How does social approval drive extrinsic motivation?

August 25, 2023

Extrinsic motivation, a psychological concept that propels individuals to perform tasks driven by external rewards or pressures, is often influenced by social approval. This phenomenon highlights the significant impact that others’ validation, recognition, and acceptance can have on individuals’ desire to achieve goals or engage in certain behaviors. In this analysis, we will delve deeper into the relationship between social approval and extrinsic motivation, exploring various mechanisms through which this powerful social force drives individuals to seek and maintain external validation as a driving force for their actions.

Understanding the Role of Social Approval in Extrinsic Motivation

Social approval plays a significant role in driving extrinsic motivation, which refers to the motivation to engage in activities or behaviors for external rewards or recognition rather than for inherent satisfaction. While intrinsic motivation stems from individuals’ internal desires and enjoyment of a task, extrinsic motivation relies on external factors, such as social approval, to fuel one’s motivation. In this article, we will explore the mechanisms through which social approval influences extrinsic motivation and the potential implications it may have on individuals’ behavior and well-being.

The Power of Social Validation

Humans are inherently social beings, and our behaviors and actions are often influenced by the desire for social acceptance and approval. Social validation, in the form of praise, recognition, or admiration from others, can serve as a powerful motivator for individuals seeking external validation. When individuals receive positive feedback or approval from their social environment, it reinforces their belief that their efforts and achievements are valued and appreciated by others. This validation, in turn, fuels their extrinsic motivation to continue engaging in the behavior or activity.

The Need for Social Comparison

Social approval also taps into the fundamental human need for social comparison. People often evaluate their self-worth and success based on how they perceive themselves in comparison to others. In the context of extrinsic motivation, social comparison can drive individuals to seek social approval as a means of validating their achievements and standing. By comparing themselves to others and seeking recognition from those they perceive as successful or influential, individuals may be motivated to pursue activities that align with societal norms or expectations.

The Influence of Social Norms

Social norms and societal expectations can significantly impact individuals’ extrinsic motivation. Society often sets standards and norms for what is considered valuable or desirable, and individuals may feel compelled to conform to these standards in order to gain social approval. For example, in academic settings, grades and academic achievements are often seen as indicators of success, and students may be motivated to excel in their studies to gain recognition from their peers, teachers, or parents. Similarly, in the workplace, employees may strive to meet or exceed performance expectations to receive praise, promotions, or bonuses.

The Role of Social Media

In today’s digital age, social media platforms have become powerful tools for seeking social approval and validation. The ability to accumulate likes, comments, and followers can create a sense of social acceptance and validation for individuals. The pursuit of social approval on social media platforms can drive individuals to engage in certain behaviors or present themselves in a particular way to gain attention and recognition. This can range from sharing achievements and milestones to creating a carefully curated online persona that is designed to elicit positive feedback and validation from others.

The Potential Downfalls of Excessive Reliance on Social Approval

While social approval can be a potent motivator, it is essential to recognize the potential downsides of relying too heavily on external validation. When individuals become overly dependent on social approval, their motivation may become contingent on the opinions and judgments of others. This can lead to a constant need for external validation and an increased vulnerability to self-esteem fluctuations based on the fluctuating opinions of others. Moreover, the pursuit of social approval may divert individuals’ attention from their own values, passions, and intrinsic motivations, potentially leading to a sense of emptiness or dissatisfaction in the long run.

In conclusion, social approval serves as a driving force behind extrinsic motivation. The desire for social validation, the need for social comparison, the influence of social norms, and the rise of social media all contribute to the impact of social approval on individuals’ motivation. However, it is crucial to strike a balance between seeking external validation and nurturing intrinsic motivation to ensure long-term satisfaction and fulfillment. By understanding the mechanisms through which social approval influences extrinsic motivation, individuals can make informed choices about the role they want social approval to play in their lives and find a healthy equilibrium between external validation and internal drive.## The Psychology Behind Social Approval and Extrinsic Motivation

To delve deeper into the topic of how social approval drives extrinsic motivation, it is essential to understand the underlying psychological mechanisms at play. Two prominent theories shed light on this dynamic: social comparison theory and self-determination theory.

Social Comparison Theory

Social comparison theory, proposed by psychologist Leon Festinger, suggests that individuals have an innate tendency to evaluate themselves by comparing their abilities, attributes, and achievements with those of others. This comparison process serves as a benchmark for individuals to assess their own worth and competence. In the context of extrinsic motivation, social comparison plays a crucial role in driving individuals to seek social approval.

