A motivational schema is, at root, a neural network developed to satisfy and protect basic needs. Schemas can be broadly divided into two classes: approach schemata and avoidance schemata. Approach and avoidance schemata operate on different neural pathways. If an individual grows up in an environment where needs have been met, especially during the critical early attachment phase, then approach schemas of interacting with the environment are likely to develop, resulting in approach-oriented behaviour. Conversely, an individual whose needs are continually threatened and violated is likely to develop avoidance schemas that will motivate insecure, anxious, and avoidant behaviour. John Bowlby’s attachment theory furnishes a critical understanding of the foundation of mental schemata, explaining how securely attached children develop primarily approach motivational schemas and insecurely attached children develop avoidance motivational schemas.

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