Confusing Concepts

Grasping the idea of drive theory, or drive-reduction theory, might be tricky. In a 2021 article, health and wellness writer Hilary I. Lebow wrote,

The term “drive” refers to the tension or discomfort you experience when your biological needs kick into high gear, like a mental itch that needs to be scratched.

A table describes the progression from drive to reduction behavior to homeostasis. For instance, if the physiological drive is hunger, the reduction behavior is “grabbing an apple” and the result is satiation, or homeostasis.

Wait, what? In the real world, grabbing an apple does not result in satiation. What does, is eating the apple. Such a departure from logic makes for a less than satisfactory reading experience.

Quibbling with terminology

Reducing a drive seems to suggest working on it from the causation point or source. It seems to imply diminishment or disempowerment of the drive itself, rather than an attempt to satisfy it. If there were overweight people, and someone fed them amphetamines to lose weight, it seems like that would be drive reduction. The substance would override the drive that says “Let’s eat.”

In Goldilocks terms, it would be a girl so unmotivated to eat, she would not even bother to sample the bowls of porridge to see if they were too hot, too cold, or just right. To use the term “reduction” seems to imply making the drive smaller and less urgent, rendering it tame and manageable. That potential misunderstanding could muddy up the whole rest of the explanation, because apparently “drive-reduction theory,” in current usage, is about scratching, not minimizing, the itch.

Food and eating are frequently mentioned by professionals who discuss these matters. It may be the most obvious and relatable example of the phenomenon. Why do people eat even when they are neither hungry nor malnourished? Why are they not content with what, by any reasonable standard, should be satisfying enough to deserve the term “satiation”?

These are important questions that, again and again, drive-reduction theory has been accused of ignoring. Simply Psychology writer Olivia Guy-Evans goes into more detail:

For instance, eating a three-course meal or having another slice of pizza when already full, or continuing to drink when not particularly thirsty.

Other behaviors that cannot fully be explained by drive-reduction theory and can be explained by other factors include:

Fasting behaviours where someone will purposely not fulfil their primary need.

Extreme workouts which are purposely uncomfortable. How does DRT explain eating behaviour?

According to drive-reduction theory, organisms seek food when they experience the drive of hunger. Any behaviour that reduces the drive is likely to be repeated by both humans and animals, so this is why they continue to eat.

The reduction of the drive by eating serves as a positive reinforcement (i.e., a reward) for the behaviour that caused such drive reduction.

Your responses and feedback are welcome!

Source: “What Is Drive Reduction Theory About?,”, 09/15/21
Source: “Drive-Reduction Theory and Human Behavior,”, 05/19/22
Image by Internet Archive Book Images/Public Domain

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

FAQs and Media Requests: Click here…

Profiles: Kids Struggling with Weight

Profiles: Kids Struggling with Obesity top bottom

The Book

OVERWEIGHT: What Kids Say explores the obesity problem from the often-overlooked perspective of children struggling with being overweight.

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.
You can contact Dr. Pretlow at:


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.

Food & Health Resources