Extrinsic Motivation

Extrinsic motivation involves behavior driven by external rewards or incentives. It influences task completion, productivity, and behavior change. While it provides short-term benefits, its sustainability and impact on intrinsic motivation vary among individuals. Examples include workplace bonuses and educational rewards.

Key Concepts of Extrinsic Motivation

To understand extrinsic motivation, it’s essential to grasp the fundamental concepts associated with it:

1. External Incentives:

Extrinsic motivation revolves around external incentives, which can be rewards or punishments. These incentives are offered to encourage or discourage specific behaviors.

2. Operant Conditioning:

Extrinsic motivation is closely related to operant conditioning, a psychological theory that emphasizes the use of rewards and punishments to shape and control behavior. Operant conditioning is often employed to enhance extrinsic motivation.

3. Tangible Outcomes:

Extrinsic motivation is driven by the anticipation of tangible outcomes, such as money, praise, grades, or recognition. These external rewards serve as a form of reinforcement.

Characteristics of Extrinsic Motivation

Extrinsic motivation exhibits several key characteristics that distinguish it from intrinsic motivation and shape its impact:

1. External Rewards or Punishments:

The core characteristic of extrinsic motivation is its reliance on external stimuli, such as rewards or punishments, to influence behavior. Individuals engage in activities primarily to attain a desired reward or avoid an undesired punishment.

2. Goal-Oriented:

Extrinsic motivation is often goal-oriented, with individuals focusing on achieving a specific outcome. The motivation to complete a task or exhibit a behavior is linked to the expectation of obtaining a reward or avoiding a penalty.

3. Short-Term Orientation:

Extrinsic motivation is typically associated with short-term gains. Individuals are more likely to be motivated by external rewards that offer immediate gratification, even if they may not be conducive to long-term well-being or personal growth.

4. Prone to Decreased Intrinsic Motivation:

Excessive reliance on extrinsic motivation can lead to a decrease in intrinsic motivation. When individuals feel that their actions are solely driven by external factors, they may lose interest in the activity itself.

5. Susceptible to Contingencies:

Extrinsic motivation is contingent upon the availability and perceived value of external rewards. If these rewards are reduced or eliminated, motivation to engage in the behavior may decrease.

Types of Extrinsic Motivation

Extrinsic motivation can be categorized into several types, each with its own characteristics and implications:

1. External Regulation:

External regulation represents the lowest level of self-determination. In this type of extrinsic motivation, individuals engage in a behavior solely to obtain an external reward or avoid a punishment. The behavior is entirely controlled by external factors.

2. Introjected Regulation:

Introjected regulation involves a somewhat higher degree of self-determination. Here, individuals engage in a behavior to avoid guilt, anxiety, or to enhance their ego. While the motivation is still extrinsic, it is driven by internal pressures rather than external rewards.

3. Identified Regulation:

In identified regulation, individuals recognize the value and importance of a particular behavior. They engage in the behavior because they understand its relevance to their goals or values, even though it may still involve external rewards.

4. Integrated Regulation:

Integrated regulation represents the highest level of self-determination within extrinsic motivation. In this type, individuals have fully internalized the behavior, aligning it with their personal values and identity. The behavior is no longer solely driven by external factors.

Factors Influencing Extrinsic Motivation

Extrinsic motivation is influenced by a variety of factors that shape its effectiveness and impact on behavior:

1. Reward Magnitude:

The size and desirability of external rewards play a significant role in extrinsic motivation. Larger, more enticing rewards are generally more effective in motivating individuals.

2. Timing of Rewards:

The timing of external rewards can impact motivation. Immediate rewards are often more motivating than delayed ones, as individuals tend to prioritize immediate gratification.

3. Consistency:

Consistency in providing external rewards reinforces the link between behavior and reward. If rewards are sporadic or unreliable, motivation may decrease.

4. Perceived Control:

The extent to which individuals believe they have control over the attainment of external rewards can influence motivation. Perceived control can enhance or diminish the effectiveness of extrinsic motivation.

5. Individual Differences:

Individual characteristics, such as personality traits, values, and cultural background, can shape how individuals respond to extrinsic motivation. What is motivating for one person may not be as effective for another.

