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7 Examples of Introjected Regulation and Its Impact on Wellbeing

What is introjected regulation?

Introjected regulation is extrinsic motivation where internal pressures, such as guilt, shame, anxiety, or self-worth, drive behaviors. When an individual is introjectedly regulated, they are motivated by internal pressures to avoid these negative feelings rather than out of enjoyment or genuine commitment. Because the person does not fully accept the reason for a task as their own, they feel controlled and may tend to resist or struggle to persist.

Introjected regulation is one of the four types of extrinsic motivation. The other three types are external regulation, identified regulation, and integrated regulation.

All of these regulations vary in the degree of feeling autonomy. Introjection lies toward the middle of this continuum, where the motivated behavior is influenced by a sense of obligation or the desire to avoid guilt rather than external rewards (least autonomy) or true self-endorsement (most autonomy.)​1​

If you’ve ever engaged in an activity solely to conform to societal norms, even when it didn’t bring you any satisfaction or joy, you have been influenced by introjected regulation.

School kids working together.


Here are 7 examples of introjected regulation motivating people’s behavior.

1. Losing weight

For instance, an individual who goes to the gym regularly to lose weight and improve their appearance believes they need to do so to avoid being ridiculed as fat and to preserve their self-esteem. The person might not necessarily enjoy exercising or have the intrinsic desire to keep fit, but they have internalized the belief that if they gain weight, others will laugh at them or find them unattractive. This internalization causes the individual to feel pressure and guilt if they do not conform to the slim body type, so they continue to exercise.

2. Studying for an Exam

A student spends all night studying for an exam not because they’re interested in the material but because they feel they must get a high grade to be seen as successful by their parents.

3. Working Overtime

An employee works late hours consistently, not due to work demands or a love for the job, but because they feel guilty if they don’t, fearing they’ll be viewed as lazy or uncommitted.

4. Participating in Social Events

Someone attends every social event they’re invited to, despite feeling exhausted, because they’re concerned about what others will think if they say no.

5. Maintaining a Diet

A person strictly follows a diet, not out of a desire for health or well-being, but because they feel ashamed of their body and believe they must meet societal standards of attractiveness.

6. Volunteering

A person volunteers for various community services not because they find the work fulfilling but because they want to be seen as generous and caring by their peers, or they feel guilty when they don’t.

7. Being tidy

An individual cleans their home meticulously and frequently, not because they find the process satisfying or enjoy living in a clean environment, but because they’re driven by an internal fear of being judged negatively by visitors for having a messy house.

What is Self-Determination Theory?

Self-determination theory, proposed by Ryan & Deci, explains that human motivation is driven by three inherent psychological needs, which are the need for autonomy, competence, and connections. When these three needs are satisfied, people are intrinsically motivated and engaged.

However, when a person is motivated externally, the person becomes extrinsically motivated. The self-determination theory also explores the spectrum of extrinsic motivation with various degrees of external regulation. Introjected regulation is one of the four types of extrinsic motivation.​2​

How is introjected regulation different from other types of extrinsic motivation?

Introjected regulation represents a kind of extrinsic motivation that’s driven more by internal pressures than the more externally focused external regulation. However, it doesn’t quite reach the level of autonomy found in identified and integrated regulation. It sits in a middle ground on the autonomy spectrum.

What is the difference between introjected regulation and identification?

The difference between introjected regulation and identified regulation is that introjection is an internal push powered by self-imposed pressures like guilt, shame, or ego, while identification is an internal push driven by deeper personal connection and commitment. Identification occurs when a person believes in the reasons behind the task and does not feel forced. Therefore, identified regulation is more authentic and self-determined.

For example, if a student studies hard because he doesn’t want to fail the exam and disappoint his parents, he is motivated by guilt and is introjectedly regulated. If a student works hard because he knows that doing well in the exams is an essential step toward his goal of getting into college, then he has accepted the reasons for studying, which is identified regulation. The motive is genuinely inherent and aligns with the student’s values.

What is the difference between introjected regulation and integrated regulation?

The difference between introjected regulation and integration regulation is that introjected regulation is driven internally by pressures and contingencies, such as guilt, shame, or ego protection, while integrated regulation is driven internally because the reason aligns entirely with one’s value. Integration is the most autonomous type of extrinsic motivation. Despite being motivated by something other than enjoyment, the person has accepted the task as necessary and self-endorsed.

For example, if a student studies hard because she fears the judgment of her peers if her grades drop, her motivation is introjected. If a student diligently studies because she consciously embraces the value of education, she is integratedly regulated. This student has integrated the reasons for studying into her values.

While integrated regulation is extrinsic motivation, since the primary motivator isn’t the sheer pleasant of the activity, it carries a strong sense of self-determination and autonomy. Integration represents the highest level of autonomy within extrinsic motivation, closely mirroring the quality and results associated with intrinsic motivation.​3​

Is introjection good or bad?

Introjection is not good in most cases because it prioritizes external standards of self-worth and social approval over autonomy. When a person’s sense of self-worth depends heavily on their success in a task, this can lead to increased anxiety, low self-esteem, stress, and burnout.

However, when ideal motivators are lacking, introjection can play a role in influencing prosocial behavior. For example, a person may feel internally obligated to listen supportively to a friend in distress, even if they do not feel a natural empathy.​4​

How can introjected regulation affect a person’s mental health?

Introjected regulation motivates by imposing feelings of guilt or self-criticism. These internal pressures and guilt manipulation can lead to anxiety and obsession over a task.

For example, research has found that gaining approval or avoiding disapproval from significant others is linked to exercise dependence. Individuals with exercise dependence are addicted to physical exercises, and the obsession takes over their lives in a negative way.​5​

Should parents encourage introjected regulation?

No, parents should not encourage introjected regulation in children because this type of motivation is based on feelings of guilt, shame, or anxiety and involves performing to avoid uncomfortable emotions or to maintain self-esteem.

Instead of using guilt or shame, parents can nurture autonomous motivation in their children by helping them identify and integrate the reasons behind a task. Fostering an environment that nurtures autonomy, competence, and relatedness to encourage autonomous motivation is better than promoting introjected regulation.​6​

How does introjected regulation influence students’ approach to homework?

Introjected regulation can influence how students do their homework by creating an internal sense of obligation. Students feel compelled to complete their homework to avoid negative feelings like shame and guilt or to maintain their self-esteem.

This internal pressure can be a double-edged sword. On one side, it can encourage students to stay on top of their work and strive for good grades.​7​

On the other side, it can lead to stress and anxiety because the motivation is linked to fear of self-criticism rather than a genuine desire to learn or interest in the homework content.

Students driven by introjection might not engage with the material meaningfully. They’re more focused on the consequences of not doing the homework than on the learning opportunity it presents.​8​


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    Guay F, Lessard V, Dubois P. How Can We Create Better Learning Contexts for Children? Promoting Students’ Autonomous Motivation as a Way to Foster Enhanced Educational Outcomes. Building Autonomous Learners. Published online 2016:83-106. doi:10.1007/978-981-287-630-0_5
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    Cheung CSS, Pomerantz EM. Why does parents’ involvement enhance children’s achievement? The role of parent-oriented motivation. Journal of Educational Psychology. Published online August 2012:820-832. doi:10.1037/a0027183


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