The concept of functional autonomy represents Allport's most distinctive and at the same time, most controversial postulate. It is Allport's (1961) explanation for the myriad human motives that seemingly are not accounted for by hedonistic or drive-reduction principles. Functional autonomy represents a theory of changing rather than unchanging motives and is the capstone of Allport's ideas on motivation.
In general, the concept of functional autonomy holds that some, but not all, human motives are functionally independent from the original motive responsible for the behavior. If a motive is functionally autonomous, it is the explanation for behavior, and one need not look beyond it for hidden or primary causes. In other words, if hoarding money is a functionally autonomous motive, then the miser's behavior is not traceable to childhood experiences with toilet training or with rewards and punishments. Rather, the miser simply likes money, and tins is the only explanation necessary. Tins notion that much human behavior is based on present interests and on conscious preferences is in harmony with the commonsense belief of many people who hold that they do things simply because they like to do them.
Functional autonomy is a reaction to what Allport called theories of unchanging motives, namely, Freud's pleasure principle and the drive-reduction hypothesis of stimulus-response psychology. Allport held that both theories are concerned with historical facts rather than functional facts. He believed that adult motives are built primarily on conscious, self-sustaining, contemporary systems. Functional autonomy represents his attempt to explain these conscious, self-sustaining contemporary motivations.
Admitting that some motivations are unconscious and others are the result of drive reduction, Allport contended that, because some behavior is functionally autonomous, theories of unchanging motives are inadequate. He listed four requirements of an adequate theory of motivation. Functional autonomy, of course, meets each criterion.
1. An adequate theory of motivation "will acknowledge the contemporaneity of motives." In other words, "Whatever moves us must move now" (Allport, 1961, p. 220). The past per se is unimportant. The history of an individual is significant only when it has a present effect on motivation.
2. "It M'ill be a pluralistic theory—allowing for motives of many types " (Allport, 1961, p. 221). On this point, Allport was critical of Freud and his two-instinct theory, Adler and the single striving for success, and all theories that emphasize self-actualization as the ultimate motive. Allport was emphatically opposed to reduchig all human motivation to one master drive. He contended that adults' motives are basically different from those of children and that the motivations of neurotic individuals are not the same as those of normal people. In addition, some motivations are conscious, others unconscious; some are transient, others recurring; some are peripheral, others propriate; and some are tension reducing, others tension maintaining. Motives that appear to be different really are different, not only in form but also in substance.
3. "It will ascribe dynamic force to cognitive processes—e.g., to planning and intention " (Allport, 1961, p. 222). Allport argued that most people are busy living their lives mto the future, but that many psychological theories are "busy tracmg these lives backward into the past. And while it seems to each of us that we are spontaneously active, many psychologists are telling us that we are only reactive" (p. 206). Although intention is involved hi all motivation, tins third requirement refers more generally to long-range intention. A young woman declines an offer to see a movie because she prefers to study anatomy. Tins preference is consistent with her purpose of making good grades at college and relates to her plans of being admitted to medical school, which is necessary hi order for her to fulfill her intention of being a doctor. The lives of healthy adults are future oriented involving preferences, purposes, plans, and intentions. These processes, of course, are not always completely rational, as when people allow their anger to dominate then plans and intentions.
4. An adequate theory of motivation is one that "will allow for the concrete uniqueness of motives" (Allport, 1961, p. 225). A concrete unique motive is different from an abstract generalized one, the latter being based on a preexistent theory rather than the actual motivation of a real person. An example of a concrete unique motive is Derrick, who is hiterested in improving his bowling game. His motive is concrete, and his maimer of seekhig improvement is unique to him. Some theories of motivation may ascribe Derrick s behavior to an aggressive need others to an inhibited sexual drive, and still others to a secondary drive learned on the basis of a primary drive. Allport would simply say that Derrick wants to hnprove Ins bowling game because he wants to improve his bowling game. Tins is Derrick s unique, concrete, and functionally autonomous motive.
In summary, a functionally autonomous motive is contemporary and self-sustaining; it grows out of an earlier motive but is functionally independent of it. All-port (1961) defined functional autonomy as "any acquired system of motivation in which the tensions involved are not of the same kind as the antecedent tensions from which the acquired system developed" (p. 229). hi other words, what begins as one motive may grow into a new one that is historically continuous with the original but functionally autonomous from it. For example, a person may originally plant a garden to satisfy a hunger drive but eventually become interested hi gardening for its own sake.
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