Difference Between Intrinsic And Extrinsic Motivation (And How To Get Motivated)

Difference Between Intrinsic And Extrinsic Motivation (And How To Get Motivated)

In this article, we will examine the main difference between intrinsic and extrinsic motivation, as well as among the different sub-types of extrinsic motivation. We’ll show you examples of all the differences and break down the science behind. Finally, we put everything together and show you how to get motivated effectively.

Difference between intrinsic and extrinsic motivation

Types Of Motivation

To be motivated is to be driven to engage in a behavior.

People take action for different reasons.

We refer to the underlying reasons, attitudes, and goals that give rise to behavior as motivation.

They are the “whys” we do what we do.

People have different amounts of motivation. Those who have no desire to act is characterized as unmotivated while those who are energized to engage in activities are considered motivated.

Not only do people have different levels of motivation, but they also have different kinds of motivation.

In psychology, there are two types of motivation: intrinsic motivation and extrinsic motivation.

From over three decades of research, psychologists have found that the quality of experience and performance can be very different depending on the type of motivation driving such action​1​.

This finding is especially valuable for parents and educators because learning and achievement can be systematically enhanced or undermined by different strategies.

Now, let’s dive in to the two types of motivation.

intrinsic motivation

Intrinsic Motivation Definition

According to (Ryan and Deci, 2000) (pp. 56),

Intrinsic motivation is defined as the doing of an activity for its inherent satisfaction rather than for some separable consequence. When intrinsically motivated, a person is moved to act for the fun or challenge entailed rather than because of external products, pressures or reward.

Intrinsic Motivation Example

Think about what you do in everyday life that you engage in for its pure enjoyment.

For example, if you are reading this article out of interest and curiosity and enjoy learning more about it, then you are intrinsically motivated.

Extrinsic Motivation Definition

Extrinsic motivation refers to doing something not for its inherent enjoyment, but for a separable outcome.

It is the opposite of intrinsic motivation.

Very often, we do things not because we enjoy them, but because they are necessary or we want to obtain something else.

When people engage in an activity for separable outcome such as receiving rewards or avoiding punishment, they are extrinsically motivated to do so.

Extrinsic Motivation Example

For example, if you are reading this article because you need the information to prepare for an exam or to write a paper, you are extrinsically motivated.

But sometimes, intrinsic and extrinsic motivation can co-exist even though they are the opposite of each other.

For instance, you can be studying psychology because you enjoy learning about this topic, but you can also want to get good grades in it. Then you have both intrinsic and extrinsic motivation to study hard.

Difference Between Intrinsic and Extrinsic Motivation

Examples Of Intrinsic And Extrinsic Motivation Producing Similar Behavior

People can engage in the same activity for different reasons.

Here are some examples of how intrinsic and extrinsic motivation act differently to motivate similar behavior.

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 Intrinsic Motivation

Intrinsic motivation is actually quite, well, intrinsic.

There are many activities we pursue simply for the enjoyment or satisfaction brought about.

Reading a novel, playing board games or volunteering are some of the activities that fall into this category.

We do them not necessarily to produce something or be rewarded in any way.

Instead, we do them because we enjoy doing it and they make us happy or feel satisfied.

These feelings of enjoyment, happiness or satisfaction are what psychologists called intrinsic rewards.

Intrinsic rewards drive intrinsic motivation.

Intrinsic rewards are not separable external outcomes such as money or prizes.

They are positive emotions that come with carrying out the activity itself.

Examples of intrinsic rewards are

  • Sense of competence when you master a new skill,
  • Sense of accomplishment when you see progress in your work,
  • Sense of belonging when you participate in group activities, and
  • Sense of meaning when you volunteer in a shelter or mentor a junior.

What Causes Extrinsic Motivation

Since intrinsic motivation is driven by intrinsic rewards, extrinsic motivation must be caused by extrinsic rewards. Make sense, right?

Well, yes but not quite.

The discussion on motivation can sometimes be confusing.

Occasionally intrinsic and internal are used interchangeably in the media and even in academic publications.

So are extrinsic and external.

But it is important to know that internal and intrinsic are not synonymous. Neither are external and extrinsic​2​.

Internal rewards are produced within oneself, while external rewards are produced outside.

Let’s say a child does homework to avoid being punished by his parents. The action is clearly caused by an external factor. And also, he is doing it for a separate outcome (not being punished). This child is therefore externally and extrinsically motivated to do homework.

If, however, a child does homework because he wants to get good grades to go to college, then the cause, wanting good grades, 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.

While intrinsic motivation is caused primarily by internal rewards because the sense of enjoyment only comes from within.

To avoid confusion, you can refer to internal rewards as psychological rewards and external rewards as tangible rewards.

Then, intrinsic motivation comes from psychological rewards, while extrinsic motivation can come from psychological or tangible rewards.

Difference In Outcome

Why is it important to know what motivation one has behind their action?

Well, despite producing similar behavior, different motivations can affect the quality of the action substantially.

Researchers find that when people are intrinsically motivated, the quality of their action is better leading to better performance. They are more passionate and have a stronger sense of personal commitment. They are more persistent when facing difficulties. Those people are also more creative and more likely to come up with novel ideas and solutions​3​.

So, we should always strive for intrinsic motivation whenever it is possible.

Another reason for distinguishing the types of motivation is that it allows us to come up with good strategies to get motivated (more on that later).

extrinsic motivation

What To Do If There Is No Intrinsic Motivation

Not every task can be enjoyable.

And not everyone can be passionate about the same thing.

What can you do if there isn’t any intrinsic motivation?

In that case, we can only rely on extrinsic motivation.

