Back to Blog

The Reiss Motivation Profile and Gamification

adult learning behavioral science motivation narrative Jun 12, 2018

Think of how much you played as a child. You exerted a tremendous amount of energy, and spent as much time as possible, playing games. Why such a commitment? Because it was fun!

Ultimately, we were motivated by "fun," though we differ in our definitions of fun. Our brains have receptors for different "pleasure" chemicals and hormones. When certain desires are satiated, we are rewarded with associated brain chemistry that signal that what we just did was enjoyable or fun. However, we each have different numbers of these receptors. For instance, a sociopath lacks receptors for oxytocin, and extreme sports are only attractive to those with ample adrenalin receptors.   

When it comes to gamification, and Learning and Development in general, we need to realize that what is fun for one person will not be fun for another person. This type of person might find this game mechanic, but that person over there will be repulsed by the same mechanic. Think of the variety of games available. While there are some common characteristics among them, the variety comes from their appeal to different core motivators. 

Ask yourself, why did you play the games you played as a Child. Why did you invest so much time and energy in them? Why did you find those specific games fun? 

May I suggest that what motivates you in life can be traced back to what you found fun as a child? Could it be that there is something core to your motivation profile that determines what you define as fun? 

Using a rigid scientific protocol, and leveraging statistical and computational methodologies, Stephen Reiss, PhD, identified 16 core desires that impact our personalities and the choices we make, as well as why we would engage in one activity but not another. His findings have been supported with an expanding dataset and dozens of scientific, peer-reviewed papers. 

Most categorization efforts attempt to push people into groups, usually the four archetypes from ancient Greek mythology and Jungian mysticism. The Reiss Motivation Profile goes the opposite direction; it demonstrates why, exactly, we are unique from each other, even those within our archetypical subgroups. 

Where we differ is the degree to which the 16 core needs motivate us. As you’d expect, we will be averagely motivated in many areas, but we’ll have three or four core needs that highly motivate us, and three or four core needs in which we are below average motivated.

When we are averagely motivated with a core desire, that desire is probably satiated without much effort on our part. For instance, let's say society gives us three meals a day, and the supply of food is adequate to fill your stomach, you won't spend a lot of time thinking about food. Sure, you'll be hungry, and you have a reward system that makes eating enjoyable, but thoughts of food won't dominate your day.

But what if your brain signals you that three meals may not be enough? You will make certain choices, engage in certain activities, to ensure that the pleasure centers associated with eating are satiated. You will make work and leisure decisions based on satiating your Eating motivators. 

And we can predict that a game like Candy Crush not only be attractive to you, but you might find it fun to play.  

I want to suggest that instead of simply throwing game mechanics at a learning program, we should be systematic, even scientific, in our approach. We should determine what core desires a mechanic satiates, and then consider the Motivation Profiles of our learners. 

For instance, we have found that people going through our Gamification Certification, across the board, are low motivated by Vengeance. This means these folks don't have a reward system for conquering a foe. For them, crushing an opposing player is not fun. 

But I happened to be highly motivated by Vengeance. As a child, I played Risk to the last dice roll. There was no joy and ceding defeat with armies still on the board.

So I would enjoy competition in my learning programs. I'd like a leaderboard so I could see who I needed to crush to win. I want clear winners and losers.

But that these type of mechanics are repugnant to the majority of the learners going through our Gamification Certifications. (We've only had seven high Vengeance folks, including me). 


I've listed the 16 Core Desires from Dr. Reiss research. I'd like to begin a conversation about what game mechanics "trigger" which core desire. For instance, for all of the pleasure receptors associated with Eating, I haven't identified a mechanic that satiates that desire. It's certainly an attractive theme or reward, but is there a mechanic that causes a release of pleasure hormones? 

I'd love to hear your thoughts ([email protected]) as I explore each of the core desires in the coming posts. 

Jonathan Peters, PhD



Acceptance: The Desire to Avoid Failure and Criticism

Beauty: The Desire for Aesthetically Appealing Experiences

Curiosity: The Desire for Understanding

Eating: The Desire for Food

Family: The Desire to Raise Children and Spend Time with Siblings

Honor: The Desire to Preserve Traditions and Follow Rules

Idealism: The Desire for Social Justice

Independence: The Desire to Work on One’s Own

Order: The Desire for Structure

Physical Activity: The Desire for Muscle Exercise

Power: The Desire for Influence or Leadership

Saving: The Desire To Collect

Social Contact: The Desire for Peer Companionship

Status: The Desire for Respect Based on Social Standing

Tranquility: The Desire to be Free of Anxiety and Pain

Vengeance: The Desire to Confront Those Who Offend


Don't miss a beat!

New moves, motivation, and classes delivered to your inbox. 

We hate SPAM. We will never sell your information, for any reason.