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Three Human Drivers


Explanations > Motivation > Three Human Drivers

The Easy Principle | The Arousal Principle | The Darwin Principle | So what?


Here is a coherent set of motivation principles that act to drive us. They act as a balancing pair (Easy and Arousal), plus a deep evolutionary force (Darwin).

The Easy Principle

We do not have time to process all the information that assaults our senses. To cope with this potential overload, we seek things which are easy.

The Easy Principle means we are motivated by things which are quick, easy and safe. However, if everything is too easy we tend to get bored (so we need the Arousal Principle too).


We are constantly assaulted by information and have to cope with this in real-time. This means we have little time to cope with each bit of data that reaches us. In consequence, we like things which can be processed quickly.


We talk about wanting things to be 'quick' is 'easy'. Quick is about time. Easy is about mental effort. Life is generally easier if things are obvious, easy to understand and easy to decide what to do.


We constantly assess things for threats. Things which seem safe are easier and also need less time coping or hedging our bets.


We handle much of the data that enters our senses using only our unconscious mind. This is very helpful as it releases much of our conscious mind to deal with important and interesting information. It also has the disadvantage that we may not notice things that perhaps we should.

It is perhaps unsurprising that many persuasion methods make things easy in order to take advantage of unconscious acceptance.

The Arousal Principle

The Arousal Principle drives us to seek interest in the world around us. Arguably, arousal is the core purpose of art, in particular arousing our minds and emotions. If there is too little arousal we get bored. If there is too much arousal, then we can get overwhelmed. Between these, there is a happy band of interest and enjoyment.


We do not need to handle all information quickly. In fact to a limited degree we seek to be engaged. We want to spend our time on things that arouse us. We want to get involved.


As well as getting involved, we want to have something interesting to think about. This should be neither too easy nor too hard in order to avoid the boredom/overwhelm thresholds. This is mental arousal.


Another route to arousal is to get the emotions going. If things look exciting, then we will happily engage and take the challenge.

While we generally seek arousing of positive emotions, it can be better to feel anything rather than nothing, and negative emotions can be preferable to feeling flat and emotionless. This is one reason why art that scares or angers can be better than art that bores. It is also why people go to see horror movies.


When we are aroused, we usually are consciously engaged, even as we lazily let the unconscious mind deal with other factors.

The Darwin Principle

Underpinning everything we do are the forces of evolution in the basic needs that drive us to replicate ourselves. Critical effects of this that motivate us include threat responses, our notion of beauty and our need for social status.


Above all, we first need to survive. If we do not live, then we can achieve nothing else. We hence prioritize survival above everything else, in particular immediate threats. We constantly scan for danger and quickly react to even a slight possibility of harm.

Beyond direct harm, we need food and water, plus warmth and protection from the elements as well as from predators. Out of this we have found tribal existence advantageous.


The main evolutionary goal of life is to first have children, and then to ensure they grow up to have their own children. This requires finding and wooing a mate. Our notion of beauty comes from this. Social status is also desired as people higher up the tree seek domination.


As well as surviving and having children, we also need to cope with changes in our environment. As a species, this means genetically evolving. Personally, it means adapting, innovating and otherwise surviving and even thriving on change.


The Easy/Arousal Principles are an opposing pair that sit at either end of a spectrum. This aligns with the Elaboration Likelihood Model, where we process information and decide either by the unconscious peripheral route or the central, conscious route. We tend to seek a balance between these two, so we are partly lazy and partly aroused.

The three principles can be viewed in a cognitive/affective/behavioral light, as the following table shows:


Factor Lazy principle Arousal principle
Hands (doing, behavior) Quick Engaging
Head (thinking, cognition) Easy Challenging
Heart (feeling, affect) Safe Exciting
Mind (deliberation, consciousness) Unconscious Conscious


This may be used in persuasion, where the positive mind is engaged with challenging and exciting things that are actually just distractions as critical factors, wrapped up in easy packages, are fed to the unconscious.

These factors can also be seen as personality dimensions as we tend more towards one than others. Hence:

  • Lazy people can become overly fond of the Easy Principle and avoid arousal.
  • Busy people and workaholics become so used to the arousal of action they are unable to take it easy and can even fall into emotional breakdowns from over-arousal.
  • People can be overly driven by evolutionary forces, such as people with 'anger issues' or who are 'sex addicts'.

So what?

If you want to persuade people, you have the choice of using the lazy principle by making things quick, easy and safe, or encouraging them to use short-cut thinking. A complete alternative is to offer arousal as you engage them with interesting things that help them meet their needs or goals.

Artists and photographers can use these principles too, producing simple and harmonious images, or pictures that engage and challenge the viewer.

See also

The Need for Safety, The Need for Arousal, Evolution, Beauty and Attention, Elaboration Likelihood Model

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