Functional Autonomy

Gordon W. Allport coined the term functional autonomy to refer to motives that have become independent of the needs on which they were originally based.

When first introduced, this concept of functional autonomy was both radical and controversial. The motivational theories prevailing in North American psychology focused almost exclusively on mechanisms directly linked to basic physiological needs. In contrast, Allport's functional autonomy raised the possibility that motives could function quite independently of any physiological need or drive. This liberalized conceptualization of motivation had important implications for several key issues in psychology. It provided an image of the individual as an active agent rather than a passive entity entirely under the control of biological needs and immediate stimuli. It allowed for explanations of behavior that emphasized the present and the future rather than the past. It also pointed to the role of complex and unique patterns of motives in shaping and defining individual personality.

In contemporary psychology, the idea of functionally autonomous motives has been accepted into the mainstream of psychology.

R. E. Goranson

See also: Intrinsic Motivation; Motivation

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