Intrinsic Motivation Definition
To be motivated is to be driven to engage in a behavior.
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.
This contrasts with extrinsic motivation, which refers to doing an activity in order to attain some separable outcome, such as earning rewards or avoiding punishment.
What Is Intrinsic Motivation
In psychology, two primary types of motivation are intrinsic motivation and extrinsic motivation.
These two orientations of motivation make up the underlying reasons, attitudes, and goals that give rise to behavior.
They are essentially the “why” we do what we do.
Let’s consider a student’s motivation for studying. If a student is highly motivated to study out of interest and curiosity in the subject, then they are acting based upon intrinsic motivation.
If, however, a student studies because they want to get the approval of their parents or avoid getting a bad grade, then they are acting based on extrinsic motivation.
There are many activities we pursue simply for the enjoyment or satisfaction brought about.
For example, reading a novel, playing board games or volunteering are 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 the activity 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.
Other intrinsic rewards examples 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 child.
Why Is Intrinsic Motivation Important
People who are intrinsically motivated pursue an activity for the pure enjoyment of it. They find it rewarding, interesting or challenging.
They have a stronger sense of personal commitment.
When facing difficulties, they are more persistent.
They are also more creative and more likely to come up with novel ideas and solutions.
Their action has better quality which yields better performance.
Intrinsic motivation can be facilitated or undermined under specific conditions.
Studies have found that 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.
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, one has to feel that they have the autonomy to choose whether to engage in the activity or not.
In one 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. So, providing an extrinsic reward for 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 work on an interesting task in the presence of a stranger, their intrinsic motivation decreases if the stranger ignores them and does 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.
Demotivated – What Causes Demotivation
One of the most common ways parents use to motivate their children is to give rewards, such as money, toys or more time on the iPad.
Giving rewards is a reinforcement mechanism.
Parents are hoping that children will associate the positive emotion from receiving rewards will be associated with the activity, and thereby motivates kids to do more of that activity.
That is classic reward-based conditioning.
Unfortunately, there is an unexpected byproduct.
Although giving rewards can increase a behavior momentarily, it is only affecting one’s extrinsic motivation.
Intrinsic motivation, on the other hand, is reduced.
Rewards actually demotivate children from acting on their own.
Offering external rewards for an already internally rewarding activity actually makes it less rewarding to the individual. This is called the overjustification effect.
The external rewards has become a demotivator instead of a motivator.
This effect is 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.
How To Increase Intrinsic Motivation
Here are the elements that can increase one’s intrinsic motivation.
Look for the intrinsic reward
Intrinsic motivation only 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 or there will be no intrinsic motivation. Look for the aspect of the activity that will interest you or the innate reason why you want to participate in it and internalize that reason.
Engage in optimal level of challenge
Challenge yourself with a task that is not easy, but also not so hard that it is unattainable. Stretching one’s limit and then achieving success gives one a tremendous sense of competence and boost intrinsic motivation.
Seek positive competence feedback
Receiving a badge or some kind of recognition for reaching a certain goal or level of task can also provide a sense of competence.
Intrinsic motivation can only increase when people can freely decide whether to engage in an activity. Choose a task that naturally interests you and you can do it for the pure enjoyment without strings attached.
Find a buddy
If possible, find a person to do the activity with you, someone you can relate to and someone who can provide positive feedback without demeaning criticism. Doing an activity as a team also has the added benefit of getting the opportunity to help each other generating a sense of competence and belonging.
- How can we define intrinsic motivation? By Pierre-Yves Oudeyer , Frederic Kaplan
- Self-Determination Theory and the Facilitation of Intrinsic Motivation, Social Development, and Well-Being. By Richard M. Ryan and Edward L. Deci
- The Motivational Pull of Video Games: A Self-Determination Theory Approach. By Richard M. Ryan · C. Scott Rigby · Andrew Przybylski
- Setting limits on children’s behavior: The differential effects of controlling vs. informational styles on intrinsic motivation and creativity. By Richard Koestner, Richard M Ryan, Frank J. Bernieri, Kathleen D Holt
- The Undermining and Enhancing of Intrinsic Motivation in Pre-School Children. By Rosemarie Anderson, Sam Thomas Manoogian, J. Steven Reznick