Drive States

By and

Carnegie Mellon University

Our thoughts and behaviors are strongly influenced by affective experiences known as drive states. These drive states motivate us to fulfill goals that are beneficial to our survival and reproduction. This module provides an overview of key drive states, including information about their neurobiology and their psychological effects.

Learning Objectives

  • Identify the key properties of drive states.
  • Describe biological goals accomplished by drive states.
  • Give examples of drive states.
  • Outline the neurobiological basis of drive states such as hunger and arousal.
  • Discuss the main moderators and determinants of drive states such as hunger and arousal.

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Outside Resources

Web: An open textbook chapter on homeostasis
Web: Motivation and emotion in psychology
Web: The science of sexual arousal

Discussion Questions

  1. The ability to maintain homeostasis is important for an organism’s survival. What are the ways in which homeostasis ensures survival? Do different drive states accomplish homeostatic goals differently?
  2. Drive states result in the narrowing of attention toward the present and toward the self. Which drive states lead to the most pronounced narrowing of attention toward the present? Which drive states lead to the most pronounced narrowing of attention toward the self?
  3. What are important differences between hunger and sexual arousal, and in what ways do these differences reflect the biological needs that hunger and sexual arousal have been evolved to address?
  4. Some of the properties of sexual arousal vary across males and females. What other drives states affect males and females differently? Are there drive states that vary with other differences in humans (e.g., age)?


Drive state
Affective experiences that motivate organisms to fulfill goals that are generally beneficial to their survival and reproduction.
The tendency of an organism to maintain a stable state across all the different physiological systems in the body.
Homeostatic set point
An ideal level that the system being regulated must be monitored and compared to.
A portion of the brain involved in a variety of functions, including the secretion of various hormones and the regulation of hunger and sexual arousal.
A physical sexual posture in females that serves as an invitation to mate.
Preoptic area
A region in the anterior hypothalamus involved in generating and regulating male sexual behavior.
Reward value
A neuropsychological measure of an outcome’s affective importance to an organism.

Reference List

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  • Sudeep Bhatia
    Sudeep Bhatia, PhD candidate at Carnegie Mellon University, studies the psychological determinants of decision making, using theoretical tools from cognitive science. 
  • George Loewenstein
    George Loewenstein is the Herbert A. Simon University Professor of Economics and Psychology at Carnegie Mellon University, a co-director of the Center for Behavioral Decision research at CMU, and Director of Behavioral Economics at the Center for Health Incentives, University of Pennsylvania.  He received his PhD in economics from Yale University in 1985.

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