What are life motives ?

We define life motives as elementary ultimate motives and purposes.


Just as chemists can trace all substances back to elementary components, factor analyses of complex motivational actions show that practically all psychologically significant motives consistof a combination of the 16 basic or "ultimate" values.

Individual differences in the respective motives were and are a key to interpreting and possibly predicting human behavior (Allport,1950, Maslow,1943, 1970; Murray 1938). If one wants to know what people will do, one must first find out what they really want -and then assume that they will satisfy these wants and needs in their future actions.

That this idea has not played a major role in psychology is surprising. Although there are thousands of standardized procedures, only a few deal with what a person wants from life. The Reiss Motivation Profile® was therefore developed to understand and map a person's respective needs, goals and values more comprehensively.

Although everyone is influenced by all 16 life motives, everyone has an individual motive structure, which is mapped in the Reiss Motivation Profile®: It shows which motives influence and shape a person's life, and to what degree. In general, the most strongly and least developed motives best explain individual behavior, while motives that are only of average significance do so less, but of course also provide explanatory values for individual behavior. For example, if a person has an average expression of the life motive power, this indicates that career and ambition matter to him. He will make many decisions in his life in this direction. But he will not want to take on too much responsibility beyond a certain point, nor will he want to burden himself with too much.

In our lives, we strive to satisfy and fulfill the motives rated highest in the Reiss Motivation Profile®. These life motives have a self-reinforcing effect: soon after we have satisfied them, it becomes "demanding" again. Just as we get hungry again a few hours after a satisfying meal or seek the proximity of other people again after stimulating conversations or contacts, life motives generally determine our lives much more strongly and permanently than the less pronounced needs.

Life motives shape our lives because we experience them holistically in the literal sense: They "direct" or organize our behavior and determine our concentration and attention as well as our feeling, perception and thinking. Three aspects are particularly important here:

  • Life motives are continuous -from rather lowly pronounced to particularly strong. The figure shows, for example, the difference in our need for sociability: although we all need the proximity of others, individuals differ greatly in how much this determines their lives -in the example, Peter prefers to be alone overall, while Paula wants to spend a lot of time with others.


  • Life motives lead us to a balance between too much and too little. If Peter or Paula experience less of what they want socially, this will motivate them to reach out to others. If, on the other hand, they experience more "contact" than they desire, this will lead them into loneliness in order to find a new balance. Satisfied, they are both able to communicate with others according to their need.

If Peter and Paula are at a party for more than three hours, for example, this would make Peter unhappy, as it requires more social activity than he would like. Paula, on the other hand, with her strong socializing motive, will feel comfortable -and in the end she may still go to a bar with some like-minded people so as not to end the evening too early, while Peter will be glad to finally be able to go home.

  • Life motives influence our attention: while we pay special attention to all stimuli that have to do with the basic motive in question, we conversely tend to tune out everything that has no relevant meaning.

For example

  • a sociable person will always be aware of social opportunities, while the introvert doesn't even know where there's a party this weekend;
  • a competitive person will pay particular attention to whether different activities open up opportunities to win, a less competitive person will not even think about the idea;
  • a tidy person will always look at how tidy and clean the rooms are and immediately notice if something is not in its place, while the "sloppy" hardly notice that the table still shows all the traces of the last meal or the whole house is a mess.

The Reiss Profile has helped me to understand myself better and to redefine my leadership identity. I have recognized what motivations drive me and how I can bring these into my leadership role. This understanding has also allowed me to better reflect and adapt my behavior toward others. I recommend the Reiss Profile to anyone who wants to better understand themselves and their leadership role.


I have used the Reiss Motivation Profile® for my team and am thrilled with the results. It has helped me to better understand the different motivations of my team members and to target them more specifically. As a result, we were able to work together more effectively and I had fewer problems. I can recommend the Reiss Motivation Profile® to any manager who wants to better understand and lead their team.


We worked as a team with the RMP. In our endless discussions, I had never noticed that our differences made it so difficult to turn even simple decisions into endless loops of discussion. When our coach came up with the idea of showing us where we had similarities, but also where we had serious differences, you could really feel the whole team take a breath. We are indeed very heterogeneous, we knew that, but in the meantime our professional discourses had visibly turned into personal conflicts - almost a little childish. Some felt that their ideas would always be criticized by some. Others felt that it was impossible to have a discussion in this team if everyone reacted in an offended manner. Today we know our motives, and we can even appreciate one or two differences. Each and every one of us wanted to use the profile in our own family right away - that's where some exciting insights came in.