What Are They Talking About, Anyway?

This site has been looking at a number of related concepts, and how at various times behavioralists have added to or refined their definitions. Educator Melissa Bialowas, for instance, has described how pioneer Clark Hull was driven to reduce his drive-reduction theory to a complex mathematical formula that took into account numerous variables like deprivation, stimulus intensity, reinforcement delay, inhibition, random error, learning reaction, and more. She wrote,

Many theories were created and tested to either support or contradict drive reduction theory of motivation, thus allowing scientists to understand more about human behavior.

Along the way, the various participants discussed the meanings of words like homeostasis, regulation, drives, displacement, and so forth. Here, for example, is an authoritative explanation, and a look at how it might lead to confusion or even contention:

Drive theory is based on the principle that organisms are born with certain physiological needs and that a negative state of tension is created when these needs are not satisfied.

Then, the writer goes on to say, “when a need is satisfied, drive is reduced and the organism returns to a state of homeostasis and relaxation.” This seems to take for granted something that really is a huge assumption — namely, that relaxation is the ideal natural default state of all organisms. In the wrong hands, such an idea could develop into the belief that a sedentary life, of looking at screens, for instance, is the most natural and desirable state for children.

For this and other reasons, it is tempting to object that perhaps the word “relaxation” does not belong in a definition of homeostasis. Some types of sharks have to swim constantly. And what about humans? In early human history, our natural state was not to sit around, but to prowl through the underbrush with a pointed stick at the ready, looking for something to barbecue.

Consider this

From that angle, it seems inaccurate to say that “homeostasis and relaxation” is the ideal default state for creatures in nature. But looking a little further reveals that relaxation does not preclude motion. It simply, basically, means being free from tension or anxiety. The sharks who need to keep swimming in order to get oxygen are, presumably, most free from tension or anxiety while in constant motion — a condition preferable to oxygen-starved and moribund.

Neurodivergent humans are often into “stimming,” making repetitive motions that are sometimes publicly noticeable and sometimes not, which relieves tension and brings relaxation. Concerning homeostasis, one overall maxim might be, “Motion and relaxation are compatible,” and another might be, “Change is the only constant.”

Your responses and feedback are welcome!

Source: “Drive-Reduction,” Instructure.com, undated
Source: “Drive Reduction Theory: Concept & Examples,” Study.com, undated
Source: “A Body in Perpetual Motion,” Medium.com, 11/01/19
Image by Elias Levy/CC BY 2.0

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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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