Conclusion - Motivation, Emotion, and Stress

MCAT Behavioral Sciences Review - Kaplan Test Prep 2021–2022

Motivation, Emotion, and Stress

The ability to strive for our goals and desires, be it for internal or external reasons, is an important aspect of psychology and behavior. Motivation is the mechanism used to meet our needs, act toward an end goal, and ultimately survive. While there are many factors that influence motivation, including instincts, arousal, drives, and needs, they all result in action to obtain perceived rewards, fulfill needs, or avoid perceived punishments. Emotion is a complex process resulting in physiological, cognitive, and behavioral elements, described in different fashions by the James—Lange, Cannon—Bard, and Schachter—Singer theories of emotion. Many components of the nervous system play a role in experiencing emotions, including the seven universal emotions. The response of the body and mind to challenges defines stress. Stress appraisal has phases that identify and allow the body to respond to the stressor encountered. The physical and mental response to stress can be severe, but there are many management and coping mechanisms commonly used to reduce the level of stress experienced.

Hopefully this chapter has left you motivated to keep working toward that goal of an excellent MCAT score and becoming the doctor you deserve to be. Studying for the MCAT certainly introduces a significant stress, but effective stress management techniques and a solid foundation in MCAT content and strategy will turn Test Day into eustress. Just keep your eyes on that white coat, an important garment that will someday be part of your identity—a topic we’ll explore in the next chapter.

Concept Summary


· Motivation is the purpose, or driving force, behind our actions.

· Motivation can be extrinsic, based on external circumstances; or intrinsic, based on internal drive or perception.

· The primary factors that influence emotion are instincts, arousal, drives, and needs.

o Instincts are innate, fixed patterns of behavior. In the instinct theory of motivation, people perform certain behaviors because of these evolutionarily programmed instincts.

o In the arousal theory, people perform actions to maintain arousal, the state of being awake and reactive to stimuli, at an optimal level. The Yerkes—Dodson law shows that performance is optimal at a medium level of arousal.

o Drives are internal states of tension that beget particular behaviors focused on goals. Primary drives are related to bodily processes; secondary drives stem from learning and include accomplishments and emotions. Drive reduction theory states that motivation arises from the desire to eliminate drives, which create uncomfortable internal states.

o Satisfying needs may also motivate. Maslow’s hierarchy of needs prioritizes needs into five categories: physiological needs (highest priority), safety and security, love and belonging, self-esteem, and self-actualization (lowest priority).

o Self-determination theory emphasizes the role of three universal needs: autonomy, competence, and relatedness.

· Incentive theory explains motivation as the desire to pursue rewards and avoid punishments.

· Expectancy—value theory states that the amount of motivation for a task is based on the individual’s expectation of success and the amount that success is valued.

· Opponent-process theory explains motivation for drug use: as drug use increases, the body counteracts its effects, leading to tolerance and uncomfortable withdrawal symptoms.

· Sexual motivation is related to hormones as well as cultural and social factors.


· Emotion is a state of mind, or feeling, that is subjectively experienced based on circumstances, mood, and relationships.

· The three components of emotion are cognitive (subjective), behavioral (facial expressions and body language), and physiological (changes in the autonomic nervous system).

· The seven universal emotions are happiness, sadness, contempt, surprise, fear, disgust, and anger.

· There are multiple theories of emotion, based on the interactions of the three components of emotion.

o In the James—Lange theory, nervous system arousal leads to an emotional experience.

o In the Cannon—Bard theory, arousal of the nervous system and the experience of emotion occur simultaneously.

o In the Schachter—Singer theory, nervous system arousal is combined with cognition to create the experience of emotion.

· The limbic system is the primary nervous system component involved in experiencing emotion.

o The amygdala is involved with attention and fear, helps interpret facial expressions, and is part of the intrinsic memory system for emotional memory.

o The thalamus is a sensory processing station.

o The hypothalamus releases neurotransmitters that affect mood and arousal.

o The hippocampus creates long-term explicit (episodic) memories.

o The prefrontal cortex is involved with planning, expressing personality, and making decisions. The ventral prefrontal cortex is critical for experiencing emotion; the ventromedial prefrontal cortex, specifically, is involved in controlling emotional responses from the amygdala and decision making.


· The physiological and cognitive response to challenges or life changes is defined as stress.

· Stress appraisal has two stages:

o Primary appraisal is classifying a potential stressor as irrelevant, benign—positive, or stressful.

o Secondary appraisal is directed at evaluating if the organism can cope with the stress, based on harm, threat, and challenge.

· A stressor is anything that leads to a stress response and can include environment, daily events, workplace or academic settings, social expectations, chemicals, and biological stressors. Psychological stressors include pressure, control, predictability, frustration, and conflict.

· Stressors can lead to distress or eustress.

· The three stages of the general adaptation syndrome are alarm, resistance, and exhaustion.

· Stress management can include psychological, behavioral, and spiritual aspects.

