinsic motivation needs to be applied in the form of rewards (positive reinforcements), incentives, or as a way to avoid some unpleasant condition ("negative reinforcement" or punishment). Examples: You work doing an ordinary job for pay. You study for good grades or to avoid failing or to prepare for a good future. You do housework to get a clean, organized house and/or a spouse's appreciation or to avoid her/his disapproval. A teenager comes home from a date on time in order to avoid being grounded. These are all activities that are commonly sustained by external pay offs, not because you love working, studying, cleaning, and coming home early.
Intrinsically and extrinsically motivated activities may look the same on the outside but they are quite different. For instance, studying primarily to get good grades or for someone's praise or to get admitted to graduate school is internally different--it feels different and our focus is different--from studying because learning fascinates you or makes you feel proud and confident. These activities are experienced differently and they occur under different conditions of reinforcement; however, both intrinsic and extrinsic rewards (reinforcements) are very important to every person... and complexly intermixed. It is usually easier to set up or arrange extrinsically motivating conditions than to increase one's intrinsic interest and satisfaction in some behavior. So, it isn't surprising that our culture attends more to providing social-economic pay offs than to increasing intrinsic satisfaction at work or in school.
A brief technical point: Behavior Analysts do not use the term "reward" because it is not precisely defined. They prefer the term "reinforcer" because, by definition, a reinforcer increases the frequency of some prior behavior. On the other hand, the term "reward" in everyday language usually means trying to support or strengthen some desired behavior by making that behavior pay off or pleasant. However, we do not know for sure the consequences of giving a reward. Therefore, it seems appropriate, in the context of imprecise real life, to use the word "rewards." As we will soon see, rewards do not always strengthen the previous behavior.
Extrinsic reinforcement has been discussed earlier in the chapter and the details about arranging rewards to increase the frequency of a desired behavior are given in chapter 11. As explained there, to be effective motivators the extrinsic rewards and intrinsic satisfactions have to be clearly "contingent" (closely following or associated with) or caused by the target behavior. There is also a short section in chapter 11 about increasing intrinsic satisfaction.
It is noteworthy that "addictions" seem to be intrinsically satisfying behaviors that have also acquired the additional capacity to reduce our anxiety level or meet some other emotional needs. This combination of intrinsic pleasure with pain reduction pushes the addictive behavior out of control. See the discussion of addictions near the end of this chapter.
The controversy about rewards and intrinsic satisfaction
There are many activities that are intrinsically satisfying to some people but not to other people. Consider how differently people feel about studying for class, reading scientific information, playing competitive games, watching sports, dancing, cleaning house, taking risks, and so on. This diversity certainly suggests that our past experiences can have a powerful influence on determining what is intrinsically satisfying to an individual. In many activities, intrinsically satisfying aspects combine with extrinsic pay offs, e.g. we intrinsically enjoy conversing and, at the same time, we get attention, praise, support and useful information. Or, if we are very lucky, we get great satisfaction out of our work and we get paid. In these cases where intrinsic and extrinsic motivations are mixed, one might suppose that over a period of time the accompanying extrinsic reinforcements gradually increase our intrinsic enjoyment of the activity... and perhaps vice versa. That is, a high salary may, in time, make the work seem more enjoyable. And highly satisfying work may help one feel okay about a low salary or even proud of doing important work for little pay.
It would be ideal, perhaps, if we intrinsically enjoyed all the activities we need to do, like study, work, clean out the garage, accurately keep our check book balance, etc., etc. Of course, there are some activities that have been made satisfying by our biology. Sexual stimulation is enjoyable innately. Achievement and mastery give most of us a good feeling. Loving and being loved are usually great joys. Believing that a powerful God is closely attending to us and will protect us might well be quite gratifying and reassuring. We don't have to set up these particular behavior-reinforcement contingencies; they are mostly pre-arranged by nature or our culture.
It seems likely, since we aren't born with a need to clean house or a resentment of that chore, that intrinsic satisfaction can be increased or decreased by our learning experiences, thought processes, and other reinforcers in the environment. Changing intrinsic satisfaction is very unexplored territory, even though there has been a big 20-year controversy about whether or not giving extrinsic rewards, like money, reduces a person's interest in doing tasks that are already quite interesting.
