What are the different types of rewards and their effects on motivation?

July 11, 2023

Motivation is a complex psychological construct that plays a crucial role in driving human behavior. In various domains of life, individuals are frequently encouraged or incentivized through the offering of rewards. As such, understanding the different types of rewards and their effects on motivation is of paramount importance. This topic delves into the various forms of rewards, ranging from intrinsic to extrinsic, tangible to intangible, and their impact on individuals’ motivation levels. By exploring this subject, we can gain insights into how rewards influence motivation and determine which types of incentives are most effective in different contexts.

Understanding Extrinsic Motivation

Motivation is a multifaceted concept that plays a significant role in driving human behavior. Extrinsic motivation, specifically, refers to the drive to engage in an activity or task due to external rewards or incentives. In this article, we will delve into the various types of rewards commonly used to motivate individuals and explore their effects on motivation.

Tangible Rewards: The Power of Material Incentives

Tangible rewards, such as money, gifts, or prizes, are often used to incentivize individuals and elicit desired behaviors. These rewards tap into our innate desire for acquiring resources and can be highly effective in motivating individuals, especially in settings where the goals are clearly defined and easily measurable. For instance, in a sales environment, offering a commission or bonus for meeting or exceeding targets can be a powerful motivator.

However, it is important to note that the effectiveness of tangible rewards may vary depending on the individual and the context. While some individuals may be strongly motivated by material incentives, others may prioritize other factors, such as personal growth or intrinsic satisfaction. Therefore, it is crucial to consider individual differences and tailor the reward system accordingly.

Social Rewards: Harnessing the Power of Recognition

Humans are inherently social beings, and social rewards can tap into our need for acceptance, belonging, and recognition. These rewards can take various forms, including praise, public acknowledgment, or even a simple “thank you.” Social rewards can be particularly influential in motivating individuals who value social connections and thrive on positive feedback from others.

In the workplace, for example, publicly recognizing an employee’s achievements can not only boost their motivation but also foster a positive work environment and enhance team cohesion. Moreover, social rewards can have long-lasting effects on an individual’s motivation as they provide a sense of validation and reinforce desired behaviors.

Achievement Rewards: Fostering a Sense of Mastery

Achievement rewards center around recognizing and celebrating an individual’s progress, effort, or skill development. These rewards focus on personal growth and improvement, rather than comparing individuals against each other. Achievement rewards can take the form of certificates, badges, or promotions, highlighting an individual’s accomplishments and providing a sense of mastery.

By emphasizing personal growth and progress, achievement rewards can foster a growth mindset, encouraging individuals to persist in their efforts and continuously improve. These rewards are particularly effective in tasks or activities that require learning, development, or skill-building, as they cultivate a sense of competence and self-efficacy.

Intrinsic Rewards: The Power Within

Intrinsic rewards, unlike extrinsic rewards, originate from within the individual and stem from the inherent satisfaction, enjoyment, or fulfillment gained from engaging in an activity. These rewards are closely tied to one’s personal values, interests, and sense of purpose. Examples of intrinsic rewards include a sense of accomplishment, personal satisfaction, or the joy of learning.

While intrinsic rewards may not be tangible or externally visible, they can be highly motivating and enduring. Individuals who are intrinsically motivated tend to engage in activities for the sheer enjoyment or personal fulfillment they provide. Intrinsic rewards are often associated with increased creativity, engagement, and perseverance in tasks that align with an individual’s passions and interests.

The Complex Interplay of Rewards and Motivation

It is essential to recognize that the effects of rewards on motivation are multifaceted and can vary across individuals and contexts. While rewards can be powerful motivators, their effectiveness may depend on several factors, including the individual’s values, goals, and the nature of the task or activity.

Furthermore, it is crucial to strike a balance between different types of rewards to create a comprehensive and sustainable motivational system. Over-reliance on extrinsic rewards, for instance, may inadvertently undermine intrinsic motivation and diminish long-term engagement and creativity. Therefore, a thoughtful combination of tangible, social, achievement, and intrinsic rewards can yield the most favorable motivational outcomes.

The Potential Drawbacks of Rewards

While rewards can be effective in motivating individuals, it is important to consider their potential drawbacks and limitations. Over-reliance on extrinsic rewards, for example, may lead to a decrease in intrinsic motivation, as individuals may become solely focused on obtaining the reward rather than the inherent satisfaction of the task itself. This phenomenon, known as the “overjustification effect,” highlights the delicate balance required when using rewards as a motivational tool.

Additionally, rewards may inadvertently create a short-term mindset, where individuals are primarily driven by immediate gratification rather than long-term goals. This can hinder individuals’ ability to develop perseverance, resilience, and a growth mindset. Furthermore, if individuals become overly reliant on external rewards, their intrinsic motivation may diminish over time, as they may lose sight of their personal values and interests.

Understanding Intrinsic Motivation

Intrinsic motivation represents an individual’s inherent drive to engage in an activity for its own sake, without the need for external rewards or incentives. This type of motivation is fueled by internal factors such as personal enjoyment, curiosity, or a sense of purpose. Intrinsic motivation is often associated with a deep sense of satisfaction, autonomy, and a genuine interest in the task at hand.

When individuals are intrinsically motivated, they are more likely to engage in activities willingly, invest effort, and persist in the face of challenges. Intrinsic motivation is particularly relevant in tasks that involve creativity, problem-solving, and complex decision-making. Individuals who are intrinsically motivated tend to exhibit higher levels of self-determination, as they have a sense of control and ownership over their actions.

