We often do things for extrinsic reasons rather than pure enjoyment. Find out why extrinsic motivation is different from its intrinsic counterpart, and how to get motivated by extrinsic factors to get high-quality results.
Table of Contents
What Is Motivation
Motivation is the underlying reasons, attitudes, and goals that give rise to behavior. It is the “why” we do what we do.
To be motivated is to be driven to take action.
People take action for different reasons. In psychology, there are two types of motivation: intrinsic motivation and extrinsic motivation.
Extrinsic motivation refers to doing something not for its inherent enjoyment, but for a separable outcome, such as receiving rewards or avoiding punishment.
Very often, we do things not because we enjoy them, but because they are necessary or we want to obtain something else.
When this happens, we are extrinsically motivated to do so.
Extrinsic Motivation Examples
There are many examples of extrinsic motivation around us.
- A student studies because he wants to please his parents.
- A child takes on chores to get extra allowance.
- Workers put in overtime at work to earn a bonus.
These are all examples of extrinsic motivation because the motivators are not the activity’s innate enjoyment or satisfaction.
Differences Between Extrinsic and Intrinsic Motivation
An opposite type of motivation is intrinsic motivation, which refers to engaging in an activity for its own sake and its pure enjoyment rather than for a separable result.
The difference between intrinsic and extrinsic motivation lies in the reason for doing something.
If people engage in an activity for its pure enjoyment, they are acting on intrinsic motivation. If they do it for a separable outcome rather than the inherent enjoyment, they are acting on extrinsic motivation.
Examples of Intrinsic vs Extrinsic Motivation
People can engage in the same behavior for different reasons.
That means that extrinsic motivation and intrinsic motivation can often elicit similar behavior.
Here are some examples.
|Intrinsic Motivation||Extrinsic Motivation|
|Going to school because you enjoy learning||Going to school to avoid punishment|
|Practicing tennis for fun||Practicing tennis to win awards|
|Washing dishes because you like cleaning things||Washing dishes because you want to earn an extra allowance|
|Learning to play the piano because you enjoy making music with it||Learning to play the piano because you want to please your parents|
What Causes Extrinsic Motivation
Intrinsic motivation is driven by intrinsic rewards.
Logically, extrinsic motivation must be caused by extrinsic rewards, right?
Well, yes but not quite.
The discussion on motivation can sometimes be confusing.
Sometimes extrinsic and external motivation are used interchangeably in the media and even in some academic publications.
But it is important to know that external and extrinsic are not synonymous in psychology. Neither are internal and intrinsic1.
Internal rewards are produced within oneself, while external rewards are produced outside.
For example, if a child does homework to avoid being punished by his parents, the action is clearly caused by external “rewards”. He is doing it for a cause separate outcome of not being punished. This child is therefore externally and extrinsically motivated to do homework.
If, however, a child studies because he wants to get good grades so that he can later go to college, then his drive is internally produced. Since he doesn’t do the homework for its own enjoyment, he is extrinsically motivated. In this case, the child is internally and extrinsically motivated.
So extrinsic motivation can be caused by internal or external rewards.
To avoid confusion, we can refer to them as psychological rewards (internal) and tangible rewards (external).
Tangible rewards lead to extrinsic motivation but psychological rewards can drive behavior intrinsically or extrinsically.
For example, some psychological rewards such as a sense of enjoyment or satisfaction create intrinsic motivation, while others such as wanting to go to college create extrinsic motivation.
Importance Of Extrinsic Motivation
Decades of research have shown that extrinsic motivation is often less desirable than intrinsic motivation.
When people are extrinsically motivated to engage in a behavior, the quality of engagement, persistence, and creativity all tend to be worse2.
Despite the drawbacks, extrinsic motivation is still important, especially in education and in the workplace.
Because not every activity is enjoyable for everyone.
And not everyone can be passionate about the same thing.
In the absence of intrinsic motivation, we rely on extrinsic motivation to get the job done.
Fortunately, there are four types of extrinsic motivation, and not all of them are created equal.
Types Of Extrinsic Motivation
According to Organismic Integration Theory, a sub-theory of Self-Determination Theory, contextual factors can affect the types of extrinsic motivation one has.
When someone is not intrinsically motivated, you can still motivate them effectively knowing which type of extrinsic motivation they have.
1. External Regulation
External regulation means you do something to satisfy an external demand or receive an externally imposed reward.
An example would be a student who tries hard to get a good grade to receive a toy from his parents as a reward. Although the behavior is intentional, it is controlled by an external contingency.
Then the action is externally regulated.
An externally regulated behavior is experienced as controlled rather than autonomous.
This type of extrinsic motivation is typically used to contrast with intrinsic motivation and is the least desirable type.
2. Introjected Regulation
Introjection means taking in the cause of doing something but not fully accepting it.
An example would be a student who spends lots of time practicing piano for a recital because she believes if she doesn’t do well, others would look down on her.
