1. Most people don’t know or understand their own motives.
The interpretation of motives is distorted for many reasons. Unlike pronounced physical attributes, psychological markers such as beliefs, preferences and dispositions cannot be examined directly. Complicating analysis is the reality that we assess the motives of others based upon the information and behaviors individuals prefer to present to us or based upon how people elect to publically portray themselves. Most people do not have the same “public” persona as they do in private, thus complicating accurate motive interpretation. The enigma of analysis is further exacerbated by the phenomena of social desirability, meaning that some behaviors are more culturally acceptable than others, and individuals will deliberately distort behaviors to meet the personal or societal expectations of others. For example, as Madoff had told me, one of his primary motives was how he performed in the eyes of his clients.
In addition, scientific evidence reveals that implicit motivations (those that are not in direct consciousness) are highly prevalent and exceedingly challenging to identify. These implicit motives are driven by habit and lack of conscious attention to what we do and why we do it and in many cases account for much of our daily behaviour.
Common terminology in motivational research
Self-report — the reliance upon individuals to provide personal interpretation of their motives, typically gathered through surveys or interviews.
Implicit motive — automatic motives not readily recognized within the direct stream of consciousness of an individual.
Habits — deeply engrained motives, behaviors, and actions acquired through experience or practice which are highly difficult to override.
Spurious — an erroneous interpretation attributing causality to an unwarranted cause when examining the relationship between two or more factors.
Traits — a generalized tendency to exhibit behaviors that are consistent and predictable.
Self-serving bias — the process whereby success is often justified as internally derived, but task failure is attributed to external ascriptions.
Confirmation bias — occurs when individuals identify problems or seek solutions that support their pre-existing notions while implicitly suppressing other plausible explanations of behaviour or motivation.