Real-World Applications of Extrinsic Motivation

Extrinsic motivation plays a significant role in various aspects of life, from education and work to sports and personal development. Here are some real-world applications:

1. Education:

Grades and academic recognition serve as external motivators for students. The desire to earn good grades and receive praise from teachers and parents can drive students to study and excel academically.

2. Workplace:

Employers often use extrinsic motivation in the form of monetary bonuses, promotions, and awards to encourage employees to achieve specific performance goals or meet deadlines.

3. Sports:

Athletes are frequently motivated by external rewards, such as medals, trophies, and financial incentives, to perform at their best and achieve success in their respective sports.

4. Health and Fitness:

Many individuals are motivated to exercise and maintain a healthy lifestyle by the promise of external rewards, such as weight loss, improved appearance, or prizes for meeting fitness goals.

5. Behavioral Change:

Extrinsic motivation is utilized in behavioral change programs, where individuals are rewarded for adopting healthier habits, quitting smoking, or achieving other positive outcomes.

The Role of Intrinsic and Extrinsic Motivation

It’s important to note that intrinsic and extrinsic motivation are not mutually exclusive; they often interact and influence behavior simultaneously. The balance between these two forms of motivation can significantly impact an individual’s engagement, performance, and overall well-being.

Optimal Balance: Research suggests that an optimal balance between intrinsic and extrinsic motivation is essential for sustained motivation and personal satisfaction. When individuals find meaning and enjoyment in an activity (intrinsic motivation) while also receiving external rewards or recognition (extrinsic motivation), they are more likely to remain motivated over the long term.

Overjustification Effect: This psychological phenomenon occurs when providing excessive external rewards for an activity that individuals originally found intrinsically motivating can lead to a decrease in intrinsic motivation. In such cases, individuals may come to view the activity as a means to an end rather than a source of enjoyment.

Self-Determination Theory: Self-determination theory posits that individuals have innate psychological needs for autonomy, competence, and relatedness. When activities support these needs and promote a sense of self-determination, intrinsic motivation flourishes. Extrinsic motivation can enhance intrinsic motivation when it aligns with these basic psychological needs.

Challenges and Considerations

While extrinsic motivation can be effective in driving certain behaviors, it is not without its challenges and potential drawbacks:

1. Risk of Demotivation:

Excessive reliance on external rewards can lead to demotivation when the rewards are removed or no longer perceived as valuable. This is known as the “crowding out” effect.

2. Short-Term Focus:

Extrinsic motivation often emphasizes short-term gains and immediate rewards, potentially overlooking the long-term benefits and intrinsic value of certain activities.

3. Diminished Creativity:

Tasks driven solely by extrinsic motivation may stifle creativity and intrinsic interest, as individuals may focus on meeting external expectations rather than exploring innovative solutions.

4. Ethical Concerns:

In some cases, the use of external rewards, particularly financial incentives, can raise ethical concerns, such as the potential for bribery or conflicts of interest.


Extrinsic motivation is a multifaceted psychological concept that sheds light on the role of external incentives in driving behavior. While it can be a powerful tool for achieving specific goals and outcomes, it should be applied thoughtfully and in conjunction with an understanding of intrinsic motivation. Striking a balance between intrinsic and extrinsic motivation is key to fostering sustained engagement, personal satisfaction, and achievement in various domains of life. Recognizing the nuances of extrinsic motivation empowers individuals, educators, employers, and policymakers to harness its potential while mitigating its potential downsides.