This type of regulation is still perceived as controlling because introjected behavior is performed due to internal pressure to
- reduce guilt or anxiety,
- enhance ego or pride, or
- maintain self-esteem or feeling of self-worth
Although the goal of such activity has been accepted as necessary and the intention is internal (psychological) in the sense that it doesn’t require overly external drive, it is still not experienced as fully a part of the self because it is not a “free choice”.
Introjected motivation is still not a desired type of motivation because the action is controlled or coerced by internal contingencies rather than being self-directed.
3. Regulation Through Identification
This is a less controlling form of extrinsic motivation.
Identification means the person consciously values a goal and believes the activity is personally important.
Here people would not engage in an activity simply because they feel they should. They are doing it because of their belief in personal importance.
An example would be a student who studies very hard for the SAT exam because getting into college is personally important to him. He studies hard because doing well and being accepted by a college is an important self-selected goal. Though the behavior is extrinsically motivated, it is still relatively autonomous.
It would be different if a student does it because he thinks he “should” go to college like everyone else and will feel like a failure otherwise (introjected regulation), or because his parents are pressuring him to do so (external regulation).5
4. Integrated Regulation
Integration occurs when you have fully taken in the reason for action.
You have examined the cause and found it compatible with your own values and needs.
Your action then becomes self-initiated and is not controlled by an external cause.
That is, you are acting autonomously.
Despite being extrinsic, integrated motivation shares many similar qualities as intrinsic motivation.
Some researchers even refer to integrated motivation as intrinsic motivation because you have completely internalized the extrinsic cause to become your own intrinsic values.
The four types of extrinsic motivation lie on a spectrum of autonomy, from the least autonomous (externally regulated) to the most autonomous (integrated).
Studies show that when motivation is internalized, one becomes self-determined and conducts an activity autonomously, producing better quality results.
Internalized motivation shares many similar qualities with intrinsic motivation.
Therefore, when intrinsic motivation is not possible, internalized motivation is the next best option.
How To Motivate
When motivation is more internalized, one becomes self-determined and conducts an activity autonomously, producing better quality results3.
So, internalizing an activity can help motivate a person who is not intrinsically motivated. Psychologists have found that there are 3 criteria for internalization to happen: autonomy, competence, and relatedness4.
1. Provide an autonomous supportive environment
Personal autonomy refers to self-initiating and self-regulating of one’s own actions without being pressured to do so. Research finds that autonomy is a critical condition for internalization5.
In order to motivate someone, first and foremost, the decision needs to be a “free choice” with no contingency or strings attached.
2. Seek a sense of competence
An effective strategy to help someone internalize a task is to help them gain a sense of competence.
One way to do so is by seeking optimal challenges, which refers to an activity that is above one’s ability but still at a manageable level.
Challenge yourself to complete a task that is not too easy.
Nor is it too difficult.
It should be a notch or two beyond your current abilities.
Stretching your limit and then achieving success can give you a tremendous sense of competence, which makes the effort itself the most delicious reward.
Another way to improve one’s sense of competence is by receiving constructive feedback without criticism.
3. Increase relatedness
Relatedness turns out to be particularly important in turning externally regulated motivation into an integrated or even intrinsic motivation.
People are inherently motivated to feel a sense of belonging and feel connected to others.
This is why having a partner (e.g. running buddy) that you feel connected to engage in the same activity is beneficial, especially if that person values highly the activity.
So, find a person to do the activity with you, someone you can relate to and someone who is passionate about the activity.
Doing something as a team also has the added benefit of having the opportunity to help each other out generating a sense of competence.
Final Thoughts On Extrinsic Motivation
Extrinsic motivation is not always worse than intrinsic motivation if a person is motivated by the right reasons. But it is important to remember you cannot make a person feel integrated or intrinsically motivated because autonomy is a necessary condition for it to happen.
Many parents already know this: you can make a child practice piano, but you cannot make them like it. It’s not because they don’t have the stamina or patience to stick it out. It’s because they don’t have the autonomy to develop intrinsic motivation if you make them do it. If the parent keeps pressuring without other supportive conditions, e.g. relatedness or sense of competence, it will ultimately backfire.
- 1.Ryan RM, Koestner R, Deci EL. Ego-involved persistence: When free-choice behavior is not intrinsically motivated. Motiv Emot. September 1991:185-205. doi:10.1007/bf00995170
- 2.Ryan R, Deci E. Intrinsic and Extrinsic Motivations: Classic Definitions and New Directions. Contemp Educ Psychol. 2000;25(1):54-67. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/10620381.
- 3.Ryan R, Deci E. Self-determination theory and the facilitation of intrinsic motivation, social development, and well-being. Am Psychol. 2000;55(1):68-78. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/11392867.
- 4.Vallerand RJ. Toward A Hierarchical Model of Intrinsic and Extrinsic Motivation. In: Advances in Experimental Social Psychology. Elsevier; 1997:271-360. doi:10.1016/s0065-2601(08)60019-2
- 5.Scott Rigby C, Deci EL, Patrick BC, Ryan RM. Beyond the intrinsic-extrinsic dichotomy: Self-determination in motivation and learning. Motiv Emot. September 1992:165-185. doi:10.1007/bf00991650