Sunday, September 30, 2012

Motivation and the Brain

Motivation and the Brain
     According to Dana Sterner, RN healthy eating is “the balance of moderation and nourishment from a wide variety of foods” (Sterner, 2009, p.38). The definition of healthy eating varies from person to person. There are biological and behavioral factors that contribute to the motivation for healthy eating. Several brain structures and hormones play a role in motivation (Braine, 2009). Intrinsic and extrinsic factors are involved in motivation. Hunger is the most powerful motivator for a person to consume food. The process of eating is to balance hunger with fullness and energy. Within this paper, I will discuss the brain structures involved in motivation as well as intrinsic and extrinsic factors in motivation to healthy eating.

Brain Structures involved in Motivation to Healthy Eating
     The limbic system is a system in the brain that plays a role in motivated behaviors, such as eating (Pinel, 2009). The hypothalamus is a brain structure that is important in the regulation of motivated behaviors. The hypothalamus receives information from the neural, endocrine, and metabolic signals (Braine, 2009). It then integrates them into behavioral, autonomic, and endocrine responses. In the 1940’s, Albert Hetherington and Stephen Ranson conducted experiments to suggest the role of the hypothalamus in relation to food intake regulation. These studies concluded that the hypothalamus did indeed play an important role. While some believe this to be a myth, the results of the studies named the lateral hypothalamic area as the feeding or hunger centre (Deckers, 2010). The ventromedial nucleus was named as the satiety centre.

Hormones Involved in Motivation of Healthy Eating
     Two key hormones related to motivation and eating are leptin and dopamine. Leptin is a hormone found centrally in the hypothalamus (Udden, Bjorntorp, Arner, Barkeling, Meurling,  & Rossner, 2003). Leptin is released by the adipose tissue in the body. This hormone is related to the energy storage from the consumption of food. Leptin is also related to the long term regulation of energy in our bodies as well as it decreases food intake. The amount of leptin correlates with a person’s body fat. Dopamine is a hormone related to the regulation of eating behaviors. Preclinical and imaging studies have shown that dopamine modulates factors of underlying motivation to eat (Volkow, Wang, Maynard, Jayne, Fowler, Zhu, Logan, Gatley, Ding, Wong,  & Pappas, 2002). Dopamine cells also predict rewards.

Intrinsic Factors Motivating Healthy Eating
Evolutionary Factors
     One intrinsic factor related to healthy eating is evolution. The primary purpose of eating is to supply the energy needed for the body to function (Pinel, 2009). Our body sends us the signals that it needs more energy. The hypothalamus, along with the hormone leptin, works while we eat to regulate the stored energy. Once our stored energy level is met, we receive the feeling of fullness. Some researchers are unsure about the full realm of evolution and healthy eating as in history people over ate to compensate for the unknowing of future food supplies (Pinel, 2009).

Genetic Factors
     Several genetic factors such as illnesses, diseases, allergies and predisposition to taste play a role in healthy eating. Those with a family history of an illness like diabetes may change his or her diet to accommodate the restraints. A person with an allergy to a food product such as eggs will have to find another alternative to gain the same nutrition. Humans are born with the innate taste for some foods over others (Deckers, 2010). A person’s like or dislike for a taste is helped formed by his or her genetics.

Extrinsic Factors Motivating Healthy Eating
Social Encouragement
     The bad dietary habits formed in childhood can lead to problems in adulthood. Therefore, it is important to promote healthy eating for not just adults but children as well. While there is a desire to be thin in today’s society, the proper eating habits can aid a person to being a healthy weight. The encouragement of others around us a valuable key in the motivation process of healthy eating. For the person who thrives of off positive reinforcement, social encouragement is vital. Surrounding yourself with people who accept you without the pressure of making unhealthy choices is also vital in motivation.

Positive Reinforcement
     When surrounded by a loving and accepting social circle, a person may decide to make the healthier lifestyle choices. Positive reinforcement from this circle is vital to helping one succeed in making the healthiest choices. When members of the social circle are making the same healthy choices, it is positive reinforcement for an individual to do the same. In today’s society where the unhealthy options are readily available, it takes the strong positive reinforcement to help keep one on track with motivation.

     Motivation is complex and multi-faceted. Both biological and environmental factors play a role in motivation as related to healthy eating. The brain structures of the limbic system and the hypothalamus aid in the behavior of eating as well as the processes of energy storage and fullness. The hormones leptin and dopamine are also biological factors that play a role in the behavior of eating. Evolution of humans as well as a person’s genetics is important in understanding how one eats and what one eats. When there is pressure in today’s society to make unhealthy decisions, a positive social circle as well as promotion of healthy choices is vital in motivating one to eat healthy. When these factors are combined together, the result can be a motivated individual who makes the proper choices to maintain a healthy eating lifestyle.


Braine, M. (2009). The role of the hypothalamus, part 1: the regulation of temperature and hunger. British Journal of Neuroscience Nursing, 5(2), 66-72.

Deckers, L. (2010). Motivation: biological, psychological and environmental (3rd ed.). Boston, MA: Pearson/Allyn & Bacon.

