What are the differences between intrinsic and extrinsic motivation?

August 6, 2023

The concept of motivation plays a crucial role in understanding human behavior and driving individuals towards achieving specific goals. Two distinct types of motivation, intrinsic and extrinsic, serve as major sources of inspiration in different contexts. Intrinsic motivation refers to the internal drive and enjoyment that individuals experience when engaging in activities simply for their inherent satisfaction. On the other hand, extrinsically motivated individuals engage in activities primarily to obtain external rewards or avoid punishment. This article aims to explore the key differences between intrinsic and extrinsic motivation, highlighting the various factors that influence these motivational forces and their impact on personal satisfaction and goal attainment.

Understanding Intrinsic Motivation

Intrinsic motivation refers to the internal drive or desire that comes from within an individual to engage in a particular activity. It is characterized by a genuine interest in the task itself, rather than external rewards or pressures. When someone is intrinsically motivated, they derive satisfaction and pleasure from the process of doing something, regardless of the outcome or any external factors. This type of motivation is often associated with personal enjoyment, curiosity, and a sense of autonomy.

The Power of Internal Motivation

One of the key features of intrinsic motivation is its ability to fuel long-term engagement and persistence. When individuals are driven by their own interests and passions, they are more likely to persevere through challenges and setbacks. This is because the inherent enjoyment and fulfillment they experience act as powerful sources of energy and motivation. Intrinsic motivation can lead to a deep sense of satisfaction, personal growth, and a greater sense of accomplishment.

Examples of Intrinsic Motivation

Intrinsic motivation can be observed in various aspects of life. For example, a person who loves painting may spend hours engrossed in their artwork simply because it brings them joy and fulfillment. Similarly, someone who is passionate about playing a musical instrument may dedicate countless hours to practice, driven by their love for the instrument and the pleasure they derive from playing.

Exploring Extrinsic Motivation

Unlike intrinsic motivation, extrinsic motivation is derived from external factors such as rewards, praise, or avoiding punishment. In this case, individuals engage in an activity primarily to attain a specific outcome or to fulfill external expectations. While extrinsic motivation can be effective in certain situations, it tends to be more short-term and reliant on external stimuli.

Key takeaway: Intrinsic motivation comes from within an individual and is driven by personal enjoyment and a sense of autonomy. It fuels long-term engagement and persistence, leading to a deep sense of satisfaction and accomplishment. Extrinsic motivation, on the other hand, is driven by external rewards or pressures and tends to be more short-term. While extrinsic motivation can be effective in certain situations, nurturing intrinsic motivation can lead to long-lasting benefits such as increased engagement, satisfaction, and overall well-being.

The Role of Rewards and Punishments

Extrinsic motivation often involves the use of rewards or incentives to encourage desired behavior. For instance, a student may study diligently to earn good grades or a salesperson may work hard to receive a bonus. Likewise, the fear of punishment or negative consequences can act as a motivator to avoid certain behaviors. However, it is important to note that the impact of extrinsic rewards and punishments may diminish over time, especially when the individual’s intrinsic motivation is not nurtured.

Examples of Extrinsic Motivation

Extrinsic motivation can be observed in various contexts, from education to the workplace. For instance, employees may be motivated to meet sales targets in order to receive a performance-based bonus. Similarly, students may work hard to earn scholarships or other forms of recognition. While these external rewards can provide initial motivation, they may not foster a genuine love for the task or a long-term commitment.

Comparing Intrinsic and Extrinsic Motivation

Self-Determination Theory

Self-Determination Theory (SDT) provides a framework for understanding the differences between intrinsic and extrinsic motivation. According to SDT, intrinsic motivation is associated with three basic psychological needs: autonomy, competence, and relatedness. When these needs are fulfilled, individuals are more likely to experience intrinsic motivation and engage in activities willingly and wholeheartedly.

On the other hand, extrinsic motivation can vary in its level of autonomy and self-regulation. External rewards and punishments can either enhance or undermine intrinsic motivation, depending on how they are perceived. For example, if a reward is seen as a form of feedback or recognition, it may support intrinsic motivation. However, if it is viewed as a controlling mechanism, it can diminish intrinsic motivation and lead to a reliance on external factors.