The loudest voices during this argument have contended in many articles and books that providing a lucrative or intense incentive program to encourage high productivity is likely to actually reduce the employees' intrinsic interest in their work and, thus, would be, in the long run, counterproductive. Or, the classic contention in education is that giving extrinsic rewards, like money for "A's," for doing something that could or should be quite pleasurable, like studying, would reduce the intrinsic satisfaction obtained from studying and be problematic in the course of a life-time of learning. Intuitively, that notion sounded believable...and some research supported it... but the crux of that argument was that rewarding behavior makes the behavior less likely to occur. That is counter to the basic laws of learning. What are the facts (as of today)?
Recent research and the controversy
Cameron, Banko and Pierce (2001), spokespersons for one side of the debate, recently reviewed over 100 studies assessing the relationship between receiving rewards for some behavior and the subsequent intrinsic interest in that behavior and concluded:
(1) Considering the overall results, receiving rewards does not, under all conditions, reduce one's intrinsic motivation to carry out the task (later without a reward).
(2) Rewarding persons for carrying out tasks of low interest tends to increase the intrinsic pleasure one gets from doing the task. So, rewards are important in increasing intrinsic satisfaction with or motivation to do low-interest activities.
(3) Receiving verbal praise and positive feedback increases the intrinsic satisfaction derived from that activity. This is true while doing both high-interest or low-interest tasks.
(4) The effects of receiving tangible rewards while doing high interest activities depends on the specific conditions under which the rewards are given. If the rewards are tangible, announced ahead of time, and explicitly offered for completing a task or for doing well on the task, the intrinsic interest in doing these tasks is less during a later free-choice time period. (In other words, make the task like "work for pay" or like a job you are directed to do and people will lose some interest.) Likewise, rewarding each unit successfully completed or solved ("piece work") also reduced intrinsic interest (while often increasing productivity!). Moreover, not surprisingly, if the reward is dispensed in such a way as to imply that the performance was poor, that will also reduce intrinsic interest in the task. (People don't like to be pushed, controlled, or told they are failing.)
On the other hand, when rewards, such as praise, are based on performance standards that imply one is doing well and performing competently, then the intrinsic interest increases. (People like to be told they are doing well.) Indeed, in real life studies, Flora and Flora (1999) have reported that even paying or otherwise rewarding children for reading books did not have a negative effect on their reading or their intrinsic interest in reading in college.
In certain ways, both the Behaviorists (who lecture to us about the use of non-technical terms, such as rewards) and the Cognitive Evaluation theorists (who contend that giving extrinsic rewards to students kills their love of learning) seem to be right part of the time. Rewards sometimes reduce our interest in an activity and sometimes they stimulate our interest. You need to know when rewards help and when they harm. Some guidelines for deciding when and how to best use rewards are given above, but these decisions are often rather difficult. Let's see if we can understand the effects of rewards better.
Why and how external rewards sometimes reduce intrinsic satisfaction
Experiencing intrinsic satisfaction is something that rather automatically occurs inside us, it doesn't depend on conscious intention, anyone else doing anything, or even on the existence of a tangible reward. It is a feeling, not necessarily an action; it may not be detectable by others. We probably feel vaguely responsible for liking to read or paint or garden... but we may not be able to explain it. Ask someone why he/she likes to read history or work on cars, and they will say, "Oh, I just like to do it" or "I just find it interesting." It is a free, naturally occurring, and dependable pay off. Getting it arranged in the first place may be difficult.
On the other hand, extrinsic pay offs are pretty obvious--we get a pay check, grades, compliments, etc. Usually, there isn't anything subtle or vague about the connection between our behavior and the reinforcement; we know what the behavior leads to what consequences. It is quite clear that only a few rewards are arranged by us for us, i.e. for self-control, but most rewards come from others, including our economic and social systems. Indeed, many of us are well aware of life-long experiences with people--parents, caretakers, teachers, bosses, friends, spouses--trying to use extrinsic motivators to get us to do a million things that we don't really want to do. They try to motivate us with rewards, including money, criticism, grades and evaluations, promises or bribes, sweet talk and praise, pleas, threats of rejection or resentment, etc.--all are extrinsic motivators, several involve the use of power. Partly as a result of these experiences, most of us, since about age 3, harbor some resistance to external control. We would like to feel free and competent and "in control" or "I'm doing it my way." Of course, getting a reward which signifies that we are doing something valuable and/or doing it exceptionally well is certainly different from getting the same reward for "doing what I asked you to do" or for "living up to my standards." So, it is not surprising that many of us resist external pressure (and, thus, some aspects of extrinsic motivation).