Pinel, J. (2009). Biopsychology (7th ed.). Boston, MA: Pearson/Allyn & Bacon.

Sterner, D. (2009). What is healthy eating? RN, 72(6), 38.

Udden, J., Bjorntorp, P., Arner, P., Barkeling, B., Meurling, L., & Rossner, S. (2003). Effects of glucorticoids on leptin levels and eating behaviour in women. Journal of Internal Medicine, 253(2), 225-231.

Volkow, N., Wang, G., Maynard, L., Jayne, M., Fowler, J. S., Zhu, W., Logan, J., Gatley, S. J., Ding, Y., Wong, C., & Pappas, N. (2002). Brain dopamine is associated with eating behavior in humans. The International Journal of Eating Disorders, 33(2), 136-142.

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Sunday, September 16, 2012

Sources of Motivation

     Motivational speaker and former college football coach, Lou Holtz, once said, “Motivation determines what you do” (Holtz, 2012). Motivation is an important component of behavior. Motivation has biological, cognitive and social aspects (McGraw-Hill, 2011). Motivation comes by way of different sources and has different effects on people. Motivation is one reason why a person accomplishes what, or behaves the way that, he or she does. 

Motivation Defined
      Motivation is “all the processes that initiate, direct, and sustain behavior” (Wood, Wood, & Boyd, 2011, p.337). Motivation is comprised of many aspects which are used to develop theories, or approaches, to explain the reasons for people’s behavior. These aspects include biological, cognitive and social (McGraw-Hill, 2011). Psychologists believe that motivation is comprised of three components, activation, persistence, and intensity. Activation consists of the first steps to achieving a goal. Persistence is the continued effort to achieve a goal. Finally, intensity is the focused energy and attention applied to achieving a goal. Activation, persistence and intensity are all involved in defining motivation.

Sources of Motivation
       Wood, Wood, & Boyd explains motives as being needs or desires that direct behavior toward a goal (2011). Motives can be intrinsic or extrinsic. Motives can come from primary drives or social motives. According to Deckers, the two basic sources of motivation are internal and external (2010). Internal sources may be biological variables or psychological variables. Biological variables pertain to characteristics of the brain or body, also called primary drives. Primary drives are unlearned motives. Examples of these are hunger or thirst. Psychological variables can include emotions or a person’s past experiences. Self – esteem is an example of a psychological variable. When a person has a desire to behave a certain way because it is satisfying is intrinsic motivation. An example is playing a game just for fun. However, extrinsic motivation is the desire to behave a certain way to gain an external reward. An example is playing a game for money. The money is the reward and becomes the motivator for playing the game well. External sources include environmental variables. Examples of external variables are jobs, bonuses, money, etc. Social motives are learned through experience and interactions with others.

Relationship between Motivation and Behavior
     Motivation is the force behind behavior. Motivational sources are what push or pull a person to behave a certain way (Deckers, 2010). Hunger is a basic human need. When a person feels hunger, it usually pushes them to eat. After eating, the hunger need is fulfilled. Hunger is the motivational variable that pushes the person towards the goal of fulfillment of a need. Motivational factors can be different for each person and the same factor can cause two people to behave differently. For example, two people both have the desire to have money. Person A, in order to fulfill that desire, gets a job. Person B, on the other hand, decides to steal money. Both had the same motivational desire. However, the two used the motivation to commit two different behaviors.

Motivation Exhibited in Behavior
      Motivation has a crucial role in behavior (Pessoa, 2009). Motivation is evident in most of the behavior around us. A student who wants good grades is motivated to study more. A woman who wants a man’s attention is motivated to dress and present herself in a way to draw the attention. A man desiring money is motivated to work harder. While these examples show positive motivation and behaviors, it can also be negative. A man who wants a woman’s attention may behave negatively to attempt to gain it. A person desiring more money may resort to illegal methods to obtain it. Motives drive a person to behave in a way to help him or her accomplish a goal, or fulfill a need.

     Motivation directs the behavior of humans in order to accomplish a goal. The sources of motivation can come from several different aspects. While some are motivated for internal reasons, others may be motivated for external reasons. Motives are the underlying component for the behaviors we exhibit. Understanding the sources of motivation is important in order to understand the behaviors.

Monday, September 10, 2012

Gender Identity

       Gender identity is a complex and multi-dimensional element of a person (Egan & Perry, 2001). Gender identity is the self – identification as male or female. Gender identity, however, is not the same as sexual orientation (Sue, Sue, & Sue, 2010). Both biological and environmental factors contribute to one’s gender identity. Many people have the assumption that there are male and female hormones that determine gender identity (Pinel, 2009). However, this is not the case. In this paper, I will discuss how hormones, as well as environment, affect one’s gender identity and behavior.

