Family Is What Motivates People Most, New Study Finds

mindbodygreen Editorial Assistant By Sarah Regan
mindbodygreen Editorial Assistant
Sarah Regan is a writer, registered yoga instructor, and Editorial Assistant at mindbodygreen. She received her bachelor's in broadcasting and mass communication from SUNY Oswego, and lives in Brooklyn, New York.
Family Gathered Around Dining Table Taking a Photo Together

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A new study has discovered people around the world have more in common than you might expect when it comes to what motivates them.

No, despite much of the previous research’s focus on romance, it’s not finding a partner that drives us; it’s family, or specifically, “kin care.”

Evolutionary and social psychologists from Arizona State University conducted a survey of over 7,000 people from 27 countries across the globe, and what they found suggests family matters.

What the findings say

Even with such a large sample size across so many different countries, kin care was frequently considered the most important motivation, along with “mate retention” (holding on to a partner long term, as opposed to “mate seeking,” which is finding a partner in the first place).

Ahra Ko, an ASU psychology graduate student and first author on the paper notes, "People consistently rated kin care and mate retention as the most important motivations in their lives, and we found this over and over, in all 27 countries that participated.”

Some of those countries included Australia, Uganda, Thailand, and Bulgaria. And even in those cultures, seemingly so different, kin care was a priority.

"The findings replicated in regions with collectivistic cultures, such as Korea and China,” says Ko, “and in regions with individualistic cultures like Europe and the US."

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Different from previous research

In the past, the study notes, much of the research in evolutionary psychology has focused on behavior motivated by finding a sexual or romantic partner. So it’s interesting, then, that the participants in this study rated “mate seeking” as the least important factor in their lives.

"Studying attraction is easy and sexy,” says Douglas Kenrick Ph.D., President's Professor of Psychology at ASU and senior author on the study, “but people's everyday interests are actually more focused on something more wholesome - family values.”

Even the young adults and single study participants, who were somewhat expected to be concerned with finding romantic/sexual partners, were still more concerned with kin care and mate retention.

"Everybody cares about their family and loved ones the most,” Kenrick adds, “which, surprisingly, hasn't been as carefully studied as a motivator of human behavior."

Why does this matter?

The research made another interesting observation with regard to motivation and its connection to our well-being.

Those who viewed kin care and long term relationships as the most important motivating factor, the study found, were more satisfied with their lives overall. And those who considered mate seeking to be their top priority were more likely to be depressed, anxious, and less satisfied with their lives.

"People might think they will be happy with numerous sexual partners,” Kenrick says, “but really they are happiest taking care of the people they already have.”

The research team will now work on furthering these findings by broadening their research on the connection between motivation and well-being worldwide.

We know feeling loved is linked with with greater mental well-being; this study supports that and more.

We don't want to just feel loved and connected, we want the same for those close to us.

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