Key Highlights

  • Introduction to Extrinsic Motivation:
    • Extrinsic motivation refers to behavior driven by external rewards, incentives, or consequences.
    • It plays a significant role in influencing behavior, task completion, and productivity.
  • Characteristic Features:
    • External Rewards: Extrinsic motivation relies on external factors like rewards, recognition, or tangible benefits.
    • Task-Focused: Individuals motivated extrinsically are primarily focused on completing tasks to attain the associated rewards.
    • Short-Term Impact: While effective in prompting immediate behavior change, extrinsic motivation might not maintain long-term commitment.
  • Use Cases and Scenarios:
    • Workplace Productivity: Reward-based systems in workplaces enhance employee productivity and overall performance.
    • Education: Extrinsic motivation is often employed in education, where grades and rewards motivate students to study and excel academically.
    • Health and Fitness: External rewards like incentives or recognition can motivate individuals to stick to health and fitness routines.
  • Benefits and Positive Outcomes:
    • Behavior Change: Extrinsic motivation effectively induces behavior change and aids in achieving specific goals.
    • Task Completion: It helps individuals complete tasks and projects by offering clear incentives.
    • Recognition and Incentives: External rewards provide recognition for efforts and accomplishments, boosting self-esteem.
  • Challenges and Considerations:
    • Sustainability: Extrinsic motivation may not lead to sustained commitment if intrinsic motivation is lacking.
    • Dependency: Overreliance on external rewards can potentially diminish individuals’ intrinsic motivation over time.
    • Individual Differences: The effectiveness of external rewards can vary among individuals, depending on their personalities and preferences.
  • Illustrative Examples:
    • Bonuses: Employees may put in extra effort to earn performance-based bonuses or financial incentives.
    • Contests and Prizes: Competitions that offer rewards motivate participation, performance, and achievement.
    • Certificates and Awards: Recognizing accomplishments through certificates or awards can motivate individuals in various domains.

Connected Thinking Frameworks

Convergent vs. Divergent Thinking

Convergent thinking occurs when the solution to a problem can be found by applying established rules and logical reasoning. Whereas divergent thinking is an unstructured problem-solving method where participants are encouraged to develop many innovative ideas or solutions to a given problem. Where convergent thinking might work for larger, mature organizations where divergent thinking is more suited for startups and innovative companies.

Critical Thinking

Critical thinking involves analyzing observations, facts, evidence, and arguments to form a judgment about what someone reads, hears, says, or writes.


The concept of cognitive biases was introduced and popularized by the work of Amos Tversky and Daniel Kahneman in 1972. Biases are seen as systematic errors and flaws that make humans deviate from the standards of rationality, thus making us inept at making good decisions under uncertainty.

Second-Order Thinking

Second-order thinking is a means of assessing the implications of our decisions by considering future consequences. Second-order thinking is a mental model that considers all future possibilities. It encourages individuals to think outside of the box so that they can prepare for every and eventuality. It also discourages the tendency for individuals to default to the most obvious choice.

Lateral Thinking

Lateral thinking is a business strategy that involves approaching a problem from a different direction. The strategy attempts to remove traditionally formulaic and routine approaches to problem-solving by advocating creative thinking, therefore finding unconventional ways to solve a known problem. This sort of non-linear approach to problem-solving, can at times, create a big impact.

Bounded Rationality

Bounded rationality is a concept attributed to Herbert Simon, an economist and political scientist interested in decision-making and how we make decisions in the real world. In fact, he believed that rather than optimizing (which was the mainstream view in the past decades) humans follow what he called satisficing.

Dunning-Kruger Effect

The Dunning-Kruger effect describes a cognitive bias where people with low ability in a task overestimate their ability to perform that task well. Consumers or businesses that do not possess the requisite knowledge make bad decisions. What’s more, knowledge gaps prevent the person or business from seeing their mistakes.

Occam’s Razor

Occam’s Razor states that one should not increase (beyond reason) the number of entities required to explain anything. All things being equal, the simplest solution is often the best one. The principle is attributed to 14th-century English theologian William of Ockham.

Lindy Effect

The Lindy Effect is a theory about the ageing of non-perishable things, like technology or ideas. Popularized by author Nicholas Nassim Taleb, the Lindy Effect states that non-perishable things like technology age – linearly – in reverse. Therefore, the older an idea or a technology, the same will be its life expectancy.


Antifragility was first coined as a term by author, and options trader Nassim Nicholas Taleb. Antifragility is a characteristic of systems that thrive as a result of stressors, volatility, and randomness. Therefore, Antifragile is the opposite of fragile. Where a fragile thing breaks up to volatility; a robust thing resists volatility. An antifragile thing gets stronger from volatility (provided the level of stressors and randomness doesn’t pass a certain threshold).

Systems Thinking

Systems thinking is a holistic means of investigating the factors and interactions that could contribute to a potential outcome. It is about thinking non-linearly, and understanding the second-order consequences of actions and input into the system.

