Systems of Human Motivation


I decided in the summer of 2010, right after my undergraduate sophomore year at Stanford, to begin work on designing my own major, which I hope to get approved through the university’s Individually Designed Major (IDM) track.

The major is called “Systems of Human Motivation” and this page is dedicated to sharing what it’s all about–the ideas that fuel it, the courses it is comprised of, the reasoning behind creating it, and more.

Introduction

Motivation lies at the heart of human action. All action is the result of some motivational impulse, and it is through action that change is effected on the world. This relationship between motivation and the world as we see it makes motivation an extraordinarily fundamental thing.

But motivation is also very complex. Factors influencing human motivation on a case by case basis are too numerous and interwoven to deconstruct entirely. From cultural background to childhood development, value systems to heuristics that limit perspective, social pressures to biological influences, to name a few. However, as indicated in the preceding sentence, one can break down these factors into multifarious systems.

It is with these two notions in mind–the fundamentality of motivation and its complex but systematic nature–that I deem the Systems of Human Motivation a worthy topic of comprehensive study, and indeed propose the following individually designed major as a path for that study.

Systems Of Human Motivation – The Details

Aim: By studying the systems of human motivation I aim to gain a more nuanced perspective into the factors that influence conscious human behavior. It is my belief that such an understanding will provide invaluable insight into a large range of topics, including especially history, leadership, politics, empathy, and psychology.

Course List: Please see this page for a comprehensive course list. The list lays out not only the classes that comprise the major, but a detailed elaboration on each course’s role and importance within the major. Also included are categorical divisions and an elaboration on the importance of each category.

Themes: The following list comprises some of the major themes that have arisen thus far in my studies of factors that influence human motivation. The list is of course not comprehensive, and I will add to it as my thoughts and exposure further develop.

  • Information
    • Availability
    • Availability Cascade
    • Propaganda
    • Confirmation Bias
    • Framing
  • The Influence of Custom
  • Hierarchical Diffusion

Anticipatory Questions

Q: Why not study human motivation within the framework of a Psychology major?
A: While many subjects within the field of psychology are at the heart of this major, a thorough study of the systems of human motivation should go well beyond the course offerings for any track within Stanford’s Psychology major. In particular, it should look at cultural history at a level beyond the scope of cultural psychology courses (Global Human Geography A&B); delve into the realms of political philosophy and public policy, where motivating factors lead to many of the most significant uses and abuses of human volition (Justice at Home and Abroad, Noam Chomsky, etc.); and explore deeply the role of information and communication in providing the frameworks with which people construct motivations and actions (The Internet, Public Action, and Development; Campaigns, Voting, Media, and Elections; and the Dialogue of Democracy). In sum, a richer study of systems of human motivation can be achieved outside of the Psychology major’s limitations.

Q: What do you plan to do with this major?
A: I believe that the skills and insights cultivated by the Systems of Human Motivation major will be uniquely useful in a wide variety of leadership, managerial, social, promotional, business, and political positions. But beyond any consideration of job opportunity or lack thereof, I plan to follow the path laid out by this major because I see it as extraordinarily valuable in more important realms of life.