Fortunately, psychologists have identified four types of extrinsic motivation, and all of them are not created equal.

Types Of Extrinsic Motivation

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 rewards. Although the behavior is intentional, it is controlled by an external contingency rather than being autonomous.

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 crams for an exam 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 in the sense that it doesn’t require overly external drive, it is still not experienced as fully a part of the self.

Introjected motivation is still not a desired type of motivation because the action is controlled or coerced by internal contingencies rather than being self-determined.

3. Regulation Through Identification

This is a less controlling form of extrinsic motivation.

Identification means the person has adopted a behavior as personally important and accepted it as their own.

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.

motivation science

The Science Of Motivation

Let’s break down the science behind how to get motivated.

What Can Change Motivation

Researchers find that intrinsic motivation can be facilitated or undermined under certain conditions.

One of the biggest intrinsic motivators is a sense of competence.

When you complete a difficult task or master a new skill successfully, you feel a sense of accomplishment, which makes you happy.

You are then intrinsically motivated to do it again or try to master it even more.

A good example is playing video games.

Gamers who successfully graduate from one level to the next feel a sense of competence. This is one of the reasons why well-designed video games are so addictive. Gamers are intrinsically motivated to play for the activity itself and don’t do it for any separate rewards.

So, events and structures that conduce feelings of competence can enhance intrinsic motivation. They include an optimal level of challenges, positive competence feedback and lack of demeaning evaluations.

But there is an important missing piece here.

Intrinsic motivation is promoted only under a very specific condition.

It only happens when an individual feels that they are doing the activity out of their “free choice”.

In other words, simply having a sense of competence is not enough. One has to feel that they have the autonomy to choose whether to engage in the activity or not.

Here is a classic study. Researchers asked college students to work on a puzzle. Then researchers told only half of the students that they would be paid for doing the puzzle. The other half were not told. After completing the puzzle and taking a short break, the students were left alone to do whatever they wanted. They could continue to work on the puzzle or do other things available in the lab. It turned out the students who were not paid were the ones who voluntarily kept doing the puzzle. Therefore, giving a reward to the student’s work diminished their intrinsic motivation to do it voluntarily. When a separate reward is imposed, doing the puzzle is no longer a free choice.

Another factor that can impact intrinsic motivation is relatedness which refers to how well one feels connected, secure, respected and cared for.

For example, babies who are securely attached to a parent show more exploratory behavior. They are more intrinsically motivated to interact and learn about their environment.

In one study, when children worked on an interesting task in the presence of a stranger, their intrinsic motivation decreased if the stranger ignored them and did not respond to the children’s initiation.

Although relatedness is not a necessary condition, because people can be intrinsically motivated to do an interesting activity alone, it is still an important factor that can affect one’s intrinsic motivation.

These findings are summarized in Self-Determination Theory (SDT), which states that an individual’s experience of autonomy, competence and relatedness can either support or undermine their intrinsic motivation.

How to get motivated

How To Get Motivated

Here is what you can do to increase intrinsic or integrated motivation.

Create An Autonomy Supportive Environment

Autonomy means the self-initiating and self-regulating of your own actions without being pressured to do so.

Intrinsic motivation can only increase when you can freely decide whether to engage in an activity.

It is also true for integrated motivation.

So, in order to motivate, first and foremost, the decision to engage needs to be a “free choice” with no contingency or strings attached.

Look For Intrinsic Or Psychological Rewards And Avoid External Rewards

Intrinsic motivation exists when an activity holds intrinsic interest for the person who engages in it.

It could be the appeal of novelty, challenge, aesthetic value, etc.

So the activity has to hold such appeal.

Choose a task or look for an aspect that naturally interests you so that you can do it for the pure enjoyment.

If the activity cannot be enjoyable, look for the reason why you want to participate in it and internalize that reason.

Try to avoid using external rewards as an incentive.

Although giving rewards may promote a behavior momentarily, it is only affecting one’s extrinsic motivation.

Intrinsic motivation, on the other hand, is reduced.

Offering an external reward for an already internally rewarding activity can make it feel less rewarding​3​.

The external rewards has become a demotivator.

This effect is often seen in companies offering a bonus to boost productivity. Although employee productivity may increase momentarily, the actual quality of the work performed decreases. And when the bonus runs out, employees are left with a reduced intrinsic motivation. The lost in interest and productivity could only be compensated by an even larger bonus, if possible at all.

Engage In Optimal Level Of Challenge

One effective strategy to help you enjoy a task is to gain a sense of competence.

This can be done by seeking optimal challenges, which refers to an activity that is above your ability but at a manageable level.

Challenge yourself with a task that is not easy, but also not so hard that it is unattainable.

Stretching your limit and then achieving success can give you a tremendous sense of competence and boost intrinsic motivation.

Seek Positive Competence Feedback

Constructive feedback and absence of criticism can also improve your sense of competence.

Seek out opportunities where you can receive a badge or some kind of recognition for reaching a certain goal to get positive competence feedback.

how to motivate yourself

Find A Buddy Or A Mentor

Relatedness turns out to be very important in turning externally regulated motivation into an integrated motivation.

People are inherently motivated to feel a sense of belonging and feel connected to others.

This is why having a partner 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 Word On Intrinsic And Extrinsic Motivation

Understanding the difference between intrinsic and extrinsic motivation can help you formulate an effective strategy to get motivated. You will also be able to avoid the pitfalls and stay motivated.


  1. 1.
    Deci EL, Vallerand RJ, Pelletier LG, Ryan RM. Motivation and Education: The Self-Determination Perspective. Educational Psychologist. June 1991:325-346. doi:10.1080/00461520.1991.9653137
  2. 2.
    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
  3. 3.
    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.

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