Also, note that if an extrinsic reward system has been designed to control one's actions and quickly produce some product or accomplish a very precise outcome, the required actions will very likely focus one's attention on each small precise step and on speed, like a robot. This concentration on efficiency results in little time to think about how to make improvements in the process, little motivation to be creative, and little intrinsic satisfaction in the activity. This concentration on performing well is also often true when we are competing and trying to win. In a similar way, when we strive to gain someone's praise or approval, that effort is likely to detract us from actually enjoying accomplishing the task (but we like the attention, if we get it). For a variety of reasons it frequently feels better doing what we want, how we want to do it, and at our own pace. Autonomy and freedom from demands is the preferred state for many of us...BUT without explicit directions and guidance will students learn what others think they should learn? Some will, some won't. Without clear guidelines and rewards for carrying out one's work will we be as efficient as others want us to be? Probably not, so some tension between "freedom" (intrinsic motivation) and control by others (extrinsic), often using rewards, continues. This isn't just a conflict within a person, it is a group or social argument. Since the joy of learning and of enjoying your skills at work are highly valuable reactions to have, teachers and employers naturally became concerned about the provision of incentive programs based on certain kinds of extrinsic rewards given under overly-controlling conditions.
Much, much more study is needed but it seems that rewards, in general, are highly beneficial and appropriate to use, except when people are engaged in activities that are already high-interest (and probably don't need additional motivation) or could be. This conflict between intrisic and extrinic motivation is important to understand both when we are simply trying to understand behavior and when we are trying to arrange optimal conditions for encouraging desired behaviors. Therefore, I will discuss several more situations that hopefully will shed more light on this unique behavior management problem.
Rewards and intrinsic satisfaction in conflict--a rare but real event
Sometimes, rewarding a behavior makes it less likely to occur in the future (Kohn, 1993; Cameron, Banko, & Pierce, 2001). Wow! That seems strange. It is contrary to everything else I'm telling you in this book. How could this happen? We will discuss several interesting circumstances, some based on research but others involve pure speculation:
(1) Some so-called "rewards" can have insulting implications, such as "Son, I'll give you a dollar to mow the lawn" or "Honey, I need more sex; I'll give you $5.00 every time we make love." While these examples are rather silly, it isn't uncommon to hear someone say, "I'm not going to work for minimum wage." The poor pay ("reward") can be seen as demeaning.
Overly glowing praise can sometimes imply that you have limited ability, such as when people say to you, "It's great you did so well!" and it is clear that they didn't expect you to do nearly so well. If the basic message is that they think you have little ability, that is not rewarding.
(2) As the research summarized above shows, rewards may sometimes reduce the intrinsic satisfaction we get from an enjoyable activity. There is a wonderful baseball story that may illustrate this outcome, called the "overjustification effect." An old man was bothered by kids playing ball and yelling every day in an empty lot next to his house. He knew he couldn't just chase them away. So, he offered each one of them 25 cents (this was years ago) to play and yell real loud. They always played there anyway and the addition of money was great, so they did. He did the same thing the next day and the day after that, urging them to make a lot of noise. The kids were delighted. On the fourth day, however, the old man told them he was sorry but he could only pay them 15 cents. They grumbled but did it anyhow. The fifth day, he told them he could only pay 5 cents. The kids left and never came back! Why did this happen? Remember attribution theory? Perhaps the old man had changed the kids' thinking from "I love to play ball here" to "I'm just playing here for the money (an overjustification--an over emphasis on the money)." In this way, a little "reward" seemed to reduce the overall satisfaction the kids got from playing. Of course, the kids may still love playing somewhere else, just not for the old man. However, haven't you heard people say, "I just work for the money" or "I just study for the grade?" They are overjustifying too and are depriving themselves of many satisfactions. It's not surprising that people lose interest in things they have been bribed to do (Kohn, 1993).
On the other hand, if the old man had wanted to increase the playing and noise level, he could have given them the money each day and never reduced or stopped it. I don't know this for sure but their love of the game would probably have increased with the addition of monetary rewards for just showing up (without the demands for more noise), especially among the kids who only marginally liked playing ball. So, it was likely the manipulative taking away of the money and the demands that caused the kids to stop playing, not the giving of extrinsic rewards.
