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What is Intrinsic Motivation?

By D. Jeffress
Updated Mar 03, 2024
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Intrinsic motivation is a concept described by psychologists as the motivation that comes from within a person to accomplish a task or goal. Intrinsically motivated people are not influenced by external rewards or punishments for their work, such as earning money for doing a job or getting a poor grade on a school assignment. Individuals with intrinsic motivation choose to perform tasks because of the inherent pleasure or sense of accomplishment that comes from a job well done. Countless studies have shown that children and adults who develop intrinsic motivation are much more likely to succeed on long-term projects and goals than those who are motivated by external factors.

Many aspects of society revolve around extrinsic motivation. School students, for example, are graded on the quality of their work, facing threats or punishments when they fail to do well and rewards when they succeed. Athletes commonly receive trophies and crowd approval when they perform well, and employees of a company may try to earn a bonus for completing their work. While external motivators can be effective in the short term, they usually lose meaning over time.

It is common for an individual who wants to accomplish a goal simply to gain a reward or avoid a punishment to put in less effort than a person who wants to succeed for the sake of internal satisfaction. An example of the different outcomes of extrinsic and intrinsic motivators can be seen in police officers. An extrinsically motivated police officer might do his or her job to earn a good paycheck and gain recognition from the community and individuals in the police force. An officer with intrinsic motivation, however, has a strong, earnest desire to help others and maintain a safe, healthy society. By not seeking rewards or recognition, the intrinsically motivated officer is likely to work harder and take on more responsibility than the individual who is motivated by outside influences.

Professional psychologists have put thousands of hours of research into determining the best ways of developing intrinsic motivation in individuals, especially children. They have identified a number of ways to encourage young people to find personal meaning in their schoolwork and chores. In order to reap the benefits of intrinsic motivation, individuals must focus their efforts on subjects and goals that they find interesting. Tasks should be fully understood in terms of cause-and-effect, real-life usefulness, and attainability. People who are able to realize their potential and work towards internally meaningful goals are usually able to enjoy long-term success and satisfaction.

The Health Board is dedicated to providing accurate and trustworthy information. We carefully select reputable sources and employ a rigorous fact-checking process to maintain the highest standards. To learn more about our commitment to accuracy, read our editorial process.
Discussion Comments
By anon155947 — On Feb 25, 2011

This article is very straightforward and explained very clearly the intrinsic motivators.

By anon153759 — On Feb 18, 2011

It is a perfect explanation. thanks for it.

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