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What is Extrinsic Motivation?

By Lindsay Kahl
Updated Mar 03, 2024
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Motivation can be defined as the willingness to act or the internal mechanism that stimulates goal-oriented behavior. For humans, there typically are two types of motivation: intrinsic and extrinsic. Extrinsic motivation comes from outside of the individual.

Some examples of sources of extrinsic motivation are grading systems, trophies, popularity or money. Extrinsic motivation might also be negative, as is the case with punishments or coercion. In any case, this type of motivation is rooted in external sources; it comes from the individual’s environment, rather than from within the individual.

Extrinsic motivation is present throughout a person’s life. As a child, an individual experiences it in the form of grades on tests and assignments or in the form of increased popularity that is the result of certain behavior. In adulthood, an individual experiences it in the form of his or her paycheck, status or recognition and even everyday things such as credit card rewards or incentives.

The other type of motivation is intrinsic. This can be differentiated from extrinsic in that the motivation comes from benefits that are inherent to the activity or behavior itself. Intrinsic motivation comes from inside the individual; the motivation is present because the person enjoys a certain task or behavior, feels a sense of satisfaction working on it or feels pleasure upon completing it. An intrinsically motivated person might still seek reward for behavior, but the reward will not be the only purpose for the behavior. One example of intrinsic motivation is when a person works on Sudoku puzzles simply because he or she finds pleasure in the activity.

Extrinsic motivation can be highly effective in eliciting certain behaviors. A person who is extrinsically motivated might work on a task even if he or she has no interest in it, solely for the purpose of receiving the anticipated reward or avoiding punishment. Because of this, the individual might become more focused on the reward and less focused on the task itself and might cease completing the task when the reward is no longer available.

There are negative aspects to extrinsic motivation. Research indicates that receiving extrinsic rewards might reduce a person’s level of intrinsic motivation. When a person is rewarded for a task, what reason does he or she have to complete the task for nothing? Additionally, extrinsic motivation cannot be sustained; when the punishment or reward stays at the same level over a period of time, motivation diminishes, and the individual requires greater rewards or punishment for the same behavior.

Extrinsic motivation might be immediately successful and easy to use, but external rewards typically are not effective over the long term. Intrinsic motivation, on the other hand, can be self-sustaining and enduring. Research shows that this type of motivation is more often associated with ongoing academic success than the extrinsic type.

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