Biological Factors and Sexual Differentiation
        The human body consists of many hormones. Among them are androgens, estrogens, and progestins. Androgens and estrogens are both the most common classes of gonadal hormones. A third class of gonadal hormones is progestins. The most common progestin is progesterone. Progesterone prepares the uterus and breasts for pregnancy in females; however it is unclear of its purpose in males (Pinel, 2009). Although it is widely assumed that androgens are “male” hormones and estrogens are “female” hormones. In actuality, men and women have the same hormones although at different levels. These hormones also do not perform the same functions in both sexes.
        Males and females are both exposed to high levels of estrogens during the fetal stage. However, males are exposed to high androgen levels during the same period (Swabb, 2004). Studies on female humans show that an early exposure to male hormones can result in more masculine behaviors. In studies of men with low testosterone levels, it was discovered that they had female – like behavior patterns. In an animal study, male rats were castrated (Sue, Sue,  & Sue, 2010). Castration reduced the production of testosterone and as a result, the rats began displaying female – like behaviors.
       Not all current research supports the theory that sex hormones are the driving force behind one’s gender identity. There has been animal experimentation evidence supporting other biological factors. One such study supported the theory that dopaminergic neurons may develop functional sex functions when sex hormones are absent (Swabb, 2004). According to this research, the genes believed to play a role in gender identity are located on the recombining part of the Y chromosome. The two particular genes are ZFY and SRY, which both influence the testis. Also, both these genes are transcribed in the hypothalamus and frontal and temporal cortex in men. These genes are not found in women. This could possibly mean that sex – specific cell – intrinsic signals are needed for a full differentiation on male brains. Several biological factors can impact gender identity, such as neurohormonal factors, genetics and brain differences.

Environmental Factors and Sexual Differentiation
        Over the last thirty years, the assumptions of how men and women should act have changed. The masculinity model was developed in the early 1980’s (Burnett, 1995). This model labeled masculinity as having certain behavioral traits. These included decisiveness, independence, and competiveness. For many years, it was believed this is how men should act and women were to act more feminine.
        Some researchers conclude that parental encouragement impacts gender identity (Sue, Sue, & Sue, 2010). Theories include children whose parents allow and encourage behavior such as cross – dressing. Some believe that this encourages the child to identify with the opposite gender. Some theories conclude that young boys who play with dolls will identify with feminine behavior later on. This theory is also true for young girls who play with more masculine toys.
        An element of gender identity is to feel compatible with one’s gender group (Egan & Perry, 2001). When outside factors such as the desire to cross – dress or feeling more compatible with the opposite gender isolates a person from their own gender. They cannot identify with their own gender and feel more comfortable identifying as the opposite. These feelings can lead to Gender Identity Disorder (GID). Again, these feelings have no impact on their sexual preference, as they may still be heterosexual but would rather live as the opposite gender.
         The psychodynamic perspective holds the theory that gender identity is a result of childhood. When a person strays from the “norm” of gender behavior, it is believed that unconscious conflicts from childhood have caused the person to identify with the opposite gender. While many theorists and researchers have developed theories and conducted research, there is little evidence to support the environmental factors as having a large impact on gender identity.

Nature vs Nurture
            The debate of nature versus nurture has been debated since classical Greek times. It has been one of the most debated topics in psychology. Based upon my research, I believe that biological, or nature, has more influence on gender identity. Based upon the research studies I read, it seems that gender identity is influenced by a lack or excess of sex hormones. While I believe that biological factors have more influence on gender identity, I cannot absolutely rule out environmental factors. It is possible that both biological and environmental factors have a role on gender identity. I believe that there needs to be much more research done in this area to learn more about it. Then we can truly decide if gender identity is biological, environmental or both.

          Gender identity is important in the development of a person. If we are to believe that biological factors have an impact on gender identity, then our gender identity development begins in the fetal stage. Some research supports that sex hormones determines our identity. Other research supports other biological reasons for a person’s identity such as genetics or brain differences between the sexes. Then there is yet other research that supports environmental causes for a person’s gender identity. Discovering why a person identifies with a particular gender is important in order to provide therapy to those persons suffering from Gender Identity Disorder.

Monday, September 3, 2012

Case Study Analysis: The Case of Aunt Betty Who Lost Half her Body

The following is a Power Point Presentation done in collaboration by the team of T. Cross, M. Lewis, and myself. Please click the link to see the presentation.

Case Study Analysis: The Case of Aunt Betty Who Lost Half her Body

Using someone else's work without giving proper credit, is plagiarism. If you use our work, please reference it.

Saturday, September 1, 2012

Male and Female Brains

What differences are known to exist between male and female brains?

Scientists are still researching the differences between the male and female brains as well as the effect of these differences on behavior. One difference is that men’s brains have a higher proportion of white matter than those of women. Men have a lower proportion of white matter in the left brain than in the right. In women the proportion is equal. There is also some research to support the theory that different areas of the brain are stimulated based on the task depending on sex. For example, when processing navigational information, the left hippocampus is stimulated in men. In women, this task stimulates the right parietal cortex and the right frontal cortex. There is also research to support the theory that men and women use different areas of the brain when searching for a location of a sound. The distribution of gray and white matter may also point to other differences between the sexes (Wood, Wood, & Boyd, 2011). For example, in men, the distribution of gray and white matter across the two hemispheres may explain their abilities in mental rotation of geometric figures. In women, the location of more gray matter in an area of the brain may result in higher emotional perception.

Wood, S. E., Wood, E. G., & Boyd, D. (2011). The World of Psychology (7th ed.). Boston, MA: Pearson Education, Inc.

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