It is not an emotion, but a process that ties emotions to actions. It directs our emotions and it determines how much energy and attention our brain and body assign to a given stimulus - whether it is a thought coming in or a situation that confronts us. Motivation is “essential” for survival.
Remember movement, well the term motivation is derived from the latin root that is related to movement, the latin word is, “movere,” to set in motion. Motivation creates and guides us in goal-directed behaviors or actions toward fulfilling our basic needs.
Incentives are external stimulus that trigger us toward something in some way - everything from a ripe apple to the prospect of a raise in pay. Maslow provided a diagram, structure, on this principle when he presented his “hierarchy of needs.”
Motivation is a pressure to act, it is at the heart of all goal-oriented behavior with many levels of our brain involved.
The brain, us, must observe, perceive, assess and make a decision on both internal and external stimuli. Internal are the physiological cues like hunger and the external is environmental cues like a steaming burrito on a plate. It also allows the brain to assess and compare previous, present and possible different stimuli.
Central to motivation is the ability to label stimuli/situations to emotions, emotions to labels. We have to assess our feelings, moods and emotions for or against something to determine our movement toward or away from it.
Because motivation is closely associated to physical behavior, the structures that produce and maintain it are closely related to those that regulate motor function and movement.
The link between motivation and emotion, the cingulate gyrus, takes the sensory input to receive processed visual, auditory, and olfactory information and also takes in inputs that reflect the internal state of our bodies so after all that information is input it must transmit a completed message to parts of the brain that can enact a behavioral response.
This and more provide a person with the ability to judge what is worth pursuing or acting on for survival.
Structures of the limbic system, thalamus and basal ganglia interact to perform different parts of the whole task of perceiving, assessing, and communicating motivational influences in our environment. They hold various motivations in working memory and compare conflicting goals. This takes us to the end result of choice, inhibition and seeking a reward.
Ratey, John J. “A User’s Guide to the Brain: Perception, Attention and the Four Theaters of the Brain.” Pantheon. January 1, 2001.