How Extrinsic Motivation Can Hinder Intrinsic Motivation

August 6, 2023

Extrinsic and intrinsic motivations are two different types of driving forces that influence our behavior and actions. While extrinsic motivation is derived from external rewards or incentives, such as money, praise, or recognition, intrinsic motivation springs from internal factors like personal interests, values, or enjoyment. However, an intriguing phenomenon is observed when excessive extrinsic motivation becomes a hindrance to intrinsic motivation. In this context, this discussion aims to explore how the overemphasis on external rewards or punishments can undermine an individual’s inherent passion, curiosity, and genuine interest in a particular activity or task. Consequently, we will delve into the various ways in which extrinsic motivation hinders and dampens the powerful force of intrinsic motivation.

Understanding the Dynamics of Motivation

Motivation is a complex and multifaceted concept that plays a vital role in driving human behavior. It can be broadly classified into two main types: extrinsic motivation and intrinsic motivation. Extrinsic motivation refers to external factors that influence our behavior, such as rewards, punishments, or recognition from others. On the other hand, intrinsic motivation stems from within ourselves, driven by our internal desires, interests, and personal satisfaction.

While both types of motivation can be effective in certain contexts, it is important to recognize that extrinsic motivation has the potential to hinder intrinsic motivation. In this article, we will explore how the presence of extrinsic motivators can impact our internal drive and diminish our intrinsic motivation to engage in certain activities.

The Undermining Effect

One of the key ways in which extrinsic motivation can hinder intrinsic motivation is through what psychologists refer to as the “undermining effect.” This effect occurs when the introduction of external rewards or incentives for engaging in an activity decreases our innate desire to pursue that activity for its own sake.

Research has shown that when individuals are offered external rewards for activities they initially find intrinsically motivating, their intrinsic motivation tends to decrease over time. This can be attributed to a shift in focus from the inherent enjoyment or satisfaction derived from the activity itself to the external rewards or outcomes associated with it.

The Overjustification Effect

Another phenomenon closely related to the undermining effect is the overjustification effect. This occurs when the provision of extrinsic rewards or incentives for an activity leads individuals to attribute their engagement in that activity solely to the external factors, rather than their own internal motivation.

For example, imagine a student who loves to read and finds immense pleasure in exploring various literary works. If this student is then offered money or other rewards for reading, their intrinsic motivation to read may diminish as they start to perceive their engagement in reading as solely driven by the external rewards rather than their own genuine interest.

The Diminished Autonomy

Extrinsic motivators can also hinder intrinsic motivation by diminishing our sense of autonomy and control over our actions. When we engage in an activity primarily for external rewards or to avoid punishment, we may feel that our choices and actions are being dictated by others, rather than being driven by our own desires and interests.

This lack of autonomy can undermine our intrinsic motivation by creating feelings of pressure, obligation, or even resentment towards the activity. As a result, our internal drive to engage in the activity for its own sake may significantly decrease, leading to a decline in our overall intrinsic motivation.

The Shift in Focus

Additionally, the presence of extrinsic motivators can shift our focus from the process of engaging in an activity to the outcomes or rewards associated with it. When external rewards become the primary focus, we may become more concerned with achieving those rewards rather than immersing ourselves in the activity and deriving intrinsic satisfaction from it.

This shift in focus can lead to a decrease in our enjoyment, creativity, and overall engagement with the activity itself. Instead of being driven by our internal desires and interests, we may become preoccupied with meeting external expectations or achieving specific outcomes, which can ultimately hinder our intrinsic motivation.

The Importance of Intrinsic Motivation

Intrinsic motivation plays a crucial role in fostering personal growth, creativity, and overall well-being. When we engage in activities intrinsically motivating to us, we experience a sense of fulfillment, satisfaction, and enjoyment that goes beyond external rewards or outcomes.