When individuals compare themselves to others who have achieved a certain level of success or recognition, they may experience a desire to attain similar accolades. The positive feedback and validation received from others act as a reinforcement, boosting extrinsic motivation. Conversely, if individuals perceive themselves as falling short in comparison to their peers, they may strive even harder to gain social approval and narrow the gap.

Self-Determination Theory

Self-determination theory, developed by psychologists Edward Deci and Richard Ryan, focuses on the different types of motivation that drive human behavior. According to this theory, extrinsic motivation exists on a continuum, ranging from external regulation, where individuals engage in activities solely for external rewards or to avoid punishment, to integrated regulation, where individuals engage in activities because they personally value and identify with them.

Social approval primarily influences extrinsic motivation through external regulation and introjected regulation. External regulation occurs when individuals engage in activities solely for external rewards or to avoid negative consequences. In this case, social approval acts as a motivator to obtain external recognition or avoid social disapproval. For example, a student may study hard to receive praise from their parents or avoid their disappointment.

Introjected regulation, on the other hand, refers to engaging in activities due to internal pressures, such as guilt, shame, or ego involvement. Social approval can drive individuals to internalize societal norms and expectations, making them feel that they must conform to gain acceptance and approval. This internal pressure, rooted in the desire for social approval, can lead individuals to engage in activities even if they do not personally value or enjoy them.

The Impact of Social Approval on Behavior and Well-being

While social approval can be a powerful motivator, its influence on behavior and well-being is complex and multifaceted. Seeking social approval can enhance individuals’ motivation to achieve external goals and conform to social norms. However, excessive reliance on external validation can have detrimental effects on individuals’ psychological well-being.

The Potential Pitfalls of Excessive Reliance on Social Approval

  1. Conditional Self-worth: Relying heavily on social approval for self-esteem can result in conditional self-worth. Individuals may base their self-esteem on the opinions and judgments of others, making them susceptible to fluctuations in self-esteem based on external validation. This can lead to a constant need for approval and validation, hindering individuals’ ability to develop a stable sense of self-worth.

  2. Inauthenticity: The pursuit of social approval may push individuals to present themselves in a way that aligns with societal expectations, rather than being true to their own values and passions. This can result in a loss of authenticity and a disconnection from one’s genuine self. Individuals may find themselves trapped in a cycle of seeking approval, even at the expense of their own happiness and fulfillment.

  3. Burnout and Stress: The constant pursuit of external validation can lead to burnout and increased stress levels. Individuals may feel pressured to constantly achieve and meet societal expectations, which can take a toll on their mental and physical well-being. The relentless quest for social approval may overshadow individuals’ ability to prioritize self-care and maintain a healthy work-life balance.

  4. Reduced Intrinsic Motivation: Excessive reliance on extrinsic motivation, driven by social approval, can undermine individuals’ intrinsic motivation. Intrinsic motivation stems from internal factors, such as personal interest and enjoyment in an activity. When individuals prioritize external rewards and recognition over the inherent satisfaction of an activity, their intrinsic motivation may diminish over time, leading to a decreased sense of fulfillment and engagement.

Cultivating a Healthy Balance

While social approval can provide a valuable source of motivation, it is important to strike a balance between seeking external validation and nurturing intrinsic motivation. Here are some strategies to cultivate a healthy balance:

  1. Self-reflection: Take the time to reflect on your own values, passions, and interests. Identify activities that align with your intrinsic motivations and provide a sense of fulfillment. By focusing on activities that genuinely resonate with you, you can cultivate a stronger sense of intrinsic motivation.

  2. Set Personal Goals: Rather than solely chasing external rewards and recognition, set personal goals that align with your values and aspirations. These goals can serve as a source of intrinsic motivation and provide a sense of purpose and direction.

  3. Seek Constructive Feedback: Instead of solely relying on external validation, seek constructive feedback from trusted individuals who can provide objective insights and help you grow. Constructive feedback can be a valuable tool for personal development and improvement.

  4. Practice Self-compassion: Be kind to yourself and acknowledge your efforts and achievements, regardless of external validation. Cultivating self-compassion can help reduce the need for constant approval from others and foster a healthier sense of self-worth.

By finding a balance between seeking social approval and nurturing intrinsic motivation, individuals can create a more sustainable and fulfilling approach to achieving their goals and maintaining their well-being.

The Role of Social Approval in Different Contexts

The influence of social approval on extrinsic motivation can vary across different contexts, such as education, work, and relationships. Let’s explore how social approval operates in these different domains.


Social approval plays a significant role in motivating students to excel academically. In educational settings, grades, awards, and recognition from teachers, peers, and parents serve as external indicators of success. The desire to gain social approval and be perceived as intelligent, capable, or accomplished can drive students to work harder, study diligently, and strive for academic excellence.

