Intrinsic & extrinsic motivation methods

Written by rebeca renata
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Intrinsic & extrinsic motivation methods
(Ezra Shaw/Digital Vision/Getty Images)

Intrinsic and extrinsic motivations are terms based in social and behavioural psychology, and describe the types of factors that motivate people to engage in certain behaviours. People who frequently use these concepts have a vested interest in motivating others. For instance, employers looking to increase productivity and morale in the workforce may try to find the best way to motivate employees. Theories of motivation are not without controversy as to what constitutes the best motivators for people.

Intrinsic Motivation

Intrinsic motivation is when a person is motivated to do something based on an internal reward, such as enjoyment of the activity itself and/or a desire to be engaged in it. For instance, reading a book for leisure is usually done out of intrinsic motivation, to gain a sense of internal pleasure and fulfilment. When a person is intrinsically motivated to do something, the rewards for engaging in it include a sense of satisfaction. Benefits of this type of motivation can include increasing the meaning of the activity, making it important for the person engaging in it, as well as a sense of accomplishment and increased self-awareness. Intrinsic motivation can also increase autonomy and sense of purpose.

Extrinsic Motivation

Extrinsic motivation is when a person is motivated to do something based on external factors, such as the expectation of reward or fear of punishment. When a teacher rewards a student with an A or gold stars, and threatens them with an F or punishments such as detention, these are external motivators. Businesses often function in this way, offering rewards such as cash bonuses or better offices.


Extrinsic reward systems have been met with much controversy, and are generally thought of as less motivating than intrinsic rewards. Extrinsic rewards are even thought of as possibly causing harm. For instance, creating an extreme power dynamic in a relationship that may result in subversion, conflict and resentment that ignore an individual's ability to choose freely and express self-determination.

In the November 2009 issue of Psychology Today, Steven Reiss goes a step further and criticises the duality created by both intrinsic and extrinsic motivation. Reiss argues that human motivation is a more complex process and cannot be easily distinguished between extrinsic and intrinsic incentives.

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