Answers to Concept Checks

· 5.1



Factor for Motivation

Instinct theory

Instincts: innate, fixed patterns of behavior in response to stimuli

Arousal theory

Maintaining a constant level of arousal, the psychological and physiological state of being awake and reactive to stimuli

Drive reduction theory

Drives: internal states of tension or discomfort that can be relieved with a particular action

Need-based theories

Needs: factors necessary for physiological function or emotional fulfillment

2. Physiological needs, safety and security, love and belonging, self-esteem, self-actualization

3. Cocaine is a stimulant, causing euphoria, restlessness, increased heart rate, increased temperature, and anxiety. According to opponent-process theory, cocaine withdrawal should be the opposite: depressed mood, fatigue, decreased heart rate, decreased temperature, and apathy.

· 5.2

1. The three elements of emotion are as follows:

§ Physiological response (autonomic nervous system): heart rate, breathing rate, skin temperature, blood pressure

§ Behavioral response: facial expressions, body language

§ Cognitive response: subjective interpretation, memories of past experiences, perception of cause of emotion

2. The seven universal emotions are happiness, sadness, contempt, surprise, fear, disgust, and anger.


James—Lange Theory

Cannon—Bard Theory

Schachter—Singer Theory

§ Stimulus leads to physiological arousal

§ Arousal leads to the conscious experience of emotion

§ My skin is hot and my blood pressure is high so I must be angry

§ Requires connection between sympathetic nervous system and brain

§ Stimulus leads to physiological arousal and feeling of emotion

§ Thalamus processes sensory information, sends it to cortex and sympathetic nervous system

§ Action is secondary response to stimulus

§ I see a snake, so I am afraid and my heart is racing ... Let me out of here!

§ Does not explain vagus nerve

§ Both arousal and labeling based on environment are required to experience an emotion

§ I am excited because my heart is racing and everyone else is happy

4. The amygdala is involved with attention and emotions (specifically fear), helps interpret facial expressions, and is part of the intrinsic memory system for emotional memory. The thalamus is a sensory processing station. The hypothalamus releases neurotransmitters that affect mood and arousal. The hippocampus creates long-term explicit memories (episodic memories). The ventromedial prefrontal cortex is involved in decision making and controlling emotional responses from the amygdala.

· 5.3

1. Primary appraisal is categorizing the stressor as irrelevant, benign—positive, or stressful. Secondary appraisal is the evaluation of the ability of the organism to cope with that stress.



Physiological Changes


Activation of sympathetic nervous system, release of ACTH and cortisol, stimulation of adrenal medulla to secrete epinephrine and norepinephrine


Continuous release of hormones activates sympathetic nervous system


Can no longer maintain elevated sympathetic nervous system activity, more susceptible to illness and medical conditions, organ systems deteriorate, death

3. Common stressors include environmental or physical discomfort, daily events, workplace or academic setting, social expectations, and chemical and biological stressors. Effective stress management techniques include exercise, relaxation techniques (meditation, diaphragmatic breathing, progressive muscle relaxation), spiritual practice, and many more.

Shared Concepts

· Behavioral Sciences Chapter 1

o Biology and Behavior

· Behavioral Sciences Chapter 3

o Learning and Memory

· Behavioral Sciences Chapter 7

o Psychological Disorders

· Biology Chapter 4

o The Nervous System

· Biology Chapter 5

o The Endocrine System

· Biology Chapter 10

o Homeostasis

Discrete Practice Questions

1. A college student strives for excellent grades and hopes to graduate with a better GPA than his brother. This type of motivation is considered:

1. extrinsic motivation.

2. intrinsic motivation.

3. a primary drive.

4. a secondary drive.

2. When practicing her recital song at home, a teenage girl sounds perfectly in pitch to her family and friends. However, when performing at the recital in front of a large audience of peers, strangers, and coaches, her pitch and tone are off, resulting in a poor performance. This second performance is best explained by:

1. drive reduction theory.

2. instinct approach theory.

3. Maslow’s hierarchy of needs.

4. the Yerkes—Dodson law.

3. Seeking homeostasis to reduce an uncomfortable internal state is associated with which motivational theory?

1. Drive reduction theory

2. Instinct theory

3. Arousal theory

4. Incentive theory

4. People from cultures around the world can identify which of the following emotions?

1. Happiness, sadness, and surprise

2. Happiness, anger, and apathy

3. Sadness, anticipation, and happiness

4. Excitement, anger, and disgust

5. Experiencing emotion involves three components, which are:

1. behavioral, reactionary, and cognitive.

2. emotional, physical, and mental.

3. physiological, cognitive, and behavioral.

4. emotional, cognitive, and behavioral.

6. The statement “I noticed my heart racing and breathing rate increasing when I saw a bear, so I am afraid” corresponds most closely with which theory of emotion?