However, the pressure to conform to societal expectations and meet academic standards can also have negative consequences. Students may experience high levels of stress and anxiety, as they feel the need to constantly outperform their peers to gain social approval. The focus on external rewards and recognition may overshadow the joy of learning for its own sake, potentially leading to a decreased sense of intrinsic motivation.

Educational institutions can play a crucial role in striking a balance between extrinsic and intrinsic motivation. By fostering a supportive learning environment that values students’ individual strengths and interests, educators can promote a healthier approach to motivation, where both social approval and intrinsic motivation are acknowledged and nurtured.


Social approval is a powerful motivator in the workplace, influencing employees’ behavior, performance, and career progression. Recognition, praise, promotions, and financial rewards are often tied to individuals’ ability to meet or exceed performance expectations. The desire for social approval and the fear of social disapproval can drive employees to work hard, achieve targets, and demonstrate their competence and value to their colleagues and superiors.

However, the reliance on social approval in the workplace can also lead to potential downsides. Employees may prioritize external validation over their own well-being, working long hours, sacrificing work-life balance, and neglecting self-care. The pressure to conform to organizational norms and expectations may stifle creativity, innovation, and independent thinking, as individuals strive to meet predetermined standards to gain social approval.

Organizations can foster a healthier work environment by promoting a culture of feedback, recognition, and support. By emphasizing intrinsic motivation, encouraging autonomy, and valuing employees’ individual strengths and contributions, organizations can create a sense of purpose, engagement, and well-being among their workforce.


Social approval also plays a role in shaping individuals’ behavior within relationships. Whether it is friendships, romantic partnerships, or familial relationships, individuals may seek social approval to maintain positive connections and a sense of belonging.

In friendships, individuals may conform to group norms and engage in activities that align with their friends’ interests to gain acceptance and approval. This can range from participating in shared hobbies or interests to adopting similar attitudes or behaviors. Similarly, in romantic relationships, individuals may seek social approval from their partners, striving to meet their expectations and maintain their affection.

However, relying solely on social approval within relationships can hinder authenticity and genuine connection. It is vital for individuals to express their true selves, communicate openly, and prioritize their own values and needs. Healthy relationships are built on mutual respect, trust, and acceptance, where individuals can be themselves without fear of judgment or disapproval.


What is extrinsic motivation?

Extrinsic motivation refers to the behavior driven by external factors, such as rewards, praise, or social approval. It is the type of motivation that arises from external sources rather than from within oneself. Instead of being motivated by personal interest or enjoyment, individuals with extrinsic motivation seek external rewards or recognition to engage in certain activities or achieve particular goals.

How does social approval impact extrinsic motivation?

Social approval can have a significant impact on extrinsic motivation. When individuals receive praise, admiration, or recognition from others, they tend to experience a boost in their motivation to continue engaging in a particular behavior. This approval acts as a type of reinforcement, increasing the likelihood that the individual will continue to pursue the activity in order to maintain or receive further social approval.

Why is social approval a driving force for extrinsic motivation?

Humans are social creatures by nature, and their desire for social acceptance and recognition plays a crucial role in driving extrinsic motivation. Social approval provides individuals with a sense of belonging, validation, and positive self-esteem. When individuals receive approval from others for their behavior or achievements, it reinforces their sense of competence and importance, ultimately increasing their motivation to continue pursuing those activities.

Can social approval have negative effects on extrinsic motivation?

While social approval can serve as a powerful driving force for extrinsic motivation, it is important to note that it can also have negative effects. If individuals become overly fixated on seeking approval from others, it may lead to a dependency on external validation and an inability to cultivate intrinsic motivation. This dependence on social approval can hinder personal growth and limit one’s ability to pursue goals that may not align with societal expectations. Additionally, if the obtained social approval is perceived as insincere or inauthentic, it may diminish the motivating effect and potentially lead to decreased extrinsic motivation.

Is there a balance between social approval and intrinsic motivation?

Finding a balance between social approval and intrinsic motivation is essential for maintaining a healthy motivation system. While social approval can provide initial motivation and encouragement, it is crucial for individuals to develop a sense of internal motivation based on their own values, interests, and personal growth. Cultivating intrinsic motivation allows individuals to engage in activities they find meaningful and enjoyable, even in the absence of external recognition. Striking a balance between both types of motivation can lead to greater fulfillment, increased self-determination, and a more sustainable drive to achieve both personal and external goals.

Copyright 2024 A B Motivation. All rights reserved.