Key Takeaway: The effectiveness of rewards in motivating individuals depends on factors such as individual differences, context, and the nature of the task. A thoughtful combination of tangible, social, achievement, and intrinsic rewards can yield the most favorable motivational outcomes. However, over-reliance on extrinsic rewards may undermine intrinsic motivation and diminish long-term engagement and creativity. To create a comprehensive and sustainable motivational system, organizations and individuals should strike a balance between different types of rewards.

The Power of Autonomy and Mastery

Two key factors that contribute to intrinsic motivation are autonomy and mastery. Autonomy refers to an individual’s sense of control and self-direction in their actions. When individuals have the freedom to make choices and take ownership of their work, their intrinsic motivation is often heightened. This is because autonomy allows individuals to align their actions with their personal values and interests, fostering a sense of fulfillment and satisfaction.

Mastery, on the other hand, involves the pursuit of continuous improvement and the development of skills and expertise. When individuals can see their progress and experience a sense of growth and mastery, their intrinsic motivation is reinforced. Mastery can be nurtured through providing opportunities for learning, setting challenging but attainable goals, and offering constructive feedback and support.

The Role of Purpose and Meaning

Intrinsic motivation is closely tied to individuals’ sense of purpose and meaning. When individuals find purpose in their work or activities, they are more likely to be intrinsically motivated. Purpose provides individuals with a sense of direction, a deeper connection to their actions, and a feeling that their work has significance beyond external rewards. By aligning tasks with a larger purpose or connecting them to personal values, intrinsic motivation can be nurtured.

Integrating Extrinsic and Intrinsic Motivation

While intrinsic motivation is highly desirable, it is not always feasible or practical to rely solely on internal factors to motivate individuals. Extrinsic rewards can still play a valuable role in enhancing motivation, especially when used strategically and in conjunction with intrinsic motivators. The key lies in creating a balanced and integrated approach that leverages both extrinsic and intrinsic rewards.

By combining extrinsic rewards, such as tangible incentives or social recognition, with opportunities for autonomy, mastery, and a sense of purpose, organizations and individuals can create a motivational environment that fosters both short-term performance and long-term engagement. This integrated approach acknowledges the importance of external motivators while maintaining a focus on nurturing individuals’ intrinsic motivation and overall well-being.


What is meant by rewards in the context of motivation?

Rewards refer to incentives or benefits provided to individuals as a result of their performance or achievements. In the context of motivation, rewards can be monetary, tangible items, or intangible recognition and praise. These rewards are designed to encourage and reinforce desired behaviors and outcomes, with the intention of increasing motivation to perform well.

What are the different types of rewards?

There are several types of rewards that can be categorized based on their nature and form. Some common types include:

  1. Monetary rewards: These are financial incentives such as salary increases, cash bonuses, or profit-sharing plans that directly impact an individual’s financial well-being. Monetary rewards are often effective in motivating individuals, as they provide tangible benefits.
  2. Tangible rewards: These are physical items or experiences given as rewards, such as gift cards, merchandise, or travel vouchers. Tangible rewards offer a concrete representation of achievement and can create a sense of accomplishment and motivation.
  3. Intangible rewards: These include non-material incentives like recognition, praise, or public appreciation. Intangible rewards focus on psychological and emotional needs and can be highly effective in boosting motivation, as they fulfill the desire for social recognition and self-esteem.

How do different types of rewards affect motivation?

The effects of rewards on motivation depend on various factors, including the individual’s personality, preferences, and the context in which they are applied. However, some general effects can be observed:

  1. Monetary rewards: While financial incentives can be useful for enhancing motivation, their impact may be limited over time. Research suggests that once the monetary reward becomes an expected part of the job or task, the initial motivation boost may diminish, resulting in a decline in performance. Additionally, focusing solely on monetary rewards may undermine other intrinsic motivators like enjoyment or personal growth.
  2. Tangible rewards: Physical rewards can generate a short-term increase in motivation, especially if they are desirable or aligned with individual preferences. However, their long-term impact on sustained motivation might be limited. Similar to monetary rewards, overly relying on tangible rewards without considering intrinsic factors may lead to a decrease in intrinsic motivation and creativity.
  3. Intangible rewards: Non-material incentives, such as recognition or praise, have been found to have a positive impact on motivation. They fulfill higher-level needs like self-esteem and social belonging, fostering a sense of accomplishment, satisfaction, and increased effort. Intangible rewards are particularly effective when they are specific, sincere, and timely, providing individuals with a sense of being valued and appreciated.

What is the ideal approach to utilizing rewards for motivation?

An ideal approach to utilizing rewards for motivation involves a careful balance between extrinsic rewards (e.g., monetary and tangible) and intrinsic motivators (e.g., enjoyment, autonomy, mastery). It is important to consider the context, individual differences, and the type of task or goal when designing a reward system. Here are some key considerations:

  1. Mix and match: Combining different types of rewards can help address diverse motivational needs. For example, alongside monetary bonuses, providing recognition or opportunities for personal development can enhance motivation.
  2. Individualization: Tailoring rewards to individual preferences and aspirations can amplify their impact on motivation. Conducting regular feedback sessions or surveys can help identify the type of rewards that resonate best with individuals.
  3. Timeliness and consistency: Timely recognition and consistent reinforcement of desired behaviors reinforce the association between performance and rewards. Promptly acknowledging achievements helps maintain motivation levels and encourages continuous improvement.

Overall, an effective reward system should strike a balance between external rewards and fostering intrinsic motivation, ensuring that individuals feel valued, recognized, and empowered to perform their best.

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