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Intrinsic and Extrinsic Motivation – Differences & Examples

| Types Of Motivation | Intrinsic and Extrinsic Motivation Can Coexist | The Difference Between Intrinsic Versus Extrinsic Motivation | The Science Of Motivation |

The main difference between intrinsic and extrinsic motivation is that intrinsic motivation leads to performing an activity for enjoyment, while extrinsic motivation leads to doing it for a separable outcome or an outside incentive other than the enjoyment of the task.

Types Of Motivation

In psychology, there are two different types of motivation: intrinsic motivation and extrinsic motivation.

Intrinsic Motivation

Intrinsic motivation is engaging in an activity because it is enjoyable. You may find it fun or challenging. You are doing the activity for its own sake, not because you’ll get obvious external rewards or extrinsic motivators. The feeling from doing the task itself is the reward.

Think about what you do in everyday life that you engage in for its pure enjoyment. If you are reading this article out of interest and curiosity, and enjoy learning more about the topic, then you are intrinsically motivated.

Extrinsic Motivation

Extrinsic motivation refers to doing something not because you enjoy it but because you want to earn extrinsic rewards or avoid punishment. External motivation is the exact opposite of intrinsic motivation.

Using extrinsic motivation to drive human behavior is pervasive in daily life. If you are reading this article because you need the information to prepare for an exam or to write a paper, you are extrinsically motivated.

Mom and Dad read book together with daughter extrinsic vs intrinsic motivation

Intrinsic and Extrinsic Motivation Can Coexist

People can engage in the same behavior for different reasons and, therefore, different motivations.

But sometimes, intrinsic and extrinsic motivation can co-exist even though they are the opposite of each other.

For instance, you can study psychology because you enjoy learning about this topic, but you also want to get good grades. Therefore, you study very hard because of both intrinsic and extrinsic incentives. So, you have both intrinsic and extrinsic motivation to learn.

Intrinsic vs. Extrinsic Motivation

The key differences between intrinsic and extrinsic motivation lie in the source of motivation​1​.

Intrinsic motivation is performing an activity for its enjoyment, while extrinsic motivation is doing something for a separable outcome or an outside incentive other than enjoyment.

However, intrinsic and extrinsic do not represent where the motivation comes from.

Internal motivation or internal drive, a motivation that comes from within, can be extrinsic, too.

For example, wanting to get high grades may come from within a student because they want to go to college. Even though this is an internal desire, the student is still acting on extrinsic motivation because they do it for a separable outcome besides personal satisfaction.

girl plays tennis intrinsic and extrinsic motivation

Intrinsic and extrinsic motivation examples:

Examples of intrinsic motivation Examples of extrinsic motivation
Practicing tennis for funPracticing tennis to win a game
Playing the piano because you enjoy making musicPlaying the piano because you want to avoid being nagged
Reading a novel for pleasureReading a novel to write a book report
Volunteering because you enjoy helping othersVolunteering because you want others to like you
Watching a movie for the excitementGoing to a movie to chaperone
Studying because you enjoy learning about the topicStudying because you want good grades to please your parents
Working hard because you enjoy being good at itWorking hard because you want to earn a bonus
Taking a walk to relaxTaking a walk to lose weight
Playing with your child to feel connectedPlaying with your child to prevent tantrum
Saying thank you because you appreciate other’s helpSaying thank you because you want to follow social rules
Learning a new language because you enjoy learning new thingsLearning a new language to work in another country
Cooking because you like creating new dishesCooking because your family is hungry
Making craft because you enjoy being creativeMaking crafts to sell for money
Smiling because you feel good doing itSmiling because you feel socially obligated
Working hard because a positive work environment energizes youWorking hard because financial incentives will be given.
Doing chores because you enjoy organizing your homeDoing chores because you want to earn an allowance

What Causes Intrinsic Motivation

Intrinsic psychological rewards drive intrinsic motivation. Intrinsic or internal rewards are positive emotions from carrying out the activity.