Others believe there are other kinds of risks in using rewards. Adlerian psychologists oppose rewards because they emphasize the controlling or superior position of the rewarder and the dependent, inferior position of the rewardee. As mentioned above, many people resent reward systems; they feel they are being treated like a child or in a mechanical, impersonal, manipulative manner. Conversely, people in power sometimes oppose giving rewards, e.g. to disadvantaged students for studying because "that is what students should be doing anyhow." (No one ever says, "Don't pay leaders or professors... that is what they should be doing anyhow.") In fact, 150 years ago New York City schools established a reward system (like today's "token economies") paying students for doing well. A few years later the experiment, which had been successful, was terminated because it "encouraged a mercenary spirit." All this opposition to rewards makes it hard to establish effective systems. By recognizing and balancing both extrinsic and intrinsic reinforcement perhaps we can get our motivational systems to work better.
For instance, suppose John (the case we discussed earlier) had decided to stop procrastinating for one semester. If his grades improved a lot, that would have reinforced studying. But grades are extrinsic (like the old man's 25 cents), and as long as his grades are good enough, he is okay. But, John has done nothing to increase his intrinsic satisfaction, such as saying to himself "this is interesting stuff" or "I'm proud of myself" or "I like learning useful information." If his grades don't go up and stay up, he may give up and resort to playing again. Thus, like the kids playing ball, John needs to be aware of and work on getting more extrinsic and intrinsic reinforcement for studying. It is a lesson for most of us. Many of us see our work as boring and meaningless, even though we are producing a wonderful product or service for someone. We have lost the intrinsic satisfaction (pride) the craftsman had in his work.
(3) Some rewards are used as bribes. This means they are usually offered after the other person has been resisting or procrastinating. Thus, the reward may reinforce resisting again in the future rather than doing the task without being reminded. Example: Suppose your 13-year-old has put off her chore of mowing the lawn for 3 or 4 days but you want it done before company comes this evening. So, you say, "Jane, besides getting the usual $20, you can spend the night at Nancy's, if you mow the lawn before seven." Does that reinforce mowing the lawn or procrastination? Clearly, procrastination... or maybe both (but what else can you do, if you want the lawn mowed!).
When children are "offered" a reward for reading, they tend to choose the easiest and shortest books, not the most interesting, informative, or provocative. Please note that the children are negotiating the smart "business-like" way, i.e. getting the most pay off for the least amount of work! The parents might be well advised to first discuss with their children how to wisely choose a book.
To the extent we do anything--work or play--for an external payoff, even for praise and admiration, we may start to feel controlled by the payoffs. For instance, focusing on what is called "ego involvement ," such as "am I doing better than others?" or "are they watching and thinking I'm doing a great job?", seems to reduce our "task involvement" and intrinsic satisfaction in actually performing the task. Thus, we might start to believe that the task isn't worth doing unless others are impressed or unless someone is paying us to do the task.
(4) Rosen (1982) found that asking phobic subjects to reward themselves disrupted their progress in using another method (desensitization) to reduce fears. He suggested that compliance with instructions is greater with simple instructions. He felt that adding self-administered rewards complicated things too much. (Note, however, that Rosen's subjects were told to self-reward; they did not plan their own project and decide to do this on their own.)
(5) Both behavioral and cognitive-oriented researchers have reported that extrinsic rewards, like money or an award, may under several specific conditions harm the performance on interesting, creative tasks. Kohn (1993) documents this harm done by rewards in many instances. It is a serious concern. Here are a couple of examples of studies: young children lost some interest in their favorite art work if they were asked to "do good work for 2 weeks" to get a reward. Similar children just left alone did not lose interest. Of course, rewards are necessary with uninteresting tasks, like most service jobs and factory work. However, paying persons for doing interesting, satisfying tasks, such as tutoring young children, led to a poorer performance, less satisfaction, and more irritability. Offering $20.00 to give blood discourages some people from giving. John Condry called rewards "the enemy of exploration."
In many of the experiments in this area, the behavior linked with extrinsic rewards became somewhat (not radically) less likely to occur after the rewards ("bribes") are withdrawn. Perhaps, as in the case of the old man paying the boys playing ball, it is the withdrawal of former rewards that is problematic. The most believable explanation for these results, however, is that being paid off for doing something makes it seem more like work than fun. If a person were reading/studying without extrinsic reinforcement (not being paid nor graded nor looking for a job), he/she might say, "I must really find science and history intriguing; I read it so much." A task seems less enjoyable and less interesting when it is something you "have to do" in order to get a reward; you forget the good and satisfaction in doing the task. Interestingly, rewards in the form of praise for doing good work (and being able) seldom reduce interest and usually increase it.
