Extrinsic Motivation

Extrinsic Motivation

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 (rewards).

An opposite type of motivation is intrinsic motivation, which refers to engaging in an activity for its pure enjoyment rather than for a separable result.

Extrinsic motivation


There are many examples of extrinsic motivation around us.

  • A student studies because they want to please their parents or avoid bad grades.
  • A child takes on chores to earn an extra allowance.
  • Workers put in extra time 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 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 does homework because he wants to get good grades and later go to college. The cause, wanting good grades, for such action 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 both internal and external rewards.

To avoid confusion, we can refer to them as psychological rewards (internal) and tangible rewards (external).

Importance Of Extrinsic Motivation

Decades of research has 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. 

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 several different types of extrinsic motivations and some are more desirable than others.

Types Of Extrinsic Motivation

Organismic Integration Theory, a sub-theory of Self-Determination Theory, details the different forms of extrinsic motivation.4

These definitions are quite technical.

However, understanding the differences can you help understand how to motivate someone effectively even when that person is not intrinsically motivated.

External Regulation

External regulation results when a behavior is performed to satisfy an external demand or receive an externally imposed reward contingency.

An externally regulated behavior is experienced as controlled or alienated.

This type of extrinsic motivation is typically used to contrast with intrinsic motivation.

An example would be a student who tries hard to get a good grade to get a toy from his parents. Although the behavior is intentional, it is controlled by an external contingency rather than being autonomous.

Introjected Regulation

Introjection means taking in a regulation but not fully accepting it.

This type of regulation is still perceived as controlling because introjected behavior is performed due to internal pressure to

  • lessen guilt or anxiety,
  • enhance ego or pride, or
  • to maintain self-esteem or feeling of self-worth.

Although the goal of such activity has been accepted, it is still not experienced as fully part of the self.

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.

In this case, although the intention is internal in the sense that it does not require overly external drive, it still feels external or separate from her sense of self.

Introjected motivation is a form of internal (a.k.a. psychological) motivation because the actions are controlled or coerced by internal contingencies rather than being self-determined.

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

Integrated Regulation

Integration occurs when the identified cause has been fully assimilated to the self.

The person has examined the cause and found it compatible (unconflicted) with one’s own values and needs.

Despite being extrinsic, integrated motivation shares many similar qualities as intrinsic motivation.

Some researchers even refer to this type of motivation as intrinsic because one has internalized the extrinsic cause to become their own intrinsic values.

How To Motivate

Extrinsic rewards

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 higher quality results.

Psychologists have found that there are 3 criteria for internalization to happen: autonomy, competence, and relatedness.6

1. Autonomous supportive environment

Personal autonomy, which refers to self-initiating and self-regulating of one’s own actions, is a critical condition for internalization.2

When people are free from pressure to do an activity, they act with a sense of autonomy resulting in higher quality performance.5

2. Sense of competence

Seeking optimal challenge and constructive feedback can improve one’s sense of competence.

Optimal challenge means the activity is above one’s ability but at a manageable level.

3. Increase relatedness

Relatedness turns out to be quite important in turning externally regulated motivation into an integrated or even intrinsic motivation.

This is why having a partner you feel connected to in the activity can be very motivating, especially if that person values highly the activity.





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
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.
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.
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.
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
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

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