Motivation and Change
William R. Miller
Regents Professor of Psychology and Psychiatry
Director of Research, CASAA
University of New Mexico
Professor of Psychology
University of New Mexico
here for a list of the team members.
For most of the twentieth century, scientific psychology
emphasized deterministic and reductionistic models of motivation and of how
and why people change. It is clear that human behavior is influenced by neurophysiology
and by lawful principles of learning and cognition. A Christian perspective
on human motivation and change, however, embraces a rather different and broader
causal understanding of human conduct, one that emphasizes personal agency
and mind, volition and responsibility, the centrality of values, and the potential
for radical transformation.
The Psychology team would explore five broad and logically
related themes to explore and explicate Christian scholarship on human change.
The first is the
role of human identity, volition and personal agency. The interaction
of mechanistic and agentive influences on human behavior, including phenomena
such as choice, decision, conscience, awakening, and commitment, is one
area for exploration, in a field focused almost exclusively on reductionistic
models. Issues of identity are also central here, for self-perception
is powerfully related to motivation and change, and the perception of
being changed is itself a component of identity.
- The second is the role
of values in human motivation and change. The belief that one's values
underlie and are manifested in behavior is fundamental in any Christian
understanding of human nature.
- The third theme the team will
explore will involve whether one can derive scientifically testable hypotheses
from Christian teachings, particularly those regarding virtues such as faith,
hope, love, and forgiveness. This is seldom done because behavioral scientists
rarely look to Christianity for theory,and Christian often regard scientific
verification to be irrelevant.
- A fourth theme is to explore
what behavioral science has to offer Christians in promoting their own
spiritual development and conformity to the precepts of a Christian life.
Clinical, learning, cognitive and social psychology has much to offer to
those who seek to direct their lives and behavior toward Christian ideals.
There is also much to learn about the power of narrative--why stories can
have such a salient impact, why we seem to need to hear and tell them, and
how they function to convey faith and identity from generation to generation.
Well-established psychological principles (e.g., of learning, conditioning,
cognition, social influence) can be applied in promoting adherence to a
- Finally, the team will explore
the phenomenon of transformational change. Scientific psychology has focused
mostly on what William James termed the "educational" variety
of change, which proceeds gradually by successive approximations. James
recognized that there is also another variety of change, which is a sudden
turnabout. It is captured in literature, (as in the character of Ebenezer
Scrooge) and biblical accounts (Saul on the Damascus Road). The possibility
of such transformation is central in Christian thinking, yet very little
scientific attention has been devoted to this very real and striking form