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What are Intrinsic and Extrinsic Motivation?

What is Intrinsic Motivation?

Intrinsic motivation refers to the desire to engage in an activity for its own merit rather than for the external consequence associated with it such as a reward. In other words, intrinsic motivation is when you are motivated by the activity itself, you are doing something because you find it to be personally fulfilling. In this case, the behaviour itself is the reward.

Some common things that people are intrinsically motivated by include sports and playing video games. This comes with the caveat that it may not neccessarily apply to those who get paid to perform such activities. But more for the common folk, who heads down to the local park to play a game of football or the kid who switches on his laptop to play the latest video game. No one is paying them to do these things but they do it anyway because they enjoy it.

What is Extrinsic Motivation?

Extrinsic motivation refers to when people engage in an activity for the external reward that comes along with the activity. The rewards are namely financial which can be usually refer to people working for a paycheck. External rewards can also come in the form of praise and recognition from others.

You engage in something not because you enjoy the activity but in exchange for a specific reward. In some cases, extrinsic motivation comes about in an attempt to avoid something unpleasant. People participate in a certain activity in order to avoid a negative consequence.

The example that springs to mind would be studying, many children study to avoid being scolded by their parents. Thus, they are not studying because of their thirst for knowledge but rather are doing so in an attempt to avoid being punished.

Does it make a difference?

Yes, it actually makes a significant difference whether you are intrinsically or extrinsically motivated. Research has shown that intrinsically motivated individuals are better placed as they will still be participating in that activity even when there is an absence of an external reward. You could say that people who are intrinsically motivated are deeply passionate about whatever it is they are doing.

This is not to say that extrinsic motivation is inferior, many people are fuelled by external rewards. Some of the most successful people in the world are motivated by money. In fact, external rewards can induce interest and participation in something in which the individual had no initial interest.

It can also be used to motivate people to acquire new skills or knowledge. Once these early skills have been learned, people may then become more intrinsically motivated to pursue the activity.

Which one are you?

It is important to distinguish which camp you belong to so that you can understand how to better motivate yourself. If you are extrinsically motivated, you will need to ensure that the ends always justify the meets, that the rewards are always significant enough for you to plough through. However, if you are intrinsically motivated, you are not concerned with the reward and would participate in the activity as long as you enjoy it.

You may even have a mixture of the two, you have found a passion that provides you with external rewards. Think of those who are able to do what they love for a living, ah they are the lucky ones. Being able to marry the two is a blessing and one that will put you in good stead for life.

In theory, intrinsic motivation is seen as the better of the two, however both forms are important tools to drive behaviour. It is also important to understand both in order to comprehend what makes an individual tick.

Understanding the differences between the two types of motivation including the overall impact that each can have on behaviour is crucial to motivating yourself and those around you.


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