Can the word "motivate"be used in a negative situation? For example, "the Stamp Act motivated people to voice their opposition"

  • 1
    If people were opposed to the Stamp Act, and voiced their opposition, that action would have seemed "positive" to them (it was done in accordance with their beliefs). Dec 1 '18 at 20:28
  • 2
    Voicing opposition is not negative.
    – Lambie
    Dec 1 '18 at 20:37
  • 1
    I am opposed to Brexit, and voice my opposition at every opportunity, and it feels very positive. Dec 1 '18 at 21:02

The verb 'motivate' can simply mean to "influence a person or people to do something", with no "positive" or "negative" meaning:

to cause someone to behave in a particular way

However, it is often used to describe efforts to make people do more, do better, or make positive choices, and "motivational" speeches, posters, slogans, etc, are used for that kind of purpose:

to make someone want to do something well

Motivate (Cambridge Dictionary)


"Motivation" is a neutral term. The same set of circumstances can be said to motivate someone to do either positive or negative acts.

Extreme poverty motivated her to start her own business.

Extreme poverty motivated her to commit several robberies.

In any case, "voicing opposition" is not normally considered a negative act. As with "motivate" it's a neutral expression whose connotations depend on the exact circumstances of the opposition.

For example, in the TV series "The Simpsons" the misanthropic owner of the town's nuclear power plant often voices his opposition to things like charity or quality of life, which most would consider to be a "negative" opinion:

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  • "In any case, 'voicing opposition' is not normally considered a negative act." That entirely depends on the location and on the context. I think we should leave this borderline political statement out of it! The rest of your answer is great. Dec 2 '18 at 0:58
  • @LightnessRacesinOrbit There's nothing "political" about it, as the mere act of "voicing opposition" is never considered in and of itself to be negative. As with "motivate", it is a neutral term that relies entirely on context to be negative or positive. But I will clarify this in my answer.
    – Andrew
    Dec 2 '18 at 6:30
  • Voicing opposition may certainly be considered generally negative in some value systems. Dec 2 '18 at 15:00
  • @LightnessRacesinOrbit Certainly if you believe so, provide an example.
    – Andrew
    Dec 2 '18 at 15:37
  • @Andrew - maybe some people think that support [of anything] is somehow "positive" and opposition [to anything] is somehow "negative" in some narrow sense? Dec 3 '18 at 22:05

Yes. Although motivation has a positive connotation, for instance when we talk about the reasons a murderer murdered someone, we talk about his motives. In a similar sense, politicians often advocate their policy as meant to diminish certain motivations, such as the motivation to misuse social benefits.

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