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Little-known truths, quirky anecdotes, seething scandals, and even some science in the history of (primarily achievement) motivation.


This article presents a history of the study of motivation from approximately 1900-1975, focusing on achievement strivings and containing little-known and often surprising facts about the main contributors to this field. Four theorists are highlighted: David McClelland, Kurt Lewin, John Atkinson, and Fritz Heider, each associated with a different theoretical approach (respectively and in order of historical emergence: trait, Gestalt, expectancy/value, and attribution theory). A fifth conception, drive theory, is also represented. In addition, a number of individuals who influenced these theorists and others who followed them are discussed. The article emphasizes the interrelations between the theorists and the interaction between personal and scientific life.

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