Impact on Performance and Well-being

Numerous studies have examined the effects of intrinsic and extrinsic motivation on performance and well-being. Research suggests that individuals who are intrinsically motivated tend to experience higher levels of creativity, engagement, and satisfaction. They are more likely to persist in the face of challenges and exhibit a greater sense of self-efficacy.

In contrast, relying solely on extrinsic motivation can have limitations. When individuals are primarily driven by external rewards, their motivation may become contingent on those rewards. This can lead to a decrease in intrinsic motivation and a greater emphasis on the outcome rather than the enjoyment of the task itself. Over time, this can lead to reduced satisfaction, lower levels of well-being, and a decreased sense of autonomy.

Nurturing Intrinsic Motivation

While both intrinsic and extrinsic motivation have their place, fostering intrinsic motivation can have long-lasting benefits. Here are some strategies to nurture intrinsic motivation:

  1. Provide autonomy: Allow individuals to have a sense of control and choice over their activities. This can involve offering options, encouraging self-directed learning, or allowing for creative decision-making.
  2. Foster competence: Create an environment that supports the development of skills and mastery. Provide constructive feedback, offer opportunities for growth, and set realistic challenges that allow individuals to experience a sense of progress.
  3. Encourage relatedness: Foster a sense of belonging and connection within the task or activity. This can involve collaborative projects, group discussions, or mentorship opportunities that promote social interaction and support.
  4. Promote intrinsic values: Highlight the inherent value and meaning of the task or activity. Emphasize the personal growth, enjoyment, and fulfillment that can be derived from engaging in the task, rather than solely focusing on external outcomes.

By nurturing intrinsic motivation, individuals can develop a genuine passion for what they do, leading to increased engagement, satisfaction, and overall well-being.


What is intrinsic motivation?

Intrinsic motivation refers to the internal drive or desire to engage in an activity for personal satisfaction or enjoyment rather than for external rewards. It arises from within an individual and is fueled by their passion, interests, and curiosity. When someone is intrinsically motivated, they find value and fulfillment in the process of doing something, rather than solely focusing on the outcome or external factors.

What is extrinsic motivation?

Extrinsic motivation, on the other hand, originates from external factors such as rewards, recognition, or punishment. It involves engaging in an activity to attain external rewards or avoid negative consequences rather than having an innate desire or interest in the actual task. Extrinsic motivation can be effective in specific situations where tangible incentives are necessary, but it is typically weaker in driving long-term commitment and satisfaction compared to intrinsic motivation.

How do they differ in their impact?

The impact of intrinsic and extrinsic motivation differs significantly. Intrinsic motivation tends to foster genuine interest, creativity, and a sense of personal growth. When motivated intrinsically, individuals are more likely to fully engage in an activity, learn new skills, and persist in the face of challenges. This type of motivation promotes autonomy and a stronger sense of internal locus of control. On the other hand, extrinsic motivation primarily emphasizes tangible rewards or punishments, which can diminish the natural enjoyment of an activity and hinder personal development.

Can someone be both intrinsically and extrinsically motivated?

Yes, individuals can experience both intrinsic and extrinsic motivation simultaneously, as these motivations are not mutually exclusive. In some cases, people may initially be driven by extrinsic factors, such as monetary rewards, but gradually develop an intrinsic motivation as they find personal fulfillment in the task itself. However, if the extrinsic motivation remains the sole driving force, it may limit the depth of engagement and long-term commitment.

Which type of motivation is more effective?

While the effectiveness of motivation depends on various factors, intrinsic motivation is generally considered more effective in promoting sustainable behavior change, creativity, and overall well-being. Intrinsic motivation enables individuals to derive satisfaction and derive a sense of purpose from their work or actions, leading to greater persistence, self-determination, and better performance in the long run. Extrinsic motivation can be useful for short-term goals or specific tasks that require immediate results, but it often fails to sustain motivation once the external reward or punishment is removed.

Can intrinsic and extrinsic motivation be combined?

Yes, combining intrinsic and extrinsic motivation is possible and can be beneficial. By aligning external incentives and rewards with an individual’s intrinsic interests or values, organizations can create an environment where both types of motivation can coexist and complement each other. This approach, known as the “self-determination theory,” aims to support individuals in finding personal meaning and satisfaction in their work or activities while also acknowledging and appreciating their efforts through external recognition or rewards.

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