Intrinsic Motivation

What Is Intrinsic Motivation?

Intrinsic motivation may be described as motivation Opens in new window that exists within the individual, which is driven by an interest or enjoyment in the task itself, such as doing a complicated cross-word puzzle purely for the personal gratification of solving a problem.

In other words intrinsic motivation refers to wanting to perform an activity for its own sake. The activity is an end in itself. Someone might be intrinsically motivated to paint, for example, because he enjoys the process of dabbing colors onto a canvas and takes satisfaction in creating a beautiful or striking picture.

Intrinsic motivation, therefore, typically involves engaging in a behavior or activity because it is interesting and personally rewarding in some satisfying way.

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

  • Participating in a sport because you find the activity enjoyable
  • Solving a word puzzle because you find the challenge fun and interesting
  • Playing a game because you find it exciting

In each of these instances, the person’s behavior is motivated by an internal desire to participate in an activity for its own sake rather than the desire for some external reward.

To summarize, intrinsic motivation is the self-desire to seek out new things and new challenges, to analyze one’s capacity, to observe and to gain knowledge. It is driven by an interest or enjoyment in the task itself, and exists within the individual rather than relying on external pressures or a desire for reward. The phenomenon of intrinsic motivation was first acknowledged within experimental studies of animal behavior.

Intrinsic vs Extrinsic Motivation: How They Energize Behavior

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

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.