1. Schachter—Singer theory

2. Yerkes—Dodson theory

3. Cannon—Bard theory

4. James—Lange theory

7. Which theory of motivation is most significantly informed by Darwin’s theory of evolution?

1. Arousal theory

2. Drive reduction theory

3. Instinct theory

4. Incentive theory

8. Simultaneous processing of conscious emotions and physiological activation is the defining feature of which theory of emotion?

1. Schachter—Singer theory

2. James—Lange theory

3. Incentive theory

4. Cannon—Bard theory

9. All of the following brain regions are primarily responsible for the experience of emotions EXCEPT the:

1. amygdala.

2. prefrontal cortex.

3. basal ganglia.

4. thalamus.

10. A person with high left frontal lobe activity is most likely experiencing which emotion?

1. Happiness

2. Sadness

3. Surprise

4. Disgust

11. Determination of the intensity and risk of a stressor occurs during which stage(s) of stress appraisal?

1. Primary appraisal only

2. Secondary appraisal only

3. Both primary and secondary appraisal

4. Neither primary nor secondary appraisal

12. A medical student is feeling a high level of stress due to upcoming exams and pressure from his family to engage in activities at home. He chooses to go to the gym for a workout to help himself relax. This workout is which type of stress?

1. Hassle

2. Frustration

3. Distress

4. Eustress

13. Which type of conflict is associated with the LEAST amount of stress?

1. Approach—approach conflict

2. Avoidance—avoidance conflict

3. Approach—avoidance conflict

4. Avoidance—escape conflict

14. While cleaning your house, you notice a large spider on the wall by your head and feel your heart rate jump up and your skin temperature grow warm. Which stage of stress response are you experiencing?

1. Alarm

2. Resistance

3. Exhaustion

4. Homeostasis

15. Each of the following responses to stress is considered maladaptive EXCEPT:

1. drug use.

2. social withdrawal.

3. progressive muscle relaxation.

4. avoiding the stressor.

Discrete Practice Answers

1. ADue to the competitive nature of the motivation, this is considered extrinsic motivation. Extrinsic motivation is based on external conditions, including perceived reward or fear of punishment. In this case, the reward is beating his brother. There is no suggestion of an uncomfortable internal state or tension, which is an aspect of drives, eliminating (C) and (D).

2. DThe Yerkes—Dodson law states that there is an optimal level of arousal necessary to perform. If levels of arousal are too high, poor performance can result. In the case of this girl performing at her recital, her arousal level is very high as a result of nervousness and anxiety, resulting in a poor performance.

3. ADrive reduction theory is the theory that one will act to eliminate uncomfortable internal states known as drives. The body will push toward equilibrium, or homeostasis.

4. AThe seven universal emotions are happiness, sadness, contempt, surprise, fear, disgust, and anger.

5. CThe three components of emotion are the physiological (changes in the autonomic nervous system), cognitive (subjective interpretation of an emotion), and behavioral (facial expressions and body language) responses.

6. DExperiencing a physiological reaction to a stimulus and then labeling that response as emotion is in line with the James—Lange theory of emotion. In the statement, seeing the bear is the stimulus, an increase in heart rate and breathing rate is the physiological reaction, and identifying this as fear is the emotion experienced.

7. CAccording to Darwin’s theory of evolution, all species have instincts that help them survive. The instinct theory of motivation states that people are motivated to act based on instincts that they are programmed to exhibit.

8. DThe Cannon—Bard theory of emotion is based on the premise that conscious feelings and physiological components of emotion are experienced at exactly the same time. In this theory, this combination then leads to action. This is commonly confused with the Schachter—Singer theory, (A), in which nervous system arousal occurs and then is labeled based on the context provided by the environment.

9. CThe amygdala, prefrontal cortex, and thalamus all play a role in the experience of emotions. The basal ganglia are involved in smooth movement and are not primarily responsible for the experience of emotions.

10. AThe left frontal lobe is associated with positive feelings, corresponding with joy and happiness. The right frontal lobe is associated with negative feelings, such as sadness and disgust, (B) and (D).

11. BSecondary appraisal of stress is the stage at which the ability of the organism to cope with the stressor is evaluated. This is based on the harm, threat, and challenge of the stressor, which are all correlated with its intensity. Primary appraisal is simply the initial determination of whether there is a negative association at all, not its intensity.

12. DA positive stressor creates eustress. Because working out is used to relax, it is considered a eustress. Hassle, (A), and frustration, (B), are both types of distress, (C), or negative stressors.

13. AApproach—approach conflict is one in which both results are good outcomes. While one must be chosen, neither choice results in a negative outcome: for example, choosing between two desserts. Avoidance—escape conflict, (D), is not a recognized form of conflict; these two terms are related to types of negative reinforcers.

14. AThe initial reaction to stress, which is activation of the sympathetic nervous system, is the alarm stage of stress response.

15. CProgressive muscle relaxation is a relaxation technique demonstrated to help reduce stress in a manner that is beneficial to the body and psyche. The other methods described here, including avoidance of the stressor, (D), serve to increase stress or merely change the source of the stress.

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