What Are Extrinsic And Intrinsic Motivations? Extrinsic vs. Intrinsic Motivation In A Nutshell

Extrinsic motivation refers to behavior that is motivated by the prospect of earning a reward or avoiding a punishment. Intrinsic motivation refers to behavior that is motivated by the desire to do something for its own sake. There is no obvious, external reward for behaving a certain way. 

Understanding extrinsic and intrinsic motivation

Extrinsic and intrinsic motivation are core components of self-determination theory, which links human motivation, personality, and optimal functioning. The theory suggests both forms of motivation have the power to shape who people become and how they behave.

Self-determination theory is based on motivation research performed by psychology professors Richard M. Ryan and Edward L. Deci. In their 1985 book entitled Intrinsic Motivation and Self-Determination in Human Behavior, the pair defined extrinsic motivation as a drive to behave based on external sources and resulting in external rewards. These sources may include employee evaluations, accolades, rewards, or simply a desire to earn the respect of others.

Intrinsic motivation, on the other hand, is based on internal drivers of motivation such as personal values, interests, or a sense of morality.

Examples of extrinsic and intrinsic motivation

Here are a few examples of the two types of motivation.

Extrinsic motivation

  • Going to work because you want to earn money.
  • Studying because you want to earn good grades. 
  • Shopping at the same supermarket chain to benefit from a loyalty program.
  • Attaining a specific degree to make your parents proud.
  • Cleaning the house before a partner arrives home to avoid a confrontation.

Intrinsic motivation

  • Learning about personal development with a goal to improving yourself.
  • Reading about a topic because you are curious or passionate about it.
  • Traveling to experience different cultures.
  • Cleaning the house because you find the process cathartic. 
  • Participating in a team sport for camaraderie and not to win an individual award.

Which form of motivation is preferable?

It may appear at first glance that intrinsic motivation is the more preferable form of motivation. Depending on the situation, however, one or both forms of motivation are most effective.

In a workplace setting, management frequently uses extrinsic motivation to motivate their employees with rewards, bonuses, and other incentives. This is particularly useful when the employee is required to learn a new skill or encouraged to discover more about a subject they are not acquainted with. While this approach is undoubtedly effective, leaders should ensure the employee can work on something they are passionate about to increase the likelihood of long-term success.

Extrinsic motivation can also be useful in situations where an individual needs to complete a task they consider unpleasant. That is, in any situation where intrinsic motivation is impossible to summon.

Having said that, extrinsic motivation should be avoided in any situation where the individual is intrinsically motivated. Studies have shown that offering excessive external rewards for an already internally rewarding behavior can reduce intrinsic motivation. This phenomenon, known as the overjustification effect, results in the activity feeling more like “work” and less like “play”.

Key takeaways:

  • Extrinsic motivation refers to behavior motivated by the prospect of earning a reward or avoiding a punishment. Intrinsic motivation, on the other hand, refers to behavior motivated by the desire to do something for its own sake. 
  • Examples of extrinsic motivation include studying to achieve good grades or shopping at the same supermarket chain to earn loyalty points. Examples of intrinsic motivation include traveling to experience different cultures and cleaning the house because the task is cathartic.
  • Motivation derived exclusively through intrinsic means may appear to be the most desirable outcome. In reality, however, some situations are unpleasant for whatever reason and require extrinsic motivators to assist in their completion. Each form of motivation is context-dependent, with some situations requiring a mixture of both approaches.

Connected Business Concepts

Herzberg’s two-factor theory argues that certain workplace factors cause job satisfaction while others cause job dissatisfaction. The theory was developed by American psychologist and business management analyst Frederick Herzberg. Until his death in 2000, Herzberg was widely regarded as a pioneering thinker in motivational theory.
Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs was developed by American psychologist Abraham Maslow. His hierarchy, often depicted in the shape of a pyramid, helped explain his research on basic human needs and desires. In marketing, the hierarchy (and its basis in psychology) can be used to market to specific groups of people based on their similarly specific needs, desires, and resultant actions.

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