Please note that almost all these "problems" with rewards occur only when the reinforcement is controlled or manipulated by someone else. Self-reinforcement (and even self-punishment) may be less problematic. When a person feels in control and doing something intrinsically satisfying, they feel positive, self-directed, and competent. The implications are that living according to your values is important (see chapter 3) and that one should find interest and satisfaction in his/her work and studies. It is a tragedy that learning in school is potentially fascinating but becomes dull and stressful, a place where we are controlled, threatened with bad grades, and forced to do meaningless assignments. Work, making something valuable for another human being, becomes boring and selfish, i.e. done only for the money. How sad. We could change our view of the world and our explanations of our own behavior (see method #15 in chapter 11). Extrinsic rewards alone may produce an achieving society, but not necessarily a caring or happy society.
Don't jump to the silly conclusion, as some writers seem to suggest, that all extrinsic rewards are bad or ineffective. Rewards are vitally important, especially in self-control and with important tasks that are not highly interesting to us. Rewards given in an undemanding, encouraging, complimentary way even increase our intrinsic satisfaction doing tasks we have always liked to do. In this chapter and chapter 11, we will see the importance and power of rewards repeatedly. Rewards used wisely may be our most powerful tool for changing and maintaining behavior. But it may be a serious concern that our society is becoming so focused on the extrinsic and materialistic payoffs that, like the kids playing ball, we, as a society, are in danger of overlooking the many important intrinsic satisfactions in life. Intrinsic motivation can be engrossing for some people but for many of us it can easily be overpowered by commercialism and self-centered greed for trinkets and luxury. Our culture's increasing concentration on materialism, especially how much money we make, detracts us from the intrinsic pleasures of being caring, giving, just and fair, and just living morally with every living thing.
The conflict between intrinsic and extrinsic motives, viewed in a broad sense, seems to me to be neglected (see chapter 3). Maybe you can change that in your life. How both kinds of motivations are wisely used by a rational society is crucial to building a good life or a wise, empathic world community. Intrinsic interests can even improve one's self-care and health. For example, Curry, Wagner & Grothaus (1990) found that smokers were more likely to quit if they had intrinsic motives (better health, pride in self-control) than if they had extrinsic motives (save money, avoids disapproval of others). Researchers are also finding that intrinsic satisfaction in performing meaningful, important tasks is not only related to how much we achieve, but also to having high self-esteem, to self-efficacy or believing we are competent to handle work and problems, and to thinking of ourselves as being self-directed--in control of our lives.
Enjoying work and "getting into the flow" of the work
One of life's biggest decisions is what career to pursue. Learning to enjoy our work is a complex matter: (1) Intrinsic motivation to learn is complexly related to achievement. Examples: Intrinsic motivation, of course, leads to achievement, but achievement leads to more intrinsic motivation too. Why wouldn't a confident, contented, self-satisfied, self-motivated, self-controlled student or worker enjoy his/her studies and work more? But intrinsically motivated gifted students may see grades, college admission, and teacher evaluations, even praise, as unpleasant unwanted controls and pressures. These external pressures may be considered unimportant or be resented and resisted. On the other hand, certain extrinsically oriented students may need parent, peer, and teacher evaluations, especially praise, but, at the same time, see little connection between their efforts and their grades; thus, average grades may be less threatening to their ego. Other extrinsically motivated students are in a panic about their grades. We are just beginning to explore these important areas. Life's joys are largely intrinsic; lots of material things don't always make us happy. Satisfaction is gained in different ways by different folks, and you can change your way if you want to.
(2) Intrinsic satisfaction in our work is critically important. We spend 40 years at work--almost 100,000 hours. Csikszentmihalyi (1990) describes a welder in Chicago who was the "master mechanic" in his shop. Yet, he refused promotions to management; he didn't want to be "the boss." Joe worked in the same shop for over 30 years; he knew every piece of equipment and was fascinated with how it worked. When there was a problem, Joe could fix it. Most surprisingly, he loved his work; he enjoyed any job assigned to him; each job was an interesting challenge. After work, Joe didn't go to a bar with buddies to "forget about work," he went home and worked in a beautiful garden. With this attitude, it isn't surprising that Joe was liked and admired by everyone. Csikszentmihalyi calls this "flow"--fascination, concentration, and contentment with the task at hand. What a gift! Over 2000 years ago, the Chinese called it "Yu"--the proper way to live, without concern for external rewards, with joy and total commitment. Wouldn't it be wonderful if we could all "flow" most of the time? The recipe for flow isn't figured out for sure yet--too complex (see chapter 14, however). But a few lucky people figure it out for themselves. I found it right here writing to you. It involves a positive attitude.
