Section IV. Affect, Motivation and Creativity – Foundations of Indian Psychology, Volume 1

Section 4

Affect, Motivation and Creativity


The study of psychological phenomena becomes most intriguing when we examine its dynamism and affective content. In fact these features constitute the major part of the vast spectrum of experiences notable in human functioning such as love, hatred, anger, hostility, violence, cooperation, achievement, power, peace and negotiation. Indeed they colour our outlook toward self and others, and determine our investments for the choice of one over the other domain of life, and the pursuance of related activities for achieving the ends we desire. In psychological metatheory, therefore, motivation is deeply implicated in the formulations of purposive and goal-directed behaviour. It brings in the element of volition and free will/self-determination, and distinguishes human behaviour from the behaviour of machines. The most challenging problem of motivation comes from the domain of creativity in which people undertake extraordinary feats and demonstrate originality in their constructions. The present section deals with some of the issues pertaining to affect, motivation and creativity.

There are well-documented variations between, as well as within individuals in terms of their level of performance, commitment and persistence. People in various walks of life (for example, sports, work and creative engagement) evince a remarkable variation in these characteristics. Understanding this complexity is not only necessary to furnish a plausible causal account of behaviour at a theoretical level, but also to derive the practical means needed for changing and shaping behaviour in desirable directions. However, the observed changes in the variability, frequency, and quality of behaviour or effort within different situations are impressive and their explanation defies any simplistic account.

The extant psychological vocabulary and practices are replete with a number of related constructs such as interest, aspiration, intention, volition, value, and attribution, which in various ways seem to direct and guide human action. These terms have been posited to describe and explain the observed diversity in human endeavours. People invest personal and social resources for achieving different goals, and undertaking feats demanding higher levels of competence and skill.

The implicit assumption in most theoretical accounts in psychology is that human beings possess a form of energy which gets manifested as action and behaviour. The thwarting of any movement towards chosen goals results in frustration and conflict, which in turn threatens our well-being. With the technological revolution taking place in the IT sector, leisure activities and work behaviours are being redesigned. Globalization is changing the nature of work, and people are required to perform in newer and more complex ways, which often leads to role stress. The world of work is undergoing rapid transformation. In today's world, the experiences of stress and burn-out are being frequently reported, and the lack of home–work balance is becoming a major issue.

Motivation deals with the springs of action which make behaviour possible. For quite some time, the psychological theories of motivation consisted of mechanical models employing a system in which behaviour was linked with a set of potentially causative or explanatory factors encompassing neural, physiological, social, cognitive, behavioural and situational ones, in combination or alone. These underlying factors were posited as aspects of conscious as well as unconscious levels of processing. Depending upon theoretical preference, a stable dispositional, a dynamic situational, or an interaction model was suggested to account for the observed variability in behaviour.

The analysis of various motivational properties of behaviour essentially relates to the issues of emergence, sustenance, and termination of action and behaviour. To this end, psychologists have posited a number of factors inside and outside the person (for example, instincts, needs, personality factors, drives, motives, goals, incentives, rewards, punishment). There are numerous theories which attempt to provide convincing accounts of behavioural diversity. The common theoretical strategy has been to secure an apparently legitimate perspective based on a combination of physiological, social and cognitive factors.

Being closely connected to the shaping of work-involvement, educational performance, and social interactions in various formal and informal settings (for example, family, peer interaction, market, and community), much interest has been displayed in interventions designed to influence people's behaviour. In recent years psychologists have worked extensively on the analysis of intrinsic motivation, and self-related motivational processes. However, the analysis is predominantly framed within a positivist framework.

Contrary to the Western perspective, the Indian view posits a spiritual self and raises the questions of consciousness and enlarged identities. It refers to four major life goals—dharma (upholding the social order), artha (economic activity), kāma (pursuit of pleasure) and mokṣa (quest for liberation). The duality between the mundane and spiritual is overcome by the assumption of a transcendental identity, which encompasses the totality of existence. The Indian approach, being more inclusive, allows and facilitates movement toward higher levels of development, without any contradiction. In this framework dharma has been assigned a key role. It is asserted that all actions must be in accordance with dharma. In matters of conflict dharma is the deciding factor. Relevant to this is the fact that a clear distinction is made between the desired (preyas) and the desirable (śreyas). One must take up actions that are desirable and not those that are merely desired.

The above view is shared in different ways, and human suffering is explained on the basis of clinging to various objects, perceptions and experiences. The egocentric or egoistic tendencies (‘I-ness’ and mamatva) are the roots of all anxieties, conflicts and tensions. In the Indian view, what one needs to develop is samatā or equanimity. The systems of rāja yoga, karma yoga, jñāna yoga, and bhakti yoga have been developed to suit different people. The notion of the person as actor is decried, and ego is treated as a mere instrument of action. Ahaṁkāra (egoism) is considered as the most critical problem to be tackled.

