We often do things for extrinsic reasons rather than its pure enjoyment. Find out how to get motivated by extrinsic factors that can drive long-lasting behavior and high quality results.
Table of Contents
Extrinsic Motivation Definition
To be motivated is to be moved to take action.
Extrinsic motivation refers to doing something not for its inherent enjoyment, but for a separable outcome, such as rewards or avoiding punishment.
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 earn an extra allowance.
- Workers put in overtime at work to earn a bonus.
These are all examples of extrinsic motivation because the outcomes are separable from the activity’s innate enjoyment or satisfaction.
Extrinsic Motivation Can Involve Internal Or External Rewards
The discussion on motivation can sometimes be confusing.
Sometimes intrinsic and internal motivation are used interchangeably in the media and even in some academic publications.
It is important to know that internal and intrinsic are not synonymous. Neither are external and extrinsic.1
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 either intrinsic or extrinsically. Some psychological rewards such as 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 worse.2
Sometimes, extrinsic motivation can even backfire causing one to do the activity less.3
Despite the drawbacks, extrinsic motivation is still important, especially in education and in the workplace.
Because not all activities are enjoyable for everyone.
In the absence of intrinsic motivation, we rely on extrinsic motivation to get the job done.
Fortunately, there are different types of extrinsic motivations and some are more desirable than others.
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 has4.
When someone is not intrinsically motivated, you can still motivate them effectively knowing which type of extrinsic motivation they have.
When a person does something to satisfy an external demand or receive an externally imposed reward contingency, he is acting on external regulation.
An example would be a student who takes on a special project to earn bonus points. Although the behavior is intentional, it is controlled by an external contingency.
An externally regulated behavior is experienced as controlled and not autonomous. This is the type of extrinsic motivation typically used to contrast with intrinsic motivation.
Sometimes a person can take in the cause of doing something but not fully accept it. This type of extrinsic motivation is introjection.
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.
Introjected behavior is performed due to internal pressure to lessen guilt or anxiety, to enhance pride or to maintain self-esteem.
The intention is internal (psychological) and does not require overly external drive. However, it is still not experienced as a “free choice” because the action is controlled by internal contingencies rather than being self-directed. It still feels external or separate from one’s sense of self. The act is therefore perceived as controlled and not autonomous
Regulation Through Identification
Identification is a conscious valuing of a goal and the act is accepted as personally important. People do not engage in an activity simply because they feel they should. Instead, they do it because they believe the activity is personally important to them. This is a less controlling form of extrinsic motivation.
An example would be a student dancer practices very hard for the Dance Company audition because becoming a professional dancer is personally important to her. Becoming a professional dancer is a self-selected goal. Despite driven by extrinsic motivation, the student still feels relatively autonomous. It would be different if she does it because she thinks she “should” become a professional dancer, and will feel like a failure otherwise (introjected regulation), or because her parents are pressuring her to do so (external regulation).5
Integration occurs when the identified cause has been fully assimilated to the self. The person has examined the cause and found it compatible with his own values and needs. They feel autonomous and not controlled.
Despite being extrinsic, integrated motivation shares many similar qualities with intrinsic motivation. Some researchers even refer to this type of motivation as intrinsic because a person has internalized the extrinsic cause to become his own intrinsic values.
Example Of Integrating Extrinsic Motivation
Michelle was 9 years old when her father started teaching her to play golf. Although she liked spending quality time with her father, she wasn’t thrilled with the sport.
Her parents never forced her to play, but kept encouraging her to give it a try. After learning to play golf for XX months, she entered a regional Championship Match Play and won first place unexpectedly.
Since then, her love for golf grew day by day. At the golf club, she met a girl two years older than her and they became good friends. This girl was an excellent and passionate golf player, and she took Michelle under her wing. At the same time, Michelle met a group of good friends who were all very devoted to golf.
Michelle had grown to love playing golf. She no longer dreaded the practice. In fact, she looked forward to it and to spending time with her friends. Three years later, Michelle now ranks XX in the XX league, and have won XX tournaments.
At the beginning, Michelle was only externally motivated to play golf, but now she has fully integrated it into herself. She is so dedicated and passionate about the sport that she is essentially driven intrinsically.
Let’s examine how she made such an amazing turnaround.
How To Motivate
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 the more autonomous the extrinsic motivation, the more engagement and better performance. This is because the when motivation is more internalized, one becomes self-determined and conducts an activity autonomously, producing better quality results4.
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 relatedness.6
1. Provide an autonomous supportive environment
Personal autonomy refers to self-initiating and self-regulating of one’s own actions. The person is free from pressure to do so. Research finds that autonomy is a critical condition for internalization2,5.
In order to motivate someone, first and foremost, the decision needs to be a “free choice” with no contingency or strings attached.
In Michelle’s case, she was never forced to play golf. Even though she didn’t love golf at the beginning, she chose do it because she could spend time with her father who loved the sports. She was able to act autonomously, allowing for integration to happen.
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.
Another way to improve one’s sense of competence is providing constructive feedback and absence of criticism.
Michelle was able to find her optimal challenge at her first competition. Finishing in first place definitely gave her a tremendous sense of competence.
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 connected to others.
This is why having a partner (e.g. running buddy) you feel connected to engage in the same activity is beneficial, especially if that person values highly the activity.
Michelle’s father and her friends were passionate about golf. She developed deep relatedness and friendships with them. Eventually, she took in their passion, integrated it into herself and became passionate about it, too.
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. 1991;15(3):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.Deci E, Koestner R, Ryan R. A meta-analytic review of experiments examining the effects of extrinsic rewards on intrinsic motivation. Psychol Bull. 1999;125(6):627-668; discussion 692-700. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/10589297.
- 4.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.
- 5.Scott Rigby C, Deci EL, Patrick BC, Ryan RM. Beyond the intrinsic-extrinsic dichotomy: Self-determination in motivation and learning. Motiv Emot. 1992;16(3):165-185. doi:10.1007/bf00991650
- 6.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