Reversal Theory is a psychological theory that attempts to explain and understand human motivation and emotional experiences. It suggests that individuals have the capacity to experience and shift between opposite motivational states or “reversals” in response to different situations and goals.

Key Principles:

  1. Reversals:
  2. Reversals are the central concept of Reversal Theory. They refer to the dynamic shifts individuals experience between pairs of motivational states, such as approach/avoidance, serious/frivolous, and self-focus/other-focus.

  3. Meta-Motivational States:
  4. Reversal Theory suggests that there are four primary meta-motivational states: telic, paratelic, autic, and syntelic. These states represent the direction and extent of an individual’s motivation and determine their subjective experiences.

  5. Teleological Nature:
  6. Reversal Theory emphasizes the teleological nature of human motivation, focusing on the goals individuals pursue and how they are experienced. It suggests that motivation arises from the desire to transition between different meta-motivational states.

  7. Intensity and Arousal:
  8. Another important aspect of Reversal Theory is the consideration of intensity and arousal. The theory posits that each meta-motivational state has its optimal level of intensity and arousal that individuals seek to achieve.

  9. Influencing Factors:
  10. Reversal Theory acknowledges that several factors, including situational demands, individual differences, and personality traits, can influence an individual’s tendencies towards specific meta-motivational states and their ability to switch between them.


Reversal Theory has found applications in various fields, including psychology, sports psychology, education, and business. It provides insights into understanding motivation and emotional experiences, helping professionals design strategies to enhance performance, engagement, and personal growth.