Vertical Thinking

Vertical thinking, on the other hand, is a problem-solving approach that favors a selective, analytical, structured, and sequential mindset. The focus of vertical thinking is to arrive at a reasoned, defined solution.

Maslow’s Hammer

Maslow’s Hammer, otherwise known as the law of the instrument or the Einstellung effect, is a cognitive bias causing an over-reliance on a familiar tool. This can be expressed as the tendency to overuse a known tool (perhaps a hammer) to solve issues that might require a different tool. This problem is persistent in the business world where perhaps known tools or frameworks might be used in the wrong context (like business plans used as planning tools instead of only investors’ pitches).

Peter Principle

The Peter Principle was first described by Canadian sociologist Lawrence J. Peter in his 1969 book The Peter Principle. The Peter Principle states that people are continually promoted within an organization until they reach their level of incompetence.

Straw Man Fallacy

The straw man fallacy describes an argument that misrepresents an opponent’s stance to make rebuttal more convenient. The straw man fallacy is a type of informal logical fallacy, defined as a flaw in the structure of an argument that renders it invalid.

Streisand Effect

The Streisand Effect is a paradoxical phenomenon where the act of suppressing information to reduce visibility causes it to become more visible. In 2003, Streisand attempted to suppress aerial photographs of her Californian home by suing photographer Kenneth Adelman for an invasion of privacy. Adelman, who Streisand assumed was paparazzi, was instead taking photographs to document and study coastal erosion. In her quest for more privacy, Streisand’s efforts had the opposite effect.


As highlighted by German psychologist Gerd Gigerenzer in the paper “Heuristic Decision Making,” the term heuristic is of Greek origin, meaning “serving to find out or discover.” More precisely, a heuristic is a fast and accurate way to make decisions in the real world, which is driven by uncertainty.

Recognition Heuristic

The recognition heuristic is a psychological model of judgment and decision making. It is part of a suite of simple and economical heuristics proposed by psychologists Daniel Goldstein and Gerd Gigerenzer. The recognition heuristic argues that inferences are made about an object based on whether it is recognized or not.

Representativeness Heuristic

The representativeness heuristic was first described by psychologists Daniel Kahneman and Amos Tversky. The representativeness heuristic judges the probability of an event according to the degree to which that event resembles a broader class. When queried, most will choose the first option because the description of John matches the stereotype we may hold for an archaeologist.

Take-The-Best Heuristic

The take-the-best heuristic is a decision-making shortcut that helps an individual choose between several alternatives. The take-the-best (TTB) heuristic decides between two or more alternatives based on a single good attribute, otherwise known as a cue. In the process, less desirable attributes are ignored.

Bundling Bias

The bundling bias is a cognitive bias in e-commerce where a consumer tends not to use all of the products bought as a group, or bundle. Bundling occurs when individual products or services are sold together as a bundle. Common examples are tickets and experiences. The bundling bias dictates that consumers are less likely to use each item in the bundle. This means that the value of the bundle and indeed the value of each item in the bundle is decreased.

Barnum Effect

The Barnum Effect is a cognitive bias where individuals believe that generic information – which applies to most people – is specifically tailored for themselves.

First-Principles Thinking

First-principles thinking – sometimes called reasoning from first principles – is used to reverse-engineer complex problems and encourage creativity. It involves breaking down problems into basic elements and reassembling them from the ground up. Elon Musk is among the strongest proponents of this way of thinking.

Ladder Of Inference

The ladder of inference is a conscious or subconscious thinking process where an individual moves from a fact to a decision or action. The ladder of inference was created by academic Chris Argyris to illustrate how people form and then use mental models to make decisions.

Goodhart’s Law

Goodhart’s Law is named after British monetary policy theorist and economist Charles Goodhart. Speaking at a conference in Sydney in 1975, Goodhart said that “any observed statistical regularity will tend to collapse once pressure is placed upon it for control purposes.” Goodhart’s Law states that when a measure becomes a target, it ceases to be a good measure.

Six Thinking Hats Model

The Six Thinking Hats model was created by psychologist Edward de Bono in 1986, who noted that personality type was a key driver of how people approached problem-solving. For example, optimists view situations differently from pessimists. Analytical individuals may generate ideas that a more emotional person would not, and vice versa.

