Motive vs Motivation: Difference, Definitions & Examples

Although motive and motivation play a vital role in our behavior, they have a striking difference in meanings and definitions. While a motive is necessary to provoke an action, motivation plays a crucial role in bringing that action.

You might confuse motive with motivation. But both stand as individual words that have different meanings. Although motive and motivation might sound similar, their difference in meaning is what makes them apart. So if you are one of those who might want to know the difference between them, this article will help you solve your confusion. Keep reading!

Understanding the Motive, Motivation Difference

It is fairly common to confuse the words motive and motivation because of their resembling spelling, pronunciation, and meanings. Both of the words are different and have different interpretations. When discussing the motive, motivation difference, keep in mind that both play an active part in human behavior and are equally necessary to bring an action. If you lack any elements, you will face difficulty achieving your desired action. Therefore, it is necessary to understand what parts play which role.

motive motivation difference

The key to understanding human behavior is having a clear idea of both related terms, i.e., motive and motivation. Human behavior is a complex idea. Many factors, stimuli, and mechanisms work together to create human action. Among them, motive and motivation play a crucial role. So if you want to know the difference between motive and motivation, the given interpretation will help you find their fundamental difference.



Motive is a noun and we pronounce it as “moh-tihv.” It is an emotion or reason that prompts a person to make an action. The action will depend on the cause of doing it. And the cause will be responsible for doing the desired action. 



Motivation is a noun and we pronounce it as “moh-tih-Veh-shun”. It is the willingness you might feel while doing an action. On the other hand, it is a source of inspiration and energy that prompts a person to execute a task.

Example of Motive and Motivation

If you want to learn the difference between motive and motivation properly, there is no better way than considering the example of motive and motivation. 

Take the example of a criminal case where the lawyer is trying to determine the cause (motive) for theft and who might have possessed that motive. Anyone who might have possessed that motive would be considered the thief since their reasons (motive) has resulted in their choice of action (theft). 

On the other hand, the lawyer might also want to know which thing inspired the thief to perform such an evil action. Let’s suppose that their poverty might be their motive for performing an unlawful act. But what could have given them the strength and energy to execute the action. The financial resource might be the motivation behind the robbery. And which has forced the thief to take that step. 

Primary Motives and Secondary Motives

The famous Danish psychologist K.B. Madsen categorizes the term motive into the following two categories:

  • Primary motive (inherent or biological).
  • Secondary motive (developed or social).

If you want to have a clear idea about the difference between motive and motivation, understanding the types of motive is essential. In addition to this, understanding the secondary motive is also vital for you since this kind of motive is exclusive to human beings

What are Primary Motives?

The primary motive serves a particular purpose in the survival of humans and other species. The powerful survival instincts of the living beings are hunger, thirst, sleep, and sex, without which they might not function properly. There are other primary motives, too, that are also important. For instance, seeking shelter or protection, running away from danger, and defending oneself.

What are Secondary Motives?

Unlike primary motives that are innate, secondary motives are developed due to human interaction and are not needed for survival. However, they are vital for human emotional development—for instance, power, achievement, or belongings.

Intrinsic and Extrinsic Motivation

In human psychology, motivation is described in two types, extrinsic and intrinsic. 

What is meant by Extrinsic Motivation?

Our behavior is determined by an external stimulus or an environmental factor in extrinsic motivation.

What is meant by Intrinsic Motivation?

Intrinsic motivation is the reason to test one’s creativity and curiosity. The task is performed without the need for external rewards.


What is the difference between motive, motivation, and motivator?

Regardless of how confusing they might sound, the difference between motive, motivation, and motivator is simple. Motive is the reason why a person thinks of acting. In contrast, motivation acts as the will to execute an action. On the other hand, a motivator is a person who might inspire others or create interest to act. 

Is motive and motivation the same thing?

No. Both the terms have striking differences and are individual elements that play their part in human behavior. The difference is based on their role in causing an action. While motive acts as a cause or reason for doing something, motivation, on the other hand, is the willingness to execute a task. 

Is motive short for motivation?

No. The term ‘motive’ might seem like a short form of motivation. But in reality, it is an independent word and psychological factor that helps create a cause for performing something. On the other hand, you can describe motivation as the eagerness, willingness, and enthusiasm felt while doing something. Both terms are different and serve a different purposes in human behavior.

Key Takeaway

I hope that the given information is sufficient to help you understand the difference between motive and motivation in psychology. So whenever you perform any task, make sure that you have an idea of what has caused you to do it and what kind of inspiration you need to execute your desired action. This way, you will not only be able to achieve your choice of action, but you will also feel satisfied and content with your choices and outcomes.

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