Extrinsic Motivation

What Is Extrinsic Motivation?

Extrinsic motivation refers to performing a task because of something that results from it. The task is a means to some other end—it is pursued for what it accomplishes or leads to, rather than for the activity itself.

A person who is extrinsically motivated to paint might paint in order to make money. This painter might be very motivated and might work very hard, even if s/he did not really like painting much at all.

Extrinsic motivation, therefore, may be described as the behavior that is driven by external rewards such as money, fame, trophies, grades, and praise. This type of motivation arises from outside the individual, as opposed to intrinsic motivation Opens in new window, which originates inside of the individual.

Examples of behaviors that are the result of extrinsic motivation include:

  • Studying because you want to get a good grade
  • Cleaning your room to avoid being reprimanded by your parents
  • Participating in a sport in order to win awards
  • Competing in a contest in order to win a scholarship

In each of these instances, the behavior is motivated by a desire to gain a reward or avoid a negative outcome.

In sum, extrinsic motivation involves your tendency to perform activities for known external rewards, whether they be tangible (e.g., money) or psychological (e.g., praise) in nature. You may be extrinsically motivated to perform a behavior or engage in an activity in order to earn a reward or avoid a punishment.

Extrinsic Motivation vs Intrinsic: How They Energize Behavior

Whereas extrinsic motivation arises from outside the individual, and is driven by tangible rewards such as money, medals, or intangible rewards such as fame, or praise, intrinsic motivation originates from inside the individual and is driven by personally oriented rewards such as opportunity to use one’s ability, a sense of challenge, or to gain knowledge.

The primary difference between the two types of motivation is that extrinsic motivation arises from outside of the individual while intrinsic motivation arises from within. Findings have shown that the two type of motivation can differ in how effective they are at driving behavior.

A number of studies have demonstrated that offering excessive external rewards for an already internally rewarding behavior can actually lead to a reduction in intrinsic motivation. In one study, for example, children who were rewarded for playing with a toy they had already expressed interest in playing with became less interested in the item after being externally rewarded.

Extrinsic motivation can be beneficial in a number of situations, however:

  • External rewards can induce interest and participation in something the individual had no initial interest in.
  • Extrinsic motivation can be used to motivate people to acquire new skills or knowledge. Once these initial skills have been acquired, people may then become more intrinsically motivated to pursue the activity.
  • External rewards can also be a source of feedback, allowing people to know when their performance has achieved a standard deserving of reinforcement.

Extrinsic motivators should be avoided in situations where:

  • The individual already finds the activity intrinsically rewarding
  • Offering a reward might make a “play” activity seem more like “work.”

While most people would suggest that intrinsic motivation is best, it is not always possible in each and every situation. In some cases, people simply have no internal desire to engage in an activity.

Excessive rewards may be problematic, but when used appropriately, extrinsic motivators can be a useful tool. For example, extrinsic motivation can be used to get people to complete a work task or school assignment in which they have no internal interest.

Researchers have arrived at three major conclusions with regards to extrinsic rewards and their influence on intrinsic motivation:

  1. Unexpected external rewards typically do not decrease intrinsic motivation. For example, if you get good marks in a test because you enjoy learning about the subject and the teacher decides to reward you with a gift, your underlying motivation for learning about the subject will not be affected. However, this needs to be done with caution, because people will sometimes come to expect such rewards.
  2. Researchers have found that offering positive praise and feedback when people do something better in comparison to others can actually improve intrinsic motivation.
  3. Intrinsic motivation will decrease, however, when external rewards are given for completing a specific task or only doing minimal work. For example, if parents heap lavish praise on their child every time he completes a simple task, he will become less intrinsically motivated to perform that task in the future.

Intrinsic and extrinsic motivation can also play an important role in learning settings. Some experts argue that the traditional emphasis on external rewards such as grades, report cards and stars undermines any existing intrinsic motivation that students might have. Others suggest that these extrinsic motivators help students feel more competent in the classroom, thus enhancing intrinsic motivation.

A person’s interest often survives when a reward is used neither to bribe nor to control but to signal a job well done, as in a “most valuable player” award. If award boosts your feeling of competence after doing good work, your enjoyment of the task may increase.

Rewards, rightly administered, can motivate high performance and creativity. And extrinsic rewards (such as scholarships, admissions, and jobs that often follow good grades) are here to stay,” explains David G. Meyers in his text “Psychology: Eight Edition in Modules.”

As we have seen in this literature, extrinsic motivation and intrinsic motivation are both important ways of driving behavior. In order to comprehend how these can be best utilized, it is important to understand some of the key differences between the two types of motivation including the overall impact that each can have on behavior.