Difference Between Content Theory and Process Theory

Content Theory vs Process Theory

Difference between content theory and process theory is that, content theory emphasizes on the reasons for changing the human needs frequently while process theory focuses on the psychological processes which affect motivation, with regard to the expectations, goals, and perceptions of equity. Both these theories are linked with motivation. This article attempts to explain both the theories and compares both inorder to identify the difference between content theory and process theory.

What is Content Theory?

Content theory or need theory can be identified as the earliest theories related with the concept of motivation. It outlines the reasons for motivating an individual; that means it explains the necessities and requirements that are essential to motivate a person. These theories have been developed by various theorists such as Abraham Maslow – Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs, Federick Herzberg – Two factor theory and David McClelland – Need for achievement, affiliation and power.

In Maslow’s hierarchy of needs, there are five levels of needs as physiological needs, safety needs, social needs, esteem needs and self-actualization needs. If one individual could pursue one level of needs of the hierarchy, then he tries to pursue the next level of needs and it is believed that individual fulfill their needs according to the hierarchical order.

Herzberg developed the two factor theory, which indicates that individual’s motivation depends on the two factors; hygiene factors and motivators. Likewise, each of these theories explains the factors that affect the employee motivation .

Individuals are unique to each other. Therefore, they have different needs an d requirements. Each of the person’s preferences changes with time. Therefore, in organizations it is very much essential to identify the requirements that satisfy and motivate the employees in order to get their maximum contribution.

What is Process Theory?

Process theories outline various behavioral patterns of individuals in fulfilling their needs and requirements. There are four process theories such as Reinforcement, Expectancy, Equity and Goal setting.

Reinforcement theory is another approach to motivation that argues that the behaviour that results in rewarding consequences is likely to be repeated, whereas behaviour that results in punishing consequences is less likely to be repeated. There are four types of reinforcement that can result from behaviour .i.e. positive reinforcement, avoidance, punishment and extinction.

Expectancy theory indicates that one’s level of motivation depends on the attractiveness of the rewards sought and the probability of the rewards obtained. In the case of employees feeling that they get the value from business organizations and they put higher effort of work effort .

Equity theory expresses that individuals’ perceptions on how they are being treated by the organization comparing to other employees in the similar organizational level.

In goal setting theory, goal difficulty, specificity, acceptance and commitment combine to determine an individual’s goal directed effort. This effort when complemented by appropriate organizational support and individual abilities result in good performance.

Difference Between Content Theory and Process Theory What is the difference between Content Theory and Process Theory?

• Content theory outlines the reasons for motivating an individual while process theory underlines the effect of behavioural patterns in fulfilling the expectations of an individual.

• Content theories include Maslow’s hierarchy of needs, Herzberg’s two factor theory, etc.

• Process theories include Reinforcement, Expectancy, Equity and Goal setting theories.



  1. Drucker, P. (2012). The Practice of Management.
  2. Lussier, R. N. (2009). Management Fundamentals: Concepts, Applications, Skill Development. Mason: Cengage Learning.
  3. Griffin, R. W. (2013). Fundamentals of Management. Cengage Learning.
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