Examples of intrinsic rewards are

  • Sense of competence when you master a new skill,
  • Sense of accomplishment when you see progress in your work,
  • Sense of belonging when you participate in group activities, and
  • Sense of meaning when you volunteer in a shelter or mentor a junior.

What Causes Extrinsic Motivation

Psychological or tangible reward systems can drive extrinsic motivation. While tangible rewards are always external, psychological rewards can sometimes come from within.

Examples of rewards that result in extrinsic motivation:

  • Tangible – a new toy, extra allowance, a bonus, etc.
  • Psychological – praise, lack of criticism, etc.

Related: How To Motivate Kids

Which Is Better – Intrinsic Or Extrinsic Motivation

Different motivations can affect the quality of the action substantially, even though they can motivate the same behavior.

Researchers find that when people are intrinsically motivated, the quality of their actions is better, leading to better performance, especially in the long term. They are more passionate and have a stronger sense of personal commitment. They are more persistent when facing difficulties. Those people are also more creative and more likely to come up with novel ideas and solutions​2​.

Although intrinsic motivation seems to be better than extrinsic motivation, there are times when extrinsic motivation acts like an intrinsic equivalent. This happens when a person can internalize the reason for doing something because the reason aligns with their own values.

Woman looks unhappy trying to study. When learning is motivated by extrinsic motivation, it is not pleasant - intrinsic vs extrinsic motivation definition

The Science of Motivation

Knowing what drives a person can help you get motivated.

Whenever possible, seek out intrinsic motivation by looking for aspects of the activity that is interesting to you or reasons that can help you internalize it into your personal goals.

The Self-determination Theory suggests that there are three basic needs that are internal motivators. These motivating factors can affect a person’s intrinsic desire​3​:

1. Autonomy

A person can only be intrinsically motivated when they feel that they have the autonomy to choose. The decision to engage has to be a “free choice” with no strings attached.

2. Sense Of Competence

One of the biggest intrinsic motivators is a sense of competence. When a person completes a difficult task or masters a new skill, they feel accomplished and are more likely to do it again. Engage in new challenges that are difficult enough so that they are interesting but not too hard that they are deterring.

3. Relatedness

Human beings are wired to seek connections with others. Relatedness is one of the most powerful psychological needs. It refers to how well one feels connected, secure, respected, and cared for.

Overjustification effect

Researchers have found that their intrinsic motivation decreases when individuals are given external motivators (e.g., monetary rewards) to engage in initially interesting activities (e.g., solving puzzles). If they are subsequently offered the opportunity to do it without a reward, they will be less likely to engage. The overjustification effect is the phenomenon in which an external force over-justifies the reasons for engaging, which used to be its own reward​4​.

How to motivate effectively

Sometimes it is necessary to use external factors to motivate. For this type of motivation to work, there must be a balance between internal and external factors. 

For instance, positive feedback encourages personal growth in workers better than material rewards do. Using verbal praise to encourage good behavior in children works better than giving them a gold star.


  1. 1.
    Ryan RM, Koestner R, Deci EL. Ego-involved persistence: When free-choice behavior is not intrinsically motivated. Motiv Emot. Published online September 1991:185-205. doi:10.1007/bf00995170
  2. 2.
    Ryan R, Deci E. Intrinsic and Extrinsic Motivations: Classic Definitions and New Directions. Contemp Educ Psychol. 2000;25(1):54-67.
  3. 3.
    Deci EL, Vallerand RJ, Pelletier LG, Ryan RM. Motivation and Education: The Self-Determination Perspective. Educational Psychologist. Published online June 1991:325-346. doi:10.1080/00461520.1991.9653137
  4. 4.
    Tang SH, Hall VC. The overjustification effect: A meta-analysis. Appl Cognit Psychol. Published online October 1995:365-404. doi:10.1002/acp.2350090502

About Pamela Li

Pamela Li is an author, Founder, and Editor-in-Chief of Parenting For Brain. Her educational background is in Electrical Engineering (MS, Stanford University) and Business Management (MBA, Harvard University). Learn more


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