Unconscious motives and payoffs
If, as we have seen, we are unaware of motives, payoffs, and blocks in our behavior, naturally we won't understand ourselves, not entirely. Chapter 15 will deal with unconscious processes in great detail, but here let's clarify the notion of the unconscious. There are probably thousands of neural processes constantly going on in our heads. Our brain is not built in such a way that we know about most of these processes; we are only aware of the final product. Examples: We remember our high school but we don't know the process by which the brain remembers it. We get jealous but we don't know the mental-emotional process that generates the feeling. We come up with a good idea but we don't know the process by which the idea was created, it just occurred to us. Thus, this is one kind of unconscious--necessary mental processing you have no natural means of knowing about.
Another kind of unconscious, sometimes called "preconscious," is when you do something automatically, without thinking. We brush all our teeth without thinking about each detail. We walk, dress, eat, smile, and even ride a bike or drive a car without much conscious thought. We could tune into these events and some of the thought processes involved if we chose to do so. This is mostly a beneficial unconscious process.
A third semi-conscious process involves the defenses, wishful thinking, and excuses used to allay our own guilt and anxiety. Often we quickly "go for" the immediate reward and overlook the long-range consequences--we eat the fatty meat and forget our health. Or we overlook problems in our marriage until our spouse files for divorce. Or our motives are so numerous (and rationalized) that we deny some of them--we have several reasons for accepting a certain job but neglect our attraction to someone we will be working with. Or we are convinced we must have a new car and don't even consider the economic advantages of an older, smaller car. Gaining self-awareness, which isn't too hard in some of these cases, involves getting a clearer view of these motives and payoffs (chapters 9 & 15). Perhaps some distortions of reality help us cope, e.g. avoiding thinking about our unavoidable death or thinking of heaven may be helpful.
Lastly, some psychologists believe that the unconscious primarily contains repressed urges and thoughts. Repression supposedly occurs because the thought is too awful, too serious (not just an excuse to buy a new car), too psychologically painful, to admit to ourselves consciously. If an idea were not shame or guilt-producing, you could supposedly think of it consciously with a little effort. Some ideas are very hard to face; in suicide people kill themselves to avoid painful ideas. According to the Freudians, we are selfish and driven by sexual and aggressive urges that we can not stand to think about, things like the desire for forbidden sexual activity, the urge to harm ourselves or others, the wish to dominate others, and so on. It would be possible for unseen parts of our brain to have these urges, other parts could detect these urges and develop some defenses against the urges, defenses that seem irrational and look neurotic or psychotic. Experts disagree about how much these "terrible" repressed motives affect our daily lives. You can decide for yourself, but surely these unacceptable thoughts and feelings are inside us sometimes and they would surely affect our behavior.
Experts also disagree about the importance of understanding your history and internal dynamics in order to figure out how to change. Behaviorists contend that this information isn't necessary; they think all one needs is a change is the environment so that the desired behavior is more reinforced than the unwanted behavior. Most other psychologists would disagree. I agree with the behaviorist in the sense that simple behavioral self-help (or therapy) methods may change very complex, poorly understood aspects of our lives, but we can't count on these simple methods always working. However, if I had my choice, I'd rather that we all were omnipotent and understood all our life-history, the laws of behavior (conscious and unconscious), the dynamics and methods of changing--everything!
A little experience with self-help shows the importance of keeping an open mind about causes and methods. Several years ago a bright student in my class was having difficulty studying because she wanted to party, relax, and socialize. She diligently tried rewarding studying by socializing afterwards (which works for many students). It didn't work for her; she partied all the time. In the meantime, she became interested in Transactional Analysis (see chapter 9) as a means of gaining self-understanding. After recognizing her "child's" need to play and socialize, she started to have fun first (satisfying the "child"), then she could study (satisfying the "adult"). For most students it works better to say, "work first, then play." For this unique student, and contrary to learning theory (on the surface), it needed to be turned around--play first, then work. Or another way to say it is that she needed to attend more to her emotions (levels II and V) than to her behavior. Or, Maslow would say she needed to take care of her social needs before self-actualizing as a student. Few of our behaviors are simple.