Intrinsic motivation is closely linked to our sense of autonomy, competence, and relatedness, which are essential psychological needs identified by self-determination theory. When these needs are met, we are more likely to experience a deep sense of engagement and satisfaction with the activities we pursue.

Intrinsic motivation is essential for personal growth, creativity, and overall well-being. Extrinsic motivation, such as rewards or recognition, can hinder intrinsic motivation by shifting the focus to external factors and diminishing the sense of autonomy. The presence of extrinsic motivators can also lead to the overjustification effect, where individuals attribute their engagement in an activity solely to external rewards. To maintain and enhance intrinsic motivation, it is important to strike a balance between extrinsic and intrinsic motivators. Strategies such as focusing on intrinsic rewards, providing autonomy and choice, encouraging mastery and growth, and promoting a supportive environment can help achieve this balance.

Balancing Extrinsic and Intrinsic Motivation

While extrinsic motivators can potentially hinder intrinsic motivation, it is important to note that they can also be valuable tools when used appropriately. Extrinsic rewards, such as financial incentives or recognition, can provide external validation and facilitate initial engagement in certain activities.

However, to maintain and enhance intrinsic motivation, it is important to strike a balance between extrinsic and intrinsic motivators. Here are some strategies that can help achieve this balance:

  1. Focus on intrinsic rewards: Emphasize the inherent value and enjoyment of the activity itself rather than solely relying on external rewards. Encourage individuals to connect with their passions, interests, and personal satisfaction derived from engaging in the activity.

  2. Provide autonomy and choice: Foster a sense of autonomy by allowing individuals to have control over their actions and decisions. Offer opportunities for self-direction and personalization to ensure that individuals feel a sense of ownership and agency in their pursuits.

  3. Encourage mastery and growth: Support individuals in setting challenging yet attainable goals that promote personal growth and skill development. Provide constructive feedback and opportunities for improvement to foster a sense of competence and progress.

  4. Promote a supportive environment: Cultivate a positive and supportive environment that values effort, creativity, and intrinsic motivation. Encourage collaboration, creativity, and the exploration of new ideas to enhance intrinsic motivation and engagement.

By incorporating these strategies, individuals can harness the power of both extrinsic and intrinsic motivation, creating a harmonious balance that nurtures their internal drive while also benefiting from external rewards and incentives.


How can extrinsic motivation hinder intrinsic motivation?

Extrinsic motivation can hinder intrinsic motivation in several ways:

  1. Undermining interest and enjoyment: When individuals are primarily motivated by external rewards or praise, their focus shifts from the intrinsic value of the task or activity to the external outcome. This can lead to a decrease in their inherent interest and enjoyment of the activity.

  2. Diminishing autonomy: Intrinsic motivation flourishes when individuals feel a sense of autonomy and control over the task at hand. However, the introduction of extrinsic motivators, such as rewards or punishments, can diminish this sense of autonomy and control, leading to a decrease in intrinsic motivation.

  3. Creating dependence on external rewards: Excessive reliance on external rewards can cause individuals to become dependent on them for their motivation. As a result, they may struggle to engage in the activity without the presence of external incentives, thus hindering their intrinsic motivation to engage in the task for the sake of personal satisfaction or curiosity.

  4. Reducing creativity and innovation: Intrinsic motivation is closely linked to creativity and innovation. However, the presence of extrinsic motivators can limit individuals’ willingness to take risks, explore new ideas, and think outside the box. This happens because the focus shifts from the inherent joy of the task to meeting the expectations or requirements set by external rewards or evaluations.

  5. Decreasing long-term commitment: While extrinsic motivators can produce short-term behavioral changes, they often fail to foster long-term commitment and true engagement. Over time, the reliance on external rewards may lead individuals to lose interest and motivation once the rewards are removed. Consequently, the development of intrinsic motivation can be hindered due to the absence of sustained commitment.

It is crucial to strike a balance between extrinsic and intrinsic motivation to maintain individuals’ inherent curiosity, enjoyment, and long-term engagement in activities or tasks.

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