Mandela Effect

The Mandela effect is a phenomenon where a large group of people remembers an event differently from how it occurred. The Mandela effect was first described in relation to Fiona Broome, who believed that former South African President Nelson Mandela died in prison during the 1980s. While Mandela was released from prison in 1990 and died 23 years later, Broome remembered news coverage of his death in prison and even a speech from his widow. Of course, neither event occurred in reality. But Broome was later to discover that she was not the only one with the same recollection of events.

Crowding-Out Effect

The crowding-out effect occurs when public sector spending reduces spending in the private sector.

Bandwagon Effect

The bandwagon effect tells us that the more a belief or idea has been adopted by more people within a group, the more the individual adoption of that idea might increase within the same group. This is the psychological effect that leads to herd mentality. What in marketing can be associated with social proof.

Moore’s Law

Moore’s law states that the number of transistors on a microchip doubles approximately every two years. This observation was made by Intel co-founder Gordon Moore in 1965 and it become a guiding principle for the semiconductor industry and has had far-reaching implications for technology as a whole.

Disruptive Innovation

Disruptive innovation as a term was first described by Clayton M. Christensen, an American academic and business consultant whom The Economist called “the most influential management thinker of his time.” Disruptive innovation describes the process by which a product or service takes hold at the bottom of a market and eventually displaces established competitors, products, firms, or alliances.

Value Migration

Value migration was first described by author Adrian Slywotzky in his 1996 book Value Migration – How to Think Several Moves Ahead of the Competition. Value migration is the transferal of value-creating forces from outdated business models to something better able to satisfy consumer demands.

Bye-Now Effect

The bye-now effect describes the tendency for consumers to think of the word “buy” when they read the word “bye”. In a study that tracked diners at a name-your-own-price restaurant, each diner was asked to read one of two phrases before ordering their meal. The first phrase, “so long”, resulted in diners paying an average of $32 per meal. But when diners recited the phrase “bye bye” before ordering, the average price per meal rose to $45.


Groupthink occurs when well-intentioned individuals make non-optimal or irrational decisions based on a belief that dissent is impossible or on a motivation to conform. Groupthink occurs when members of a group reach a consensus without critical reasoning or evaluation of the alternatives and their consequences.


A stereotype is a fixed and over-generalized belief about a particular group or class of people. These beliefs are based on the false assumption that certain characteristics are common to every individual residing in that group. Many stereotypes have a long and sometimes controversial history and are a direct consequence of various political, social, or economic events. Stereotyping is the process of making assumptions about a person or group of people based on various attributes, including gender, race, religion, or physical traits.

Murphy’s Law

Murphy’s Law states that if anything can go wrong, it will go wrong. Murphy’s Law was named after aerospace engineer Edward A. Murphy. During his time working at Edwards Air Force Base in 1949, Murphy cursed a technician who had improperly wired an electrical component and said, “If there is any way to do it wrong, he’ll find it.”

Law of Unintended Consequences

The law of unintended consequences was first mentioned by British philosopher John Locke when writing to parliament about the unintended effects of interest rate rises. However, it was popularized in 1936 by American sociologist Robert K. Merton who looked at unexpected, unanticipated, and unintended consequences and their impact on society.

Fundamental Attribution Error

Fundamental attribution error is a bias people display when judging the behavior of others. The tendency is to over-emphasize personal characteristics and under-emphasize environmental and situational factors.

Outcome Bias

Outcome bias describes a tendency to evaluate a decision based on its outcome and not on the process by which the decision was reached. In other words, the quality of a decision is only determined once the outcome is known. Outcome bias occurs when a decision is based on the outcome of previous events without regard for how those events developed.

Hindsight Bias

Hindsight bias is the tendency for people to perceive past events as more predictable than they actually were. The result of a presidential election, for example, seems more obvious when the winner is announced. The same can also be said for the avid sports fan who predicted the correct outcome of a match regardless of whether their team won or lost. Hindsight bias, therefore, is the tendency for an individual to convince themselves that they accurately predicted an event before it happened.

Read Next: BiasesBounded RationalityMandela EffectDunning-Kruger EffectLindy EffectCrowding Out EffectBandwagon Effect.

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