It’s Complicated, Continued

Scholars tend to describe drive theory as having been very important and influential, back when it formed the thinking of current experts. In any field, pioneers have the opportunity to pursue false notions and follow unproductive trails, so that later practitioners can stand on their shoulders.

In 1992, D. Maestripieri and three co-authors published an article that reawakened interest in the early animal behaviorists so that the contemporary ones started to pay attention again. They were interested in the idea of displacement behavior as “a good measure of anxiety levels, ” wrote Juan D. Delius, and…

Since then a sizeable literature evaluating the effectiveness of displacement behavior measures (also called self directed behavior, or SDB) as indicators of anxiety has grown.

On the other hand, many of the earliest writers’ thoughts have “fallen out of favor,” and their work receives respect but not devotion:

Drive-reduction theory is most widely criticized or disregarded by contemporary psychologists because it fails to adequately account for behaviors that are outside the purview of strictly physiological needs like thirst or hunger and behaviors that involve complex external factors.

One really serious wrinkle

It seems like any meaningful research would be difficult to undertake, in the whole topic, because of the human propensity to cultivate mild preferences into drives, and to invent drives out of thin air. Humans synthesize drugs that both create and satisfy our drive to snort them. And, the serious drugs of abuse actually replace innate drives. Given the choice between heroin and food, a committed user will take the heroin. So, what does that do to the meaning of a word like “innate”?

A physiological need is one that an individual or a species could die from the absence of. Granted, people die from heroin overdose — from an artificially induced need; from a false drive. Only the damage is real. At any rate, this is a serious problem, but not a species-killer.

In other examples, humans don’t wait around until natural impulse moves them to want sex. A vast pornography industry exists to intentionally create and stimulate that particular drive. The urge to sneeze is an irresistible physiological force. Throughout most of the world, in various eras, snuff has been used to purposefully induce sneezes, just for fun. Something more is going on here, than the simple wish to return to peaceful homeostasis.

The multifaceted world

Speaking of different views, drive theory (or drive-reduction theory) accepts and glorifies drives as the only possible influencers of human behavior; and the satisfaction of drives as our purpose in life. At the same time, an entire ancient school of thought is based on the idea that innate, hard-wired, instinctual, automatic, mechanistic behavior is the very thing the human race needs to eradicate if we are ever to become our best selves. Ironically, the ancient techniques for the elimination of drives involve immobile sitting, without even a screen to look at.

Your responses and feedback are welcome!

Source: “Displacement activities and arousal,”, 07/08/03
Source: “AP Psychology Study Resource: Drive Theory,”, undated
Image by World’s Direction/Public Domain

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About Dr. Robert A. Pretlow

Dr. Robert A. Pretlow is a pediatrician and childhood obesity specialist. He has been researching and spreading awareness on the childhood obesity epidemic in the US for more than a decade.
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Dr. Pretlow’s invited presentation at the American Society of Animal Science 2020 Conference
What’s Causing Obesity in Companion Animals and What Can We Do About It

Dr. Pretlow’s invited presentation at the World Obesity Federation 2019 Conference:
Food/Eating Addiction and the Displacement Mechanism

Dr. Pretlow’s Multi-Center Clinical Trial Kick-off Speech 2018:
Obesity: Tackling the Root Cause

Dr. Pretlow’s 2017 Workshop on
Treatment of Obesity Using the Addiction Model

Dr. Pretlow’s invited presentation for
TEC and UNC 2016

Dr. Pretlow’s invited presentation at the 2015 Obesity Summit in London, UK.

Dr. Pretlow’s invited keynote at the 2014 European Childhood Obesity Group Congress in Salzburg, Austria.

Dr. Pretlow’s presentation at the 2013 European Congress on Obesity in Liverpool, UK.

Dr. Pretlow’s presentation at the 2011 International Conference on Childhood Obesity in Lisbon, Portugal.

Dr. Pretlow’s presentation at the 2010 Uniting Against Childhood Obesity Conference in Houston, TX.

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