In the field of emotions, the mainstream approach is that of the naturalists, who usually base their views on Darwinian beliefs about the role of emotions in human survival. Naturalists hold that emotions are biologically grounded and essentially uniform across the human species. In contrast, constructionists argue that emotions are culture-specific. Some emotions which are central in one culture, simply do not seem to exist in other cultures. Further, the same emotion is often differently defined and expressed, varying from one culture to another. In Indian thought, the term rasa denotes emotion. Rasa is translated into English variously as emotion, meta-emotion, sentiment and aesthetic mood.

Similarly, in the field of creativity, the mainstream psychological research focuses mainly on the creative individual and therefore explains the phenomenon of creativity in terms of traits and abilities. The alternative perspective explains the phenomenon of creativity in terms of processes or systems which the creative individual is a part of, thereby providing a context within which both, the creative process and the creative person, are embedded. Here, creativity comes to be understood as a process embedded in a network of other processes external to the creative individual. Theses processes include the social, political and cultural factors that have a great influence on the genesis of a creative person as well as on the construction of ‘creativity’ at a particular point in time. In the Indian view, creativity is a disciplined intellectual–spiritual exercise embedded in the social context and heightened by moral, social and spiritual values.

In ‘Psychology of emotions: Some cultural perspectives’, Girishwar Misra begins with a summary of findings on the study of emotions in mainstream psychology. Whereas early studies on emotions searched for universals, the author notes that studies across cultures do indicate differences in the experience of emotions, in their recognition, and variations in their intensity. Misra builds on this and concludes that emotions are culturally shaped. The Indian contribution of rasa theory is then outlined. Misra is of the view that the concept of rasa as meta-emotion and bhāva as emotion, present a new dimension of aesthetic creativity that goes beyond the established views on emotion and widens their scope. The Indian idea of rasa draws our attention to a refined subjective mental state, and in relation to aesthetic experience, the person as dancer/poet and spectator/audience gets transported to an altered state, which may not be in congruence with mundane experience. Misra holds that in the Indian view, emotion can be a transcendental cognition, and rasa involves experiencing the universal self.

Sunil D. Gaur begins his chapter, ‘Why am I here? Implications of self and identity for conceptualizing motivation’, with an overview of theories on motivation in mainstream psychology. The author notes that contemporary views of motivation are derived from Western culture and are based on assumptions which often do not hold true in non-Western cultures, for example, the predominantly individualistic and egoistic notion of self. Gaur points out that Indian views on motivation are informed by an interdependent worldview, wherein the self is viewed in relation to physical, social and spiritual aspects of existence. The Indian paradigm is holistic and organic, and expands the boundaries of the individualistic theories of motivation prevailing in the discipline.

Anand C. Paranjpe examines ‘The principles and practice of karma yoga in the writings and life of B. G. Tilak’. He begins by clarifying that karma yoga is a means for liberation of the self with the primary emphasis on action as opposed to emotion and cognition, which are the focus in bhakti and jñāna yoga, and goes on to present the conceptual foundations of karma yoga as found in the Indian tradition. Paranjpe next offers a modern psychological interpretation of karma yoga. A life history of Tilak is then outlined following Erik Erikson's approach in the study of the biography of the exceptional person. But instead of using Erikson's eight stages, Paranjpe uses the philosophy propounded by Tilak to help understand how it shaped Tilak's own life.

‘From dejection to action: A narrative analysis of the transformation of Arjuna and Yudhiṣṭhira’ is Kavita Sharma's analysis of the changes that took place in the consciousness of Arjuna and Yudhiṣṭhira, after being counselled by Kṛṣṇa. The first step was the elimination of egoistic activity that has its foundation in an egoistic consciousness. This means that work has to be done without any desire for the outcome. Working desirelessly thus entails absolute equality of mind and heart to all results, reactions, or happenings. Therefore, in Sharma's interpretation, the first step is karma yoga, the selfless sacrifice of works, and here the insistence is on action. The second step is jñāna yoga, the self-realization and knowledge of the true nature of the self and the world, and here the insistence is on knowledge. The third and last step, in Sharma's view, is that of bhakti yoga as devotion, the seeking of the supreme self as the divine Being. Works still continues in true knowledge, but now are done by a worker stationed in the Divine.

In ‘Cultural construction of creativity: Dualism and beyond’, Minati Panda points out that Western views have promoted a notion of creativity as an individualistic non-conforming innovation wherein the lone genius stands apart from others and in isolation from social forces. Panda notes that this approach has biased Indian as well as cross-cultural comparative studies of creativity projecting a view of non-Western ‘collective’ cultures as less creative. The author then examines traditional Indian texts and thought on the creative processes, which reveals a perspective that goes beyond the dualistic opposition between the individual and society, and between originality and conformity. In the Indian view, creativity is a disciplined intellectual exercise embedded in the social context and heightened by moral and social values. Panda concludes that creativity is not an individualistic utilitarian act; it is a disciplined and value-based mental act situated in the cultural context, in which the individual and the social are fused together.