The Risks Associated with Extrinsic Motivation

August 14, 2023

Extrinsic motivation, or the drive to engage in activities for external rewards or incentives, has long been recognized as a powerful force in motivating individuals. However, while it may appear advantageous at first glance, there are several risks associated with solely relying on extrinsic motivation. This introduction will delve into the potential drawbacks of extrinsic motivation, highlighting its potential negative effects on self-esteem, intrinsic motivation, creativity, and overall well-being. By understanding these risks, we can explore alternative approaches that foster sustainable, internally driven motivation for optimal growth and success.

Extrinsic motivation is a type of motivation that arises from external rewards or incentives, such as money, praise, or grades. While it can be effective in driving short-term performance, there are several risks associated with relying solely on extrinsic motivation. In this article, we will explore these risks and delve into the potential negative consequences of over-reliance on external rewards.

1. Undermining Intrinsic Motivation

One of the primary risks of extrinsic motivation is its potential to undermine intrinsic motivation. Intrinsic motivation refers to the internal drive and enjoyment that individuals derive from engaging in an activity for its own sake. When extrinsic rewards are introduced, individuals may begin to view the activity solely as a means to an end, rather than finding intrinsic satisfaction in the process itself.

Research has shown that when people are offered external rewards for activities they initially found enjoyable, their intrinsic motivation decreases over time. This phenomenon, known as the overjustification effect, suggests that relying too heavily on extrinsic rewards can actually decrease individuals’ desire to engage in the activity without external incentives.

2. Reduced Creativity and Innovation

Another significant risk associated with extrinsic motivation is its potential to stifle creativity and innovation. When individuals are primarily motivated by external rewards, they may be less likely to take risks or think outside the box. The fear of failure or not meeting the desired outcome can overshadow the willingness to explore new ideas or approaches.

In a study conducted by Amabile and colleagues (1985), it was found that individuals who were rewarded for their creativity tasks demonstrated lower levels of creativity compared to those who were not rewarded. The pressure to meet specific external expectations can narrow individuals’ focus and limit their ability to think creatively, ultimately hindering their problem-solving skills and innovative thinking.

3. Diminished Autonomy and Self-Determination

Extrinsic motivation can also lead to a decrease in individuals’ sense of autonomy and self-determination. When external rewards become the primary driving force behind one’s actions, individuals may feel as though their choices and behaviors are dictated by external forces, rather than being driven by their own internal values and desires.

Research has shown that individuals who are intrinsically motivated have a greater sense of autonomy and self-determination, leading to higher levels of satisfaction and well-being. In contrast, when individuals are motivated primarily by external rewards, they may experience a sense of external control, which can diminish their sense of freedom and personal agency.

4. Short-Term Focus and Decreased Persistence

Extrinsic motivation tends to be more effective in driving short-term performance rather than long-term engagement. When individuals are solely motivated by external rewards, their focus is often directed towards achieving the desired outcome or reward in the shortest possible time. This short-term focus can lead to a lack of persistence when faced with challenges or setbacks.

Moreover, when individuals encounter obstacles or difficulties along the way, the absence of intrinsic motivation may make it more challenging for them to persevere and overcome these obstacles. Without a genuine passion or interest in the activity itself, individuals may be more likely to give up or lose motivation when faced with difficulties.

5. Potential for Ethical Issues

Finally, relying heavily on extrinsic motivation can raise ethical concerns, particularly in contexts where individuals may be tempted to engage in unethical or dishonest behavior to obtain rewards. When the focus is solely on external outcomes, individuals may be more inclined to cut corners, cheat, or engage in unethical practices to achieve the desired rewards.

Research has shown that when individuals are motivated primarily by external rewards, their ethical decision-making can be compromised. The pursuit of rewards can overshadow moral considerations, leading to a higher likelihood of unethical behavior.

While extrinsic motivation can be effective in driving short-term performance, it carries several risks that should not be overlooked. By undermining intrinsic motivation, stifling creativity, diminishing autonomy, promoting short-term focus, and potentially leading to ethical issues, over-reliance on extrinsic motivation can have detrimental effects on individuals’ long-term engagement, well-being, and ethical conduct. As such, it is essential to strike a balance between extrinsic and intrinsic motivation, fostering an environment that nurtures individuals’ internal drive and passion while recognizing and appropriately rewarding their efforts.


What is extrinsic motivation?

Extrinsic motivation refers to the drive or desire to engage in a behavior or task in order to obtain external rewards or avoid punishment. It involves performing a task not because of inherent enjoyment or interest, but rather to receive a tangible outcome or avoid negative consequences.

What are the risks of relying on extrinsic motivation?

Relying solely on extrinsic motivation can pose several risks. One significant risk is that individuals may become highly dependent on external rewards and may lose sight of their internal drive and passion for a particular task or activity. This could impact their long-term commitment and overall satisfaction. Furthermore, if the external rewards are removed or become less frequent, individuals may experience a decline in motivation, resulting in lower performance levels or even disengagement.

What effect does extrinsic motivation have on creativity?

Extrinsic motivation has the potential to hinder creativity. When individuals are primarily motivated by external rewards, their focus often shifts from personal growth and exploration to the attainment of the reward itself. This narrow focus can limit their ability to think outside the box, take risks, and generate innovative ideas. Thus, overemphasis on extrinsic motivation may hinder creative thinking and problem-solving abilities.

Can extrinsic motivation negatively impact intrinsic motivation?

Yes, extensive reliance on extrinsic motivation can negatively affect intrinsic motivation. When people are intrinsically motivated, they engage in behaviors because they find them inherently interesting or enjoyable. However, if extrinsic rewards are introduced, the focus may shift towards obtaining those rewards rather than deriving satisfaction from the activity itself. This can decrease intrinsic motivation over time, resulting in decreased enthusiasm, creativity, and overall engagement in the task.

Are there any risks associated with using extrinsic motivation in educational settings?

Using extrinsic motivation in educational settings can have potential risks. If students are excessively rewarded or praised for performing tasks, they may perceive the task as a means to an end rather than genuinely valuing the learning process. This can lead to superficial learning, reduced interest in the subject matter, and a tendency to prioritize external rewards instead of developing a genuine love for learning. Additionally, extrinsic motivation may foster a fixed mindset, where individuals focus on achieving rewards instead of embracing challenges and persisting through setbacks.

Can extrinsic motivation lead to unethical behavior?

In some cases, relying heavily on extrinsic motivation can potentially lead to unethical behavior. When individuals are solely driven by external rewards, they may engage in unethical practices or cut corners to obtain those rewards. This is particularly true when the rewards are based on specific performance indicators and individuals feel pressured to meet those standards at any cost. Ethical considerations and the quality of work may be compromised as a result.

How can the risks associated with extrinsic motivation be mitigated?

To mitigate the risks associated with extrinsic motivation, it is important to strike a balance between extrinsic and intrinsic motivation. Providing meaningful feedback, highlighting the value of the task itself, and fostering a sense of autonomy and mastery can help nurture intrinsic motivation. Additionally, promoting a growth mindset, where individuals are encouraged to embrace challenges and view failures as learning opportunities, can enhance motivation and creativity. It is crucial to create an environment where both extrinsic and intrinsic